Competition Law

This year, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) is set to gain a range of new enforcement powers under the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers (“DMCC”) Act (the final text is now available here). The DMCC Act received Royal Assent on 24 May 2024. However, with certain exceptions, the Act’s provisions will not come into force until secondary legislation is passed. The CMA initially expected its new responsibilities to become operational in the Autumn, but this timeline may be delayed due to the UK’s election on 4th July. On the same day as the DMCC Act became law, the CMA published for consultation its new Digital Markets Competition Regime Guidance.

An outline of the key provisions of the DMCC Act can be found here. As the CMA sets the groundwork for exercising its powers under this new regime, this blog post considers five practical considerations for firms active in the UK.

Key takeaways:

  1. The CMA will administer the new regime through a specialist Digital Markets Unit, which was established over three years ago.
  2. The DMCC Act may diverge from the EU’s Digital Markets Act, both in the companies being designated, and the obligations imposed on designated companies.
  3. The interplay between the DMCC regime and existing regulatory obligations – particularly the GDPR – is likely to raise practical challenges.
  4. We expect the CMA to exercise its powers under the digital markets regime alongside existing antitrust tools (which the DMCC Act amends).
  5. The CMA’s jurisdictional thresholds to review mergers under the UK’s merger control regime will change as a result of the DMCC Act.

Continue Reading The UK’s New Digital Markets Regime: Some Key Takeaways

The Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers (“DMCC”) Act received Royal Assent on 24 May 2024 (the final text is now available here). The DMCC Act will only enter into force, however, when secondary commencement legislation has been enacted (with some minor exceptions). This is expected to occur in Autumn 2024, but it could be delayed due to the General Election taking place on 4th July. This secondary legislation could also stagger the dates on which separate provisions become effective.

This legislation ushers in a new rulebook for the largest digital firms active in the UK, alongside some consequential changes to the broader UK competition law framework. In relation to digital markets specifically:

  • The Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) may designate certain companies active in digital markets in the UK as holding “Strategic Market Status” (“SMS“) in relation to a specific digital activity. Companies designated with SMS will need to comply with tailored conduct requirements imposed by the CMA and report certain transactions to the CMA ahead of completion.
  • The CMA can make “pro-competition interventions” (“PCIs“) to impose requirements to remedy or prevent conduct in relation to digital activities which the CMA considers to have an adverse effect on competition.
  • The CMA will be able to impose fines of up to 10% of worldwide group turnover for non-compliance with SMS conduct requirements or “pro-competition orders”.

More broadly, the DMCC Act includes some amendments to the UK’s existing competition law regime which apply to all sectors of the economy. In particular, the DMCC Act introduces a new merger control jurisdictional review threshold designed to capture vertical and conglomerate mergers where the parties do not overlap, applicable to any industry. Additionally, the DMCC Act introduces a fast-track route to a Phase 2 review without the need to concede at Phase 1 that there is a realistic prospect that the merger gives rise to a substantial lessening of competition.

This post outlines each of these changes. For an analysis of some key practical considerations for companies in light of the DMCC Act, please see this separate post here.Continue Reading Overview of the UK’s New Digital Markets Regime

Opt-out collective actions (i.e. US-style class actions) can only be brought in the UK as competition law claims.  Periodic proposals  to legislate to expand this regime to consumer law claims have so far faltered.  However, this is now back on the Parliamentary agenda.  Several members of the House of Lords have indicated their support for expanding the regime to allow consumers and small businesses to bring opt-out collective actions for breaches of consumer law, and potentially on other bases.

If implemented, this expansion would be very significant and would allow for many new types of class actions in the UK.  Tech companies are already prime targets as defendants to competition-related opt-out class actions.  An expansion of the regime to allow actions for breaches of consumer law, as well as competition law, would only increase their exposure further.

As there is now limited time for legislation to be passed to effect such changes before the UK Parliament is dissolved in advance of an upcoming general election, this may be an issue for the next Parliament.  It will therefore be important to assess what the UK’s main parties say on this – and any manifesto commitments – in the run-up to the election.Continue Reading UK Opt-Out Class Actions for Non-Competition Claims back on Parliamentary Agenda

Recent proposals to amend the UK’s national security investment screening regime mean that investors may in future be required to make mandatory, suspensory, pre-closing filings to the UK Government when seeking to invest in a broader range of companies developing generative artificial intelligence (AI). The UK Government launched a Call for Evidence in November 2023 seeking input from stakeholders on a number of potential amendments to the operation of the National Security and Investment Act (NSIA) regime, including whether generative AI, which the Government states is not currently directly in scope of the AI filing trigger, should expressly fall within the mandatory filing regime. The Call for Evidence closes on 15 January 2024.

This blog sets out how the NSIA regime operates, how investments in companies developing AI are currently caught by the NSIA, and the Government’s proposals to refine the scope of AI activities captured by the regime, including potentially directly encompassing generative AI.Continue Reading UK Government Consults on Amending Mandatory Filing Obligations for AI Acquisitions

On October 30, 2023, days ahead of government leaders convening in the UK for an international AI Safety Summit, the White House issued an Executive Order (“EO”) outlining an expansive strategy to support the development and deployment of safe and secure AI technologies (for further details on the EO, see our blog here). As readers will be aware, the European Commission released its proposed Regulation Laying Down Harmonized Rules on Artificial Intelligence (the EU “AI Act”) in 2021 (see our blog here). EU lawmakers are currently negotiating changes to the Commission text, with hopes of finalizing the text by the end of this year, although many of its obligations would only begin to apply to regulated entities in 2026 or later.

The EO and the AI Act stand as two important developments shaping the future of global AI governance and regulation. This blog post discusses key similarities and differences between the two.Continue Reading From Washington to Brussels: A Comparative Look at the Biden Administration’s Executive Order and the EU’s AI Act

Earlier today, the White House issued a Fact Sheet summarizing its Executive Order on a comprehensive strategy to support the development of safe and secure artificial intelligence (“AI”).  The Executive Order follows a number of actions by the Biden Administration on AI, including its Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights and voluntary commitments from certain developers of AI systems.  According to the Administration, the Executive Order establishes new AI safety and security standards, protects privacy, advances equity and civil rights, protects workers, consumers, and patients, promotes innovation and competition, and advances American leadership.  This blog post summarizes these key components.Continue Reading Biden Administration Announces Artificial Intelligence Executive Order

On 4 May 2023, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) announced it is launching a review into AI foundation models and their potential implications for the UK competition and consumer protection regime. The CMA’s review is part of the UK’s wider approach to AI regulation which will require existing regulators to take responsibility for promoting and overseeing responsible AI within their sectors (for further information on the UK Government’s strategy, including its recent AI White Paper, see our blog post here). The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (“ICO”) has also recently published guidance for businesses on best practices for data protection-compliant AI (see our post here for more details).Continue Reading UK’s Competition and Markets Authority Launches Review into AI Foundation Models

On 16 July 2020, the European Commission (“Commission”) announced that it has launched an antitrust sector inquiry into “consumer-related products and services that are connected to a network and can be controlled at a distance, for example via a voice assistant or mobile device.

Commission Executive Vice President and Competition Commissioner Vestager said that “[t]he sector inquiry will cover products such as wearable devices (e.g. smart watches or fitness trackers) and connected consumer devices used in the smart home context, such as fridges, washing machines, smart TVs, smart speakers and lighting systems. The sector inquiry will also collect information about the services available via smart devices, such as music and video streaming services and about the voice assistants used to access them.” Connected cars are outside of the scope of the inquiry.
Continue Reading IoT Update: The European Commission launches an antitrust sector inquiry into the sector of Internet of Things for consumer-related devices and services

On 8 October 2018, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) published a Working Paper on the ‘use of pricing algorithms to facilitate collusion and personalized pricing’ (the “Paper”). It follows a number of other initiatives from competition authorities regarding algorithms, including the recent German Monopolies Commission’s proposals regarding pricing algorithms, which was the subject of a Covington Competition Blog post. The CMA’s analysis reflects input from algorithm providers, other competition authorities, and the results of the CMA’s findings from pilot tests. The Paper is economic rather than legal in focus, and assesses the extent to which various algorithm models have the potential to affect competition.
Continue Reading The CMA’s Paper on Pricing Algorithms, Collusion and Personalised Pricing

On the 10th October 2018, BEREC (the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) launched its public consultation on the ‘Data Economy’. This comes at a time when different regulators are increasingly discussing the importance of big data, including the opportunities and risks that it brings about, how these may evolve, and how (and increasingly who should take the responsibility) to regulate. While the data protection and competition authorities have so far been most vocal in this deepening regulatory debate, the opening of this consultation represents a clear and decisive move by European telecom regulators to ‘throw their hat’ into the ring and get included in the discussion – and potentially future regulation – of Europe’s data economy.

All interested stakeholders, including public organisations, industry actors, consumers, associations, academics, financial advisers, and other stakeholders with expertise or interest in the data economy are strongly encouraged to have their say. BEREC’s consultation video can be accessed here, and the consultation is open until 21 November 2018.Continue Reading IoT Update: BEREC launches public consultation on the ‘Data Economy’