The UK’s Digital Markets, Competition, and Consumers Bill will spark the UK’s digital economy, not stifle it

In today’s digital age, an open and competitive ecosystem with a diverse range of players is essential for building a resilient economy. New products and ideas must have the opportunity to grow to give people meaningful choices. Yet, this reality often falls short due to the dominance of a handful of large companies that create walled gardens by self-preferencing their services over independent competitors  –  limiting choice and hampering innovation.

The UK’s Digital Markets, Competition, and Consumers Bill (DMCCB) offers a unique opportunity to break down these barriers, paving the way for a more competitive and consumer-centric digital market. On the competition side, the DMCCB offers flexibility in allowing for targeted codes of conduct to regulate the behaviour of dominant players. This agile and future-proof approach makes it unique in the ex-ante interventions being considered around the world to rein in abuse in digital markets. An example of what such a code of conduct might look like in practice is the voluntary commitments given by Google to the CMA in the Privacy Sandbox case.

Mozilla, in line with our long history of supporting pro-competition regulatory interventions, supports the DMCCB and its underlying goal of fostering competition by empowering consumers. However, to truly deliver on this promise, the law must be robust, effective, and free from loopholes that could undermine its intent.

Last month, the House of Lords made some much needed improvements to the DMCCB – which are now slated to be debated in the House of Commons in late April/early May 2024. A high-level overview of the key positive changes and why they should remain a part of the law are:

  • Time Limits: To ensure the CMA can act swiftly and decisively, its work should be free from undue political influence. This reduces opportunities for undue lobbying and provides clarity for both consumers and companies. While it would be ideal for the CMA to be able to enforce its code of conduct, Mozilla supports the House of Lords’ amendment to introduce a 40-day time limit for the Secretary of State’s approval of CMA guidance. This is a crucial step in avoiding delays and ensuring effective enforcement. The government’s acceptance of this approach and the alternative proposal of 30 working days for debate in the House of Commons is a positive sign, which we hope is reflected in the final law.
  • Proportionality: The Bill’s approach to proportionality is vital. Introducing prohibitive proportionality requirements on remedies could weaken the CMA’s ability to make meaningful interventions, undermining the Bill’s effectiveness. Mozilla endorses the current draft of the Bill from the House of Lords, which strikes a balance by allowing for effective remedies without excessive constraints.
  • Countervailing Benefits: Similarly, the countervailing benefits exemption to CMA’s remedies, while powerful, should not be used as a loophole to justify anti-competitive practices. Mozilla urges that this exemption be reserved for cases of genuine consumer benefit by restoring the government’s original requirement that such exemptions are “indispensable”, ensuring that it does not become a ‘get out of jail free’ card for dominant players.

Mozilla remains committed to supporting the DMCCB’s swift passage through Parliament and ensuring that it delivers on its promise to empower consumers and promote innovation. We launched a petition earlier today to help push the law over the finish line. By addressing the key concerns we’ve highlighted above and maintaining a robust framework, the UK can set a global standard for digital markets and create an environment where consumers are truly in charge.