The Daily Telegraph

Big tech crackdown is coming, Facebook told

Culture Secretary hints at stronger action against Big Tech following row over Australian news payments

- By Hannah Boland

Oliver Dowden has told Facebook to prepare for tough action on big tech companies. The Culture Secretary spoke to Sir Nick Clegg, Facebook’s public relations chief, amid growing fears that Silicon Valley giants are distorting democracy. The call is the clearest sign yet that the Government intends to take action. Mr Dowden said the decision to ban news from its Australian site suggested that Facebook “was putting its bottom line above the public interest”.

OLIVER DOWDEN has told Facebook to prepare for a major crackdown on Big Tech firms as ministers draw up a landmark interventi­on in the market.

The Culture Secretary spoke to Facebook’s PR chief Sir Nick Clegg on Thursday amid growing fears that overmighty Silicon Valley titans are distorting democracy and competitio­n across the West.

The call between Mr Dowden and former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Nick – which lasted more than an hour – is the clearest sign yet that the Government intends to take action.

It comes after Facebook sparked global outrage when it temporaril­y took down posts by Australian news firms in a row over a new law forcing the company to pay them for their content.

Facebook later restored the pages and has agreed a deal with news firms, but Sir Nick defended its position in an incendiary blog post where he said the planned rules were “like forcing carmakers to fund radio stations because people might listen to them in the car – and letting the stations set the price”.

Facebook’s show of strength prompted fresh scrutiny from government­s and regulators, with various countries including Canada now said to be looking at similar media codes.

Mr Dowden – who also spoke to his Australian counterpar­t Paul Fletcher – said the social network’s decision to ban news from its site was a “concerning move which looked like Facebook was putting its bottom line above the public interest”.

He added: “I put these concerns to Facebook and set out our interest in levelling the playing field to enable proper commercial relationsh­ips to be formed. We must avoid such nuclear options being taken again.

“Recent events have strengthen­ed my view that we do not have properly functionin­g digital markets, and the UK will be at the forefront of global efforts to address this.

“We are working on a pro-competitio­n regime which will benefit not just news publishers, but also consumers and other businesses affected by the market dominance of a small number of big platforms.”

He continued: “Tech titans have become the gatekeeper­s of online knowledge and the custodians of virtual public squares, and the Government won’t shy away from intervenin­g to protect the interests of the public when it needs to.”

Facebook said the call had been constructi­ve, and that “the Government’s general preference is for companies to enter freely into proper commercial relationsh­ips with each other”.

The company said in the UK, it had already struck deals under its Facebook News initiative, which means that news

‘The Government won’t shy away from intervenin­g to protect the interests of the public when it needs to’

articles appear in a dedicated feed on the social media site.

Britain has already taken steps to curb the dominance of Big Tech in markets such as search and advertisin­g, and is in the process of setting up a new digital markets unit within the Competitio­n and Markets Authority, which will be handed fresh powers.

The Government is yet to decide what those powers will be, although the CMA has said it should be able to levy billions of pounds in fines on tech companies.

It is also bringing in new laws to help protect children using social media sites, through the Online Safety Bill.

Mr Dowden said: “We will hold these companies to account and bridge the gap between what they say they do and what happens in practice.

“We will prevent these firms from exploiting their dominance to the detriment of people and the businesses that rely on them.”

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