Competition and Markets Authority boss Andrea Coscelli warns Facebook: Britain will block your takeovers
The boss of Britain’s markets watchdog has ramped up his attack on US tech giants with a threat to block takeovers in foreign countries if UK customers face losing out.
Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the Competition and Markets Authority, told The Mail on Sunday that the UK has the power to stop takeovers by Facebook and Google in any country – and will not hesitate to use it.
He slammed accusations from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that the UK is an ‘anti-tech’ nation. Zuckerberg made the comments in 2018 to then Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, but they only emerged last week.
Warning: The UK has the power to stop takeovers by Facebook and Google in any country – and will not hesitate to use it
Coscelli believes the American giants have grown far too big and he is convinced that regulators need to ‘give new companies a chance to grow’.
He said: ‘Where there is a [takeover by a] truly global business, the question is if there is a problem in the UK… can you block the whole thing? The answer is yes.
‘A number of transactions have been blocked by a certain regulator because there was no fix for that particular market. We think the UK market is sizeable enough and that is what will happen in future if it is appropriate.’
Coscelli said: ‘We would argue that [the tech giants] want policies that are ‘pro-business’ – i.e. pro-them. What we are trying to do is pro-market.
‘If you look at the history of Google and Facebook, they had their chance. They started from nothing. They had brilliant ideas and they progressed.
‘The problem we have now is there is a concern that some of these platforms are so big, they have so much data and they are so effective at early action against possible future competitors that these markets are not developing in the way they should.
‘We are giving chances to new companies to grow, expand and have their chance.’ The CMA is calling for powers to levy multi-billion-pound fines on the likes of Google and Facebook if they fall foul of rules that will be enforced by a new regulator.
The Digital Markets Unit will aim to prevent large internet firms from abusing their dominant positions. It could stop tech giants from killing competition by gobbling up smaller rivals – even if the target companies are not based in the UK.
Coscelli said regulators will work with their counterparts in other countries, but would not wait for others to take action first.
‘If there are problems here in the UK, it is quite right that we fix them. Otherwise we will get into that very depressing situation where we feel we are very passive recipients of what others decide.’
He added that, ‘We’ve kind of moved on’ from the concept of waiting for the Americans to fix problems.
Coscelli pointed out that authorities in the EU and in the US are pursuing similar plans to police internet giants.
Last week, the US government and 48 states filed a blockbuster lawsuit calling for Facebook to be broken up. The case revealed that company executives had debated how they could ‘neutralise’ rivals through takeovers.
Coscelli added: ‘These initiatives have nothing to do with the fact that these platforms are American. We would advocate exactly the same regulation against British businesses, Chinese businesses, or whoever is in this position.’