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UK Watchdog Goes After Killer Acquisitions In New Regulations

 |  April 20, 2022

The UK has announced a bundle of consumer protection and competition reforms which could see platforms that fail to tackle fake reviews fined up to 10% of their global annual turnover.

Also incoming: Stronger powers for the national competition regulator to prevent tech giants from being able to buy up startups or smaller rivals with the intention of shuttering a competing service (so called ‘killer acquisitions’).

However the government still hasn’t decided how to deal with the broad online scourge of dark pattern design which uses deceptive and/or manipulative tactics to dupe web users into spending more time or money than they intend on a digital service — saying it’s “seeking further evidence” on how best to arm regulators to combat these unethical tactics.

The reforms it has agreed follow a consultation last year on reforming competition and consumer policy which saw the government take feedback from businesses, consumers groups, regulators and others on how to strengthen legislation in these areas.

Read More: “Killer Acquisitions,” Big Tech, and Section 2: A Solution in Search of a Problem

In a response to the consultation published by the department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) today, the government said policies it’s proposing fall into three areas: Competition reforms to ensure the system is “fit for the digital age”; consumer rights reforms to keep pace with digital developments and tackle specific issues like fake reviews; and consumer enforcement reforms to empower the national antitrust watchdog to intervene effectively.

In a press release announcing the package of reforms this morning, BEIS said the plan would make it “clearly illegal” to pay someone to write or host a fake review.

The tech giant’s power to inspire major regulatory reforms looks undeniably — given the government also intends to beef up the watchdog’s powers to combat killer acquisitions. (Facebook had shut down Giphy’s competing ad product after buying the smaller business, triggering competition concerns, an in depth probe and, finally, an order to reverse the acquisition.)

Other measures slated as incoming through the reform package include powers to strengthen the CMA’s ability to gather evidence to combat cartel-style anticompetitive behavior where companies colluding to bump up prices, per BEIS.

The CMA will also be empowered to fine businesses for anticompetitive abuses even in smaller markets as the government says it will reduce the minimum turnover threshold for immunity from financial penalties from £50M to £20M.

More On The Subject: Antitrust Chronicle – Killer Acquisitions

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