UK watchdog calls out Facebook's 'monopoly-like power'

Hannah Boland
·2 min read
Andrea Coscelli
Andrea Coscelli

The head of the UK's competition watchdog has fired a warning shot at Facebook, saying the company's news blackout last week was a sign it had become "even more urgent" to deal with its dominance.

Andrea Coscelli, the chief executive of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), told BBC Radio 4 that Facebook needed "monopoly-like power to feel confident" to take the approach to block all news content on its site after Australia said it would be introducing new laws to require it to pay for that news.

Earlier this week, Australia agreed concessions with Facebook, giving it more time to strike deals with publishers and clarifying that Facebook could decide which publishers it worked with, leading the US social media company to reverse the block.

Mr Coscelli, however, said that he felt that "the bar for a company to go against a democratically elected government is high and I would be worried if this happened in the UK".

"You need to feel pretty confident that your customers have nowhere else to go. There was a backlash in Australia, you can assume a number of people feel very strongly about it. But the reality is there are ecosystems today on Facebook or Instagram that are such that it’s very difficult for people to switch away."

He said it was a "signal that it is even more urgent that we need to deal with this economic power, because this is indicative of a degree of political power that comes with economic power".

His comments come as MPs today urged the CMA to look again into the digital advertising market. The body concluded a market study into the industry last summer, deciding that the Government needed to introduce a new regulatory regime.

The UK is in the process of setting up a digital markets unit, which will be granted new powers to curb Big Tech's dominance, although it could take as long as two years for MPs to agree on those powers.

In Australia, critics cautioned the changes to the laws, agreed with Facebook, offered the internet giants a get-out clause from having to pay for news, given they included a stipulation which said that they would not be subject to the code if they made a "significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry".

Rod Sims, the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and architect of the new code, shrugged off those concerns on Wednesday, saying the changes were "things that either don't matter much or are just to clarify things that, at least in Facebook's mind, were unclear".

"Whatever they say, they need news. It keeps people on their platform longer - they make more money."

Should powers be introduced to curb Big Tech's dominance? Share your view then read what Telegraph readers had to say about Facebook's news blackout in Australia