Insights Ofcom and Competition and Markets Authority publish joint statement on online safety and competition in digital markets

The joint statement sets out how the two regulators will work together to carry out their safety and competition duties in ways that create the greatest possible benefit for UK consumers and citizens. It is part of a programme of work to support wider co-operation among digital regulators under the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum.

The statement explores the interactions between competition and safety online. The aim is to ensure that the CMA and Ofcom take a coherent approach when dealing with these concerns using their existing powers and under new duties.

How algorithms, data and user interfaces shape consumer engagement with online services is key to understanding some of today’s competition and user safety issues. There is significant scope for regulators to share knowledge and ensure a joined-up approach where interventions target these service features. However, the interactions between safety and competition can be even more direct, particularly for those platforms that govern the rules by which content reaches users and people connect with others, and which have gained unassailable positions in their markets.

There is scope for interventions that target these platforms to improve outcomes across both regimes. Competition interventions can strengthen incentives for these platforms to improve safety by making it easier for consumers and advertisers to switch in search of better protections. Online safety interventions clarifying requirements can give consumers greater confidence to switch from larger platforms to new entrants or smaller competitors. Ofcom and the CMA says that considering this overlap will allow regulators to shape interventions in both areas to maximise the benefits to UK consumers.

However, the regulators acknowledge that the effects of interventions across these areas are not always complementary. As online safety and competition regimes have distinct policy aims, there can be occasions where interventions for one objective may impact adversely on outcomes for the other. It is important that such impacts are identified and mitigated. For example, interventions to improve online safety may make it harder for new firms to enter and compete with large and established services. Where such unintended effects are unavoidable, regulators will need to be transparent about trade-offs and ensure that the impact is proportionate to the problems they are targeting.

Finally, where platforms act as gateways for other businesses to reach customers, they can take on a quasi-regulatory role. In some cases, these gateway platforms may impose safety standards on other businesses that restrict competition more than is needed. Clear online safety standards and collaboration among regulators can ensure that platforms meet safety requirements in a way which does not distort competition unnecessarily. To read the Statement in full, click here.