UK: Digital markets reform must prioritise human rights

UK: Digital markets reform must prioritise human rights - Digital

Image: Scott Graham on Unsplash

In October 2021 ARTICLE 19, alongside other civil society organisations and individual experts, submitted a response to the UK government’s consultation on ‘A new pro-competition regime for digital markets’. We believe that civil society and all relevant stakeholders must be included in the open dialogue surrounding the Digital Markets Unit (DMU). The effectiveness and legitimacy of the new regulatory regime will be strengthened by the focus on end users and individuals’ rights and the possibility for them to seek redress.

Online spaces have grown and are now an essential place for people to express their opinions and access information. Therefore, it is without a doubt that digital spaces and marketplaces have an enormous impact on human rights, and in particular on freedom of expression. More often than not, decision-making and public debate do not sufficiently adopt a human rights-based approach.

On various occasions we have argued that large platforms must be required to make their services interoperable to allow users a wider choice and to help competitors, and in particular small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to enter digital markets. We believe that increased competitive pressure would enhance freedom of expression and privacy protection standards, among others. We are therefore glad to see that the UK government is considering this perspective in its plans for a new pro-competition regime for digital markets.

In our submission, we have made specific suggestions and recommendations:

  • Civil society, end users, consumer organisations and all relevant stakeholders should be included in the open dialogue with the DMU. Meaningful channels for debate and proper mechanisms will only increase the legitimacy of the new regulatory regime and will enrich its content;
  • The interests of individuals should be included within the DMU’s overarching statutory duties. A reference to the interest of individuals is in line with the government’s acknowledgment that in a number of digital markets competition has a deep interaction with a number of other issues including data privacy and media plurality;
  • The criteria for the assessment of the strategic position should be broadened to include the consideration of whether an activity has significant impacts on markets that have a broader social or cultural importance.
  • The Government should uphold the explicit reference to consumers in the ‘adverse effect on competition and consumers’ test. Among others, the explicit inclusion of the consumer element in the test provides for greater legal certainty.
  • The DMU should be equipped from the onset with the owners to seek redress from damages caused by companies with SMS (short messaging services). This would increase the effectiveness of DMU enforcement.

Read full submission