The competition watchdog in the UK has warned that web giants like Google and Facebook could damage democracy and have ‘little regard for’ users’ privacy and the harm they cause.

Andrea Coscelli spoke out online on Thursday to say that a “small number” of large digital firms has become “extremely powerful” and it is now very difficult for potential opponents to challenge them.

The head of Competition and Markets Authority, (CMA), made these remarks as he explained the work of Digital Markets Unit. This unit was created in April to oversee the creation of a new regulatory regime for internet giants.

He claimed that big businesses have ‘fortified their’ positions and often give a ‘little regard’ to data privacy considerations, fair terms and wider harms, while being ‘largely restricted’ by the absence a competitive marketplace.

Dr. Coscelli, in what appeared to be a reference Facebook, also stated that there is’real concern’ about the impact that some firms have upon the ‘democratic processes’ because of their vulnerability to exploitation and their role as a vector of fake news and disinformation.

In September, researchers in the U.S. found that misinformation on Facebook receives six times as many likes and shares as factual posts.

And, in highlighting how the internet can potentially harm society – including with the ‘sharing of illegal and abusive material’ – he referenced this month’s killing of Conservative MP Sir David Amess.

He stated that the digital sphere also has potential harms for society. These include the sharing of illegal and abusive materials and their potential impact on mental health, especially in young people, as we were reminded again two weeks ago by the murder of Sir David Amess (British Member of Parliament).

Ali Harbi Ali, Sir David’s killer, is believed have’self-radicalized’ online by searching for extremist material.

Web giants such as Facebook and Google risk damaging the democratic process and often have 'little regard' for users' privacy or the harm caused by their platforms, the boss of the UK's competition watchdog has said

Facebook and Google, web giants, could harm democracy. They often do not care about users’ privacy or the harm their platforms can cause, according to the head of the UK’s competition watchdog.

Dr Coscelli was speaking online in the ‘Beesley lecture series. He made these remarks after Frances Haugen (a Facebook whistleblower) made a series bombshell claims about her former employer, during a hearing at Parliament this week.

She claimed that bullying occurs at home because it is on Facebook.

Dr. Coscelli began by pointing out that the average Briton now spends four hours online per day and that digital markets have become crucial for economic growth.

Competition and Markets Authority chief Andrea Coscelli said big firms have 'fortified' their positions and often give 'little regard to data privacy considerations, fair and reasonable terms or wider harms'

Andrea Coscelli, Competition and Markets Authority chief, said that big companies have ‘fortified” their positions and often give a ‘little consideration to data privacy considerations and fair and reasonable terms or larger harms’

He stated that digital markets not functioning as they should is a reason to be concerned.

“We are seeing increasing evidence that some digital markets are becoming less competitive. A few very large firms hold powerful positions in key digital market sectors.

“They have built and established their market power on the backs of powerful network effects that make them extremely difficult to challenge.

He stated that companies like Google and Facebook buy start up competitors to maintain market power and also to’set the terms & conditions’ under which businesses can access the market.

He said that they decide how to use data from consumers and businesses, often without considering data privacy considerations, fair terms and wider harms.

“And they can exert this great influence largely without being constrained by competitive forces.”

Earlier this month, the CMA fined Facebook £50.5million for breaching an order imposed during an investigation into its purchase of GIF platform Giphy.

CMA stated that Facebook had deliberately ignored its order.

Dr. Coscelli stated on Thursday, however, that the fine was only 15 hours worth of profits for Facebook.

He said that it had become “increasingly obvious” that the CMA’s existing tools to address concerns about digital media competition are ‘not enough’.

Dr. Coscelli backed his argument for the need to change by stating that none of the 400 digital firm acquisitions between 2008 and 2018 had been blocked either by the CMA or other competition authorities.

He said firms like Google and Facebook buy start-up competitors to help maintain their market power and also 'set the terms and conditions' to which businesses have to agree to access the market

He stated that companies like Google and Facebook purchase start-up rivals to maintain market power and to’set the terms & conditions’ under which businesses can access the market.

He said that there was now a consensus that some acquisitions shouldn’t have been made, and that these acquisitions allowed these firms to build and strengthen their market power.

Chief of the CMA highlighted that his organization had opened an investigation into Google and Amazon’s efforts to combat misleading and fake reviews on their platforms.

He stated that this work builds on the October 2020 undertakings from Facebook to combat hidden advertising by social media influencers via its Instagram platform and the commitments made by eBay, Facebook, and Instagram to address the trading of fake online opinions on their platforms.

‘It simply isn’t enough for platforms to take a passive stance where they only deal with illegal material when drawn to their attention – they need to develop systems that detect such material and then remove it or suppress it – and then ban or sanction those responsible.

“Consumers won’t be able to participate freely in digital marketplaces if they don’t trust the information presented to them.”

“Furthermore such reviews are unfair on law-abiding companies, who face competitive disadvantages.”

Dr. Coscelli also discussed the CMA’s proposals for a new regulation regime for the largest online firms.

They include a code of conduct that is enforceable to prevent firms from ‘taking advantage’ of their powerful position.

Dr Coscelli, who was speaking online as part of the 'Beesley' lecture series, made his remarks after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen (pictured) made a series of bombshell claims about her former employer during a hearing in Parliament this week

Dr. Coscelli was speaking online as part the ‘Beesley’ lecture series after Frances Haugen, a Facebook whistleblower, made a series a bombshell claims about her former employer at a hearing in Parliament this Wednesday

The Digital Markets Unit of the CMA (DMU), would also be able to block takeovers by web giants of smaller competitors. This would help to prevent the stifling competition.

The code of Conduct would also prohibit large digital firms’ from ‘taking advantage their powerful positions’ such as by ‘exploiting customers or excluding competitors.

The DMU will oversee the regime and it will be backed up by legislation from the Government.

Dr. Coscelli stated that these changes will swing the pendulum in favor of protecting consumers and creating a digital economy in order to foster innovation and competition.

He made his speech shortly after Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook boss announced that the firm would change its name to Meta in order to better serve customers. It will not be involved in any scandals, including those involving Ms Haugen.  

Meta is Zuckerberg’s vision of the company’s transition to shared augmented reality where users can work and play in virtual worlds.

The brand’s attempt to escape reality couldn’t have come at a better moment. It will keep the Facebook name. However, Facebook Inc., the parent company that owns Instagram, WhatsApp, and other social media platforms, will now be known as Meta.