Rishi Sunak must not buckle under intense lobbying from the world’s biggest online giants to help them ‘escape’ vital regulation, a group of leading economists have warned.
The five eminent academics, whose government-commissioned report formed the basis of a new Bill to rein in Big Tech, have written a powerful letter to the Prime Minister urging him not to water it down.
The letter accused Big Tech platforms of having ‘only their own interests at heart’ and reminded Mr Sunak of his ‘personal responsibility’ towards both British businesses and consumers.
The economists fear Mr Sunak is giving ‘serious consideration’ to changing the appeals system within the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill following ‘extensive lobbying’ from platforms such as Google, Meta and Apple.
Doing so would effectively make the regulator redundant as it would entangle its every move in ‘a web of tactical and adversarial litigation’, they believe.
The intervention follows warnings by news publishers, business leaders, consumer rights groups and cross-party peers that changing the appeals system would undermine the Bill’s ultimate aim of making digital markets fairer and more competitive.
Rishi Sunak must not buckle under intense lobbying from the world’s biggest online giants to help them ‘escape’ vital regulation, a group of leading economists have warned
The letter was co-written by Professor Jason Furman, a US economist from Harvard University commissioned by the government in 2018 to examine the impact of Big Tech on British businesses and consumers
The letter was co-written by Professor Jason Furman, a US economist from Harvard University commissioned by the government in 2018 to examine the impact of Big Tech on British businesses and consumers. It was co-signed by four other academics who contributed to the report.
The panel’s findings, published the following year, concluded that the world’s biggest platforms were using their dominance to stifle competition and boost profits –and led to the Digital Markets Bill being introduced to Parliament in April.
Under the legislation, a new watchdog called the Digital Markets Unit will be empowered to impose huge fines on online firms – such as Google, Meta, and Apple – to prevent customers and companies from being treated unfairly.
It will also ensure that tech giants pay media outlets fairly for using their stories and stop them from using their global market dominance to stifle competition over digital advertising.
In the letter, Professor Furman and his co-signatories praised the ‘impressive’ draft legislation, which they said was ‘prudently designed’ and would boost the economy.
But they raised grave concerns over reports Mr Sunak was being ‘extensively’ lobbied by Big Tech and was giving ‘serious consideration’ to watering down the appeals system within the Bill.
Currently, any decision made by the DMU can be challenged through a judicial review, a quick and cheap process that allows the offending company to question the decision on a point of law.
Tech platforms, however, have heavily lobbied the Prime Minister to change this to a merits-based system, allowing them to appeal on whether the decision was right or wrong.
The letter warns this would ‘allow Big Tech platforms to escape effective regulation by entangling the regulator in a web of tactical and adversarial litigation and delay’.
‘What we need is a UK regulator that can get ahead of competition problems in digital markets and work participatively and nimbly with all interested parties to find effective and proportionate solutions’, it added.
‘In advocating these changes, the Big Tech platforms have only their own interests at heart.
‘The UK’s success as a dynamic centre for tech investment, including the coming wave of AI innovation, will be harmed by the kinds of change to the draft legislation that you are considering. In doing so, we urge you to be mindful of your personal responsibility for the outcome for UK businesses and consumers.’