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Brexit, Digital Platforms and Algorithms: Exploring Competition Policy in the UK

Competition policy has become a central issue in economics and politics around the world, particularly in light of recent investigations into the practices of large technology companies. These topics were debated at a recent event hosted by the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University of London.

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The rise of digital platforms has brought challenges for policymakers
The rise of digital platforms has brought challenges for policymakers

Investigations into large technology companies’ allegedly monopolistic behaviour across the globe has put competition policy in the spotlight. Debates concerning robust enforcement of current rules to tame tech giants have ensued with many calling for a new legal framework.

These were the issues discussed by expert panellists Amelia Fletcher CBE (Professor of Competition Policy at the University of East Anglia and former member of the Digital Competition Expert Panel), Mike Walker (Chief Economic Adviser at the CMA) and David Parker (Director in the Competition Practice at Frontier Economics). The event was organised by the Mile End Institute (MEI) and Queen Mary Economics graduate David Pakozdi. It was the first MEI event to focus specifically on competition policy.

Competition post-Brexit 

As the role the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) expands with Brexit, the panel explored how its proposed approach towards tech platforms compares in an international context, especially regarding the EU, and discussed how it can be effective in making sure that markets do not favour a single dominant player. The experts also examined what governments, academics, economists and the private sector can do to tackle the challenges posed by algorithmic business models that amplify human biases.

Global challenges

Commenting on her research on digital platforms, Professor Amelia Fletcher CBE said: “Some digital platforms were exhibiting gatekeeper positions regarding some users. Business users really needed to use these platforms in order to gain access to consumers and that conferred a degree of bottleneck market power. We were also concerned that these market positions were becoming extended into new services creating a whole new kind of digital ecosystems.”

Mike Walker reflected on what he felt had been learned about digital platforms in recent years. He said: “We need to recognise the fact that digital platforms create great products […] but it doesn’t mean that competition policy doesn’t apply to these firms […] we have learned that competition policy has failed […] it is just too slow.”

David Parker, emphasising that the views expressed were his own, said: “The decade ahead is going to be challenging for digital firms because of the fragmentation and approaches. If you’re a global firm working in global markets you’d ideally like want to have a global approach to compliance […] We have multiple developments happening simultaneously in different jurisdictions, I think that is going to make life very difficult across the board.”

About the Mile End Institute

The Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University of London is a major policy centre established at Queen Mary University of London. It brings together research, policy-making and public debate to deepen and challenge understandings of British politics, governance and public policy to address the major political challenges of our time.

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