In-depth reporting, data and actionable intelligence for policy professionals – all in one place.
A daily briefing on the political and policy decisions that impact the Tech sector across the UK.
Presented by Google
By TOM BRISTOW
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— Activision gets its chance today to explain to the CMA why it should be taken over by Microsoft.
— All eyes are on the House of Lords as peers see if the Online Safety Bill will be back before Easter. In the meantime, we have a mammoth (and brilliant) piece to read about its long and winding history.
— TikTok bans, blocks and probes mapped across Europe.
Good morning and welcome back,
I’m writing this from my study, listening to the road outside my house being dug up, while trying to ignore a headache. The only known cure for this journalist’s ailments is getting a scoop, so cheer me up by sending your gossip and tips to Annabelle Dickson, Mark Scott and me. You can also follow us on Twitter @TomSBristow @NewsAnnabelle @markscott82.
COMING TO A CLOSE: Microsoft defended its $69 billion bid for games developer Activision-Blizzard at a behind-closed-doors hearing at the Competition and Markets Authority HQ in Canary Wharf Tuesday. Today it is the turn of Activision to set out its case. The “response hearings” represent the companies’ last chance to convince the CMA that the merger should go ahead.
Recap: Microsoft’s proposed takeover is being investigated by the CMA amid concerns that it will harm choice for U.K. gamers. It has set a date of April 26 to publish its decision. The CMA has previously told Microsoft and Activision that they could allay anti-competition fears by divesting games including “Call of Duty” and “World of Warcraft.” Microsoft responded by offering to tackle the CMA’s concerns by offering “long-term 100 percent equal access” to “Call of Duty” to Sony, Nintendo, Steam and others.
Leave us alone: A Microsoft spokesperson was feeling spiky Tuesday telling us: “The decision now lies with the CMA on whether it will block this deal and protect Sony, the dominant market leader, or consider solutions that make more games available to more players.”
Taking aim: Activision has also previously taken aim at Sony. Its chief executive told POLITICO ‘s Sam Stolton last week that regulators should approve the deal to level out Sony’s “overwhelming competitive advantage.” He claimed that Sony was doing “everything it can” to block the acquisition.
Muscle flex: The five-month case has been a chance for the CMA to flex its muscles with tech companies before getting more powers later this year when the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill passes. The bill will give powers to its newish Digital Markets Unit (DMU).
Olive branch: Matthew Braovac, the director of the DMU, told a conference on Monday that the new legislation should help reduce the “long court battles, lots of back and forth and really slow enforcement” in the existing structure. He added: “We’re looking for a new way to work in collaboration with firms to tackle problems earlier and a faster, clearer and more proportionate way. And we think that the new regime will enable us to do that.”
FUTURE OF WORK: The CBI holds its Future of Work conference today at 8 Northumberland Avenue, near Trafalgar Square, with speeches from Director General Tony Danker, Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner, and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan.
Automation is our friend: Danker will tell the conference that companies need more robotics and AI to make up for skills and people shortages. “Any firm not reviewing now how to do this will find themselves chasing in vain to catch up,” he will say.
Back of the pack: A CBI report from 2021 estimated that AI could add £38bn to the U.K. economy in 2030, but Danker will tell the conference: “Research shows that we’re currently behind our competitors in Europe in innovating to work smarter. In fact, we’re right at the back of the pack, behind Italy, Portugal and everyone else.”
Immigration + AI: But he will argue that AI is not a replacement for immigration, which he says the U.K. also needs. “Politicians and academics now champion [AI] as a replacement for immigration,” he will say. “They seem to ignore the reality that it’s likely to replace as many if not more skilled jobs than lower-skilled ones.”
SATELLITE’S NOT GONE: The science and technology committee is examining the U.K.’s failed satellite launch from January. The hearing starts at 9.30am and MPs will question bosses of the plane and rocket manufacturer, Space Forge and Virgin Orbit as well as the head of the launch site Spaceport Cornwall.
DEEP MINDS: The Royal Society is hosting a conference on machine learning and AI with the keynote by Demis Hassabis, CEO of DeepMind. You can register for free to attend online.
**A message from Google: “Olivia would like to download Toontastic 3D”. It’s not easy keeping up with kids and their devices. Google’s Family Link app sends a phone notification to let parents block or approve their child’s app downloads. So that’s one less thing to watch out for. Learn more.**
EASTER HANGOVER: All eyes are on the House of Lords today as the government sets out its legislative agenda for the next month. There have been some rumblings among peers that they might not get their say on the Online Safety Bill until after they return from their Easter break in mid-April with bills on leveling-up, retained European law and anti-strike regulations “stacking up.” Peers had expected the bill to come back in March, but time is running out for it to be announced in the final weeks before the Easter holidays.
Political omnishambles: It is the latest twist in the very long saga of the Online Safety Bill. My colleagues Mark Scott and Annabelle Dickson have spoken to more than two dozen government ministers, backbench politicians, former and current officials, tech executives and civil society campaigners involved in shaping the proposals. What emerged was a fascinating account of how the legislation has fallen victim to the political omnishambles of the last five years.
A tale of four prime ministers: “Repeated changes in government policy — driven by four prime ministers and five digital ministers since the proposals were first published in 2019 — have created a Frankenstein bill aimed at pleasing everyone. In reality, it has left almost everyone unhappy,” they write. Read the full saga here.
DATA TROUBLE: A complaint made by a parent to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), supported by child advocacy group 5Rights, alleges that YouTube “illegally” gathered data of up to 5 million children in the U.K. The case is the first against a Big Tech company using the ICO’s Age-Appropriate Design Code (aka the Children’s Code) which came into force in 2021. It is being brought by Duncan McCann, a parent who works for 5Rights.
The case against: McCann claims the location, viewing habits, and preferences of children are being recorded by YouTube breaking GDPR and breaching industry standards.
Hit delete: McCann, a parent of three young children, wants the ICO to force YouTube to delete all the data it has collected on children. He said: “Imagine YouTube as an adult stranger following your child online with a virtual clipboard recording everything they do”, adding: “It is a massive, unlicensed, social experiment on our children with uncertain consequences.”
No pick and mix: 5Rights founder Baroness Beeban Kidron said: “Data law is not a pick and mix of what elements companies want to adhere to; it is a holistic approach that requires companies to offer children the highest degree of data privacy and in doing so lessen their exposure to harmful experiences and exploitation online.”
The defense: A YouTube spokesperson said: “Over the years, we’ve made investments to protect kids and families, such as launching a dedicated kids app, introducing new data practices for children’s content, and providing more age-appropriate experiences. Building on that long-standing approach and following the additional guidance provided by the Code, we implemented further measures to bolster children’s privacy on YouTube, such as more protective default settings and a dedicated YouTube Supervised Experience. We remain committed to continuing our engagement with the ICO on this priority work, and with other key stakeholders including children, parents and child protection experts.”
Looking closer: It now falls to the ICO to decide what to do next. Its deputy commissioner for regulatory supervision, Stephen Bonner, said: “The Children’s Code makes clear that children are not like adults online, and their data needs meaningful protections. We’ll consider this complaint carefully.” Bonner added that the ICO had seen “improvements in how children are treated online” since the code was introduced, including “fewer targeted adverts and new parental supervision tools.”
MORE TIKTOK BANS: Canada has joined the U.S. and European Commission in banning TikTok from government phones. It is hard to keep up with which countries are doing what with TikTok so my colleagues in Brussels have created a handy map for you.
BRUSSELS: Apple got a second European Union charge sheet from an antitrust probe into music streaming that revises a 2021 statement of objections over how the company charges apps on its platform, top colleague Samuel Stolton reports.
FAIR SHARE NOT ON RADAR: While a row about who should fund the rollout of 5G and broadband rages in Barcelona, in London the idea has been met with a shrug from the boss of the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. Asked by Morning Tech U.K. about a European Commission consultation, which could require Big Tech companies to shoulder more of the costs of the infrastructure, Michelle Donelan was unenthusiastic about the prospect of a U.K. version of the plan. The idea was “not even on their radar,” Donelan said of the telecom bosses who she held a roundtable discussion with “literally a few weeks ago.”
Job creators: “I don’t think this is something that as a country we should be looking at, because I’m obviously pro-innovation and pro-investment,” Donelan said. While she insisted she wanted to back telecoms investment in connectivity, she highlighted her support for “the likes of Netflix and all the other companies” for which it would have ramifications, “because they’re great job creators and growing entities in the U.K. as well.”
CYBER RESILIENCE PROS: The U.K.’s tech ministry is looking for five advisers to work on its cyber resilience policy team. The salary is up to £39,587 and the role can be based in Belfast, Darlington, London, Loughborough or Manchester.
SNAPCHAT: Snap has become the latest tech company to rollout an AI chatbot, the Verge reports.
VIDEO ADDICTS: Chinese media regulators are looking at ways to curb addiction among young people to short-form video, something social media companies have been trending towards since TikTok’s rise, Bloomberg reports.
Morning Tech wouldn’t happen without editor Oscar Williams.
**A message from Google: Yoga. DJing. Engineering. Unicorns. When online family safety experts Internet Matters asked children about life online, three out of four kids said the internet was important for learning about things they don’t get taught in real life. But it’s not easy for us adults to know every app out there. To help, the Google Family Link app lets parents review, block, or approve every new download their kids request, and also see how long they spend with it. It includes parental controls for YouTube and the YouTube Kids app too, so parents know their kids are watching content that’s appropriate for their age, whether that’s cartoons or science experiments. Learn more about Google’s tools to help families be safer online here.**
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