Treasury report calls for action on tech giant dominance

The government has signalled it plans to take further action on the digital economy, including requiring companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google to make it easier to move data between platforms, after a Treasury report recommended greater competition in the market

An independent review led by Harvard Professor Jason Furman, who was chief economic adviser to President Barack Obama’s White House, has cautioned that the tech giants have become increasingly dominant.

The review has recommended the market is opened to increase consumer choice and give people greater control over their data. It has also warned that UK competition rules must be updated to be fit for the digital age.

The recommendations include setting up a new digital markets unit with expertise in technology, economics and behavioural science and the legal powers to back it up.

The new unit should give people more control over their data by enabling people to switch between platforms more easily, and should also develop a code of conduct. 

The review called for stronger powers for regulators to tackle anti-competitive practices, as well as changes to merger rules so the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) can better stop digital mergers that are likely to damage future competition, innovation and consumer choice.

The findings say the CMA should launch a formal market study into the digital advertising market which it says is dominated by two players and suffers from a lack of transparency.

The review also wants the government to introduce powers to force the largest companies to open up to smaller firms through providing access to key data sets, when doing so does not affect privacy.

Harvard Professor Jason Furman, chair of the independent review of competition in the digital sector, said: ‘The digital sector has created substantial benefits but these have come at the cost of increasing dominance of a few companies which is limiting competition and consumer choice and innovation.

‘My panel is outlining a balanced proposal to give people more control over their data, give small businesses more of a chance to enter and thrive, and create more predictability for the large digital companies. These recommendations will deliver an economic boost driven by UK tech start-ups and innovation that will give consumers greater choice and protection.’

The Chancellor is to make an initial response to the review in his Spring Statement speech this afternoon. The government is expected to formally respond to its recommendations in the summer.

Unlocking digital competition, Report of the Digital Competition Expert Panel is here.

Report by Pat Sweet

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