Will Google And Facebook CMA Probe Focus On GDPR?

Well that was rather quick, wasn't it? A day after the Cairncross Review called for the power of the duopoly to be examined, the Culture Secretary has asked the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to study the market for any signs of abuse.

Given that The Telegraph's estimate is that Facebook and Google account for 54% of the digital advertising market, it would be difficult to come up with any other term than the "stranglehold" description the paper applies to the two tech giants' position in the UK advertising landscape.

This is an initial examination before the CMA could decide whether a full-blown investigation is required, and so talk of the Government taking firm action against the duopoly is slightly premature.

However, it could well be the opening salvo if the CMA sees something it doesn't like, such as more than every other pound spent on digital marketing going to just two players.

The Guardian is rightly reporting this as a response to yesterday's Cairncross Review so the Government can be seen as doing something positive to aid the UK's struggling publishing sector, which cannot compete with the reach, scale and targeting offered by the duopoly.

It is very hard to know what the Government is hoping could come of any investigation. If it finds the duopoly is too powerful, would it really attempt to split up a pair of American companies?

Even if it did -- and it's almost impossible to imagine it could -- wouldn't different divisions of the same companies, no matter what they're called, still return huge sums to their shareholders?

Where there is room for possible improvement is the CMA's ability to ask to look under the lid to see how these companies work. Are they as opaque as the Culture Secretary has suggested? Or are they as transparent and GDPR compliant as they claim to be?

It's almost certain that any study of the market will discern that Facebook and Google has a dominant position. The question could then become whether they have this position of power because they are not fully open with consumers about consent and what they do with the personal information they process.

The question becomes, does this reach and targeting come about, or is it at least maintained, by a lack of transparency on data? Worse still, is it rooted in non-compliance? Are they avoiding rules the good guys in the industry have to abide by?

If there is one area that the authorities can clip the wings of the duopoly, it surely has to be what campaigners refer to as, "forced consent" and privacy policies that are long and complex, and certainly not written in the simple, understandable, concise language the GDPR calls for.

There is no granular control over consent for different uses, just a blanket "click here" to carry on using the service.

Predictions are always troublesome, but if I were a local paper that the Cairncross Review had in its sights to protect, I would probably believe there is more scope in tackling Facebook and Google's dominance via privacy compliance than an edict from the competition watchdog.

Tackling how the duopoly maintain their dominance and offer reach and targeting that advertisers can't find elsewhere is the most likely way that action can be taken. 

Compliance will be the one to look out for here, rather than competition alone.

The ICO has already said it is taking an initial look at complaints against Google -- and let's not forget it was a competition watchdog in Germany that recently told Facebook to mend its ways and cease collating user data across apps without express consent. 

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