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A UK watchdog will be able to impose severe fines on large tech companies

A new tech watchdog, which will have the power to impose multibillion-pound penalties on large companies such as Google or Facebook for violating rules that protect consumers and businesses, will be created.

According to the government, the Digital Markets Unit (DMU), will help protect small businesses against predatory practices and give consumers more control over how their data are used.

According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, ministers will introduce legislation to support the DMU’s powers in “due cours”. This is despite speculation that the Queen will only mention a draft bill next week.

Established last year, the new unit operates within the UK’s competition watchdog the Competition and Markets Authority and will enforce new codes for conduct for large tech companies operating in the UK. These rules will make it easier to select search engines for smartphones and allow users to opt out from targeted personalised ads.

Paul Scully, the consumer minister, stated that “The customer is always right but sometimes they don’t get a choice.” We will stop companies using their power to harm customers. This could be by restricting shoppers’ access to certain software or making it difficult for consumers to choose how their data is used.

Companies will have to notify businesses about any significant changes they would like to see, such as algorithm adjustments that divert traffic from certain sites. This unit will be empowered to settle disputes between news providers and tech platforms, so publishers get fair compensation for their content. The government also stated that app developers will be able sell their apps under more fair and transparent terms.

The DMU can impose fines up to 10% on a company’s global turnover (or 5% per day for every offence).

Andrea Coscelli (CMA chief executive) said that “The CMA accepts these proposals” and that they are pleased that the government has incorporated a number our recommendations to allow the DMU the oversight of a robust and effective digital markets regime in the UK.

The government will also introduce the online safety bill. This bill is expected to be included in the Queen’s speech. It requires tech companies to protect users against harmful content like images of child sexual abuse. The bill is expected to be passed by Ofcom, the communications regulator. It will also come with the threat of a multibillion-pound penalty for any breaches.

Online safety bills also carry the possibility of tech executives being charged with criminal offences, such as hindering an Ofcom investigation. According to the government, senior managers of companies will be subject to civil penalties under the DMU if they fail to respond properly when requested information is sought.

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