When it comes to Big Tech regulation, the UK is playing catch-up. Plans have been set out by the UK government and its Digital Markets Unit (DMU), along with a recent response to the consultation on a new pro-competition regime for digital markets, but the timing of any planned action or legislation to come into effect is “when parliamentary time allows.” And to summarise very briefly, this new pro-competition regime is pretty self-explanatory: it sets out the vital importance of boosting competition in digital markets to further improve the economy and reduce monopolistic powers of Big Tech. Basically, have your big slice of the Big Tech pie, but see how smaller businesses can improve the flavour, texture and taste.
Why is the UK delaying?
As set out in the government’s response to the pro-competition regime, a lot of time goes into reacting to the published consultation (which was in July 2021), which involves seeking views and engagement from stakeholders, tech firms (both large and small), trade associations, academics, campaign groups and even non-tech sector businesses.
In fact, there were 105 written submissions that went alongside plenty of roundtables and discussions with stakeholders. Time is then spent reviewing all of these discussions, proposals and submissions to result in – according to the government – strengthening their final policy positions.
And in these proposals and discussions, the red flags of needing more clarity and concerns on resource capacity of necessary regulatory tools and dealing with new and untested regime aspects were raised. Pair that with the independence we’ve sought after Brexit, and you have your answer as to why the UK will be on more of a backfoot, compared to the EU and US.
The consequences of missed opportunities
If we’re not careful, we could be too late to the game in this. Separating from the EU, unfortunately, does make it harder for us to join a strengthened movement to shape regulation for digital markets, but all hope is not lost.
Even in the government’s recent response to the pro-competition regime, it states we are “a global leader in tech and innovation” and that “we are among Europe’s top tech nations, with Manchester, London, Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge among Europe’s top 20 cities for tech investment.”
We are going by it the right way in the consultation response and reviews to eventually get to a concrete and ironed-out proposal that could influence our global neighbours. The European Parliament has already been having meetings with new rules agreed, and so we are also listening and learning.
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Will a delay mean the UK is more reliant on EU rules?
On the contrary, the delay is down to our own attentive approach and review process, with an extensive list of respondents, which include Big Tech giants like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. Others include broadcasting companies, media corporations, travel organisations, retail giants, tech companies, business and finance sectors (in the UK and across the pond), academics, large groups and associations, and campaign groups. Just because the UK may be turning up late to the party, it doesn’t mean they won’t turn up without the goods, i.e. a bullet-proof plan and well-informed ideas to enhance the global tech regulation movement.
How does this relate to the tech sector?
If the Big Tech regulation’s biggest benefit is to offer users of these digital services – that affect us all daily – more options and products outside of the major platforms, the delay in pushing for this means hindrances to tech partnerships and innovations. Impatience and unrest will rise if other regions reap the benefits a lot sooner, along with an affected tech industry that will need to play catch-up.
All in all, the end users of the affected tech services and products suffer, and this can affect the bottom line. Partnerships and acquisitions will certainly find it harder to grow and thrive. The smaller tech businesses that are getting a head start due to a delay in other areas may begin work on internal products, payment systems, messaging tech products, app additions etc., and leave those who may be able to shape the innovations more effectively on the backfoot.
But then in the end, as any pro-competition model shows, as more players are able to enter the game of tech innovation, no matter how late they are, if they have the tools and drive, they will spot the opportunities for advancement and either lead the way or carve out an area for themselves.
How is Big Tech handling cybersecurity threats?
The major cyber threats posed recently are in the form of online fraud. So much so that earlier this month, the UK trade group, UK Finance reported that £1.3 billion was stolen through fraud and scams during 2021 (39% up from the year before). It’s causing UK banks to demand that Big Tech chips in on fraud victim reimbursement. Companies like Lloyds, Santander and Barclays are calling out for Facebook, Google and the Big Tech giants to pay into communal accounts that will reimburse online fraud victims under a “polluter pays” principle. For instance, if a scam is circling on social media, or has managed to pass as an ad on a platform, the company would be expected to pay into a pot to reimburse victims of the scam.
So with questions still arising on the UK’s delay in joining the EU’s roundtable to address the Big Tech regulations, there’s more popping up to address Big Tech’s role in cybersecurity. Where more regulation on the private sector may have once been seen as a hindrance to economic growth, innovation and competition, when you have the likes of the powerful and mighty firms monopolising in the tech and online payment space, calls for targeted regulations are a smart idea. Working to instill more trust in users with these regulations only works to serve both parties, when users of the platforms will be more likely to invest more time and money into them, and the tech companies should be paying even more vigilance to cyberattacks.
Michelle Stark is sales and marketing director of Fasthosts.