In Brief

Labour pledges to break up tech giants where necessary

Deputy leader Tom Watson sets out plans for new regulator to prevent market abuse

Labour has called for a new dedicated digital regulator that would have the power to break up major technology companies in a bid to empower consumers.

Speaking in London yesterday, the party’s deputy leader Tom Watson set out a range of new policies to take on the tech industry, including a new Digital Bill of Rights to protect how personal data is collected and a “legal duty of care” for social media firms to safeguard children.

But it was his pledge to break up tech giants where necessary that was the most eye-catching announcement.

“The scale of the largest companies is rightly the subject of scrutiny. We should take seriously the calls to break them up if it is in the public interest,” he said.

City A.M. says the comments “will pile more pressure on firms such as Facebook, which have been hit with growing criticism amid safety concerns and the use of customer data”.

The social network, which celebrated its 15th birthday this week, has come under intense scrutiny over its use of user data following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and its failure to tackle “fake news” in the run up to elections.

Its share price has suffered amid growing calls for greater regulatory control in both Europe and the US.

In an interview with the BBC, Watson cited Facebook’s purchase of Instagram as an example of a merger that concentrated user data in a dangerous way, adding that the UK’s “competition laws are not fit for the age of big data”.

While his proposal is likely to be warmly received by digital rights campaigners, it may prove difficult to put into practice.

Reuters reports that Watson “did not set out in detail how a British regulator might attempt to break up some of the most powerful companies in the world, almost all of which are based outside the United Kingdom”.

The government is set to publish its own White Paper later this month on online harms that will look at how social media and the internet could be regulated in the face of fake news, bullying, child abuse and other digital harms.

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