The Government has announced that it will establish a new regime designed to govern the behaviours of the tech giants. It plans to set up a Digital Markets Unit, operating within the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which will introduce and enforce a new statutory code of conduct. The Government has indicated that, among other things, the code will enable consumers to have more choice over how their data is used.
The aim of the regime is the promotion of competition within the digital market, but the Government has also indicated that the large tech platforms will soon need to be more transparent about how their services are provided and their use of customer data. In particular, the Government has emphasised that the Digital Markets Unit will be working with regulators, including the Information Commissioner's Office, to enforce the new code of conduct. From April 2021 the Digital Markets Unit could be given power over the decisions of tech giants, oblige them to take certain actions and impose financial penalties for non-compliance with the code.
The details of the code will become clearer next year. The Government intends to consult on the "form and function" of the Digital Markets Unit in early 2021.
It remains to be seen how the proposed code will interact with the UK's existing data protection regime. The Government says that "consumers will be given more choice and control over how their data is used". However the regime is driven by competition not data or consumer protection (noting that competition ultimately benefits consumers). As such, it might be too much to expect that this new regime will actually grant consumers new rights (which would not fit with the traditional nature of a code of conduct in any event). Rather, it may be that any infringement of the code, to the extent that it touched on data use, might prompt a sanction from the Digital Markets Unit that could be leveraged by consumers through existing data protection laws. If so, that would mean that tech businesses may soon face another front from which claims can brought and will be an interesting further piece of the UK's developing data litigation landscape.
New competition regime for tech giants to give consumers more choice and control over their data, and ensure businesses are fairly treated