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The UK risks upsetting the “careful balance” of its proposed law to regulate Big Tech platforms if it pursues changes sought by the industry, a former Obama adviser Rishi Sunak has warned.

Economist Jason Furman, along with other high-profile academics who were part of an official UK panel on digital competitions in 2018, issued the warning in a letter to the prime minister on Thursday.

The letter, seen by the Financial Times, comes after reports that the government may water down the draft Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill before Parliament.

The bill aims to give a new technology regulator the power to set radical rules for groups like Meta and Alphabet and impose hefty fines for violations.

The tech industry, including Apple and Microsoft, has been lobbying the government for changes to the bill that would make it easier to appeal the regulator’s decisions.

The letter said Sunak was giving “serious consideration to possible legislative changes” called for by the tech industry.

No specifics were given about the changes, but Sunak warned Sunak against allowing “major technology platforms to evade effective regulation by entangling the regulator in a web of tactical and adversarial litigation and delays.”

“What we need is a UK regulator that can pre-empt competition issues in digital markets and work participatively and flexibly with all interested parties,” the letter says.

The bill was introduced in Parliament in April after Furman conducted a government-commissioned review in 2019 that concluded tech giants were using their dominance to stifle competition and boost their profits.

The letter to Sunak this week was also signed by academics who contributed to this report, including Philip Marsden, a professor at the College of Europe in Bruges.

The UK tech sector is worth around $1 trillion and the government is keen to remain attractive to investment in the sector, which includes Big Tech.

The letter joins a growing number of concerns raised with the government following reports that Big Tech firms were seeking changes to the bill to make it easier for them to appeal enforcement decisions. Baroness Tina Stowell, chair of the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee, also wrote to Sunak this week urging him to uphold the draft appeals bill.

The Competition and Markets Authority will regulate the industry through a new digital markets department. This was set up in 2021, but cannot set rules or impose fines until the law is passed.

Under current proposals, companies can use judicial review to challenge decisions. Judicial reviews only assess the procedure and legal basis of a decision, not its merits.

The tech industry is seeking to expand appeal options to challenge decisions based on the underlying enforcement action.

The CMA declined to comment on the letter or the proposed changes.

The Ministry of Science, Innovation and Technology said the bill will “drive innovation, grow the economy and deliver better outcomes for consumers.”

“We will continue to work closely and work with regulators as we bring forward this bill,” it added.

Additional reporting by Kate Beioley

Source : www.ft.com

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