Andrew Tyrie, the former chair of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has said that the watchdog is struggling to keep up with the huge online marketplace created by Amazon, Google, and Facebook.
Tyrie, who stepped down from his position at the CMA last year, argues that one of the regulator’s biggest problems is that most businesses and consumers have “never heard of it”.
In a new report, Tyrie says that consumers are “paying the price” for the “relative invisibility” of the watchdog as they are unable to effectively deter unfair and uncompetitive trading practices.
“The CMA needs to be an organisation we can rely upon to protect ourselves,” Tyrie said. “We need to know how to approach it and to see it acting on our behalf and which firms know will bear down on poor conduct and act as a deterrent.”
Tyrie said there is growing scope for consumers to be ripped off with so many services and goods now being purchased over the internet.
“I have spoken a number of times about the growing sense of vulnerability felt by previously confident and capable consumers. We are all vulnerable now.”
Tyrie, a former Conserative MP, has complained for many years that the UK’s competition and consumer law is stuck in the analogue age.
Tyrie argues that the CMA needs new powers in order to do its job effectively as the traditional tools of competition policy just aren’t good enough in the digital era.
The report advises that a quick solution would be for the CMA to set up a simple online form for consumers to easily report rip-off services or products.
Despite previously being criticised for targeting obscure firms for its investigations, the CMA opened a probe last week into Amazon and Google.
The CMA alleges that the two tech giants have not done enough to remove fake reviews on their respective platforms.
A CMA spokesperson said the watchdog is “committed to delivering for consumers across the UK” and pointed out that in recent times its work had managed to secure “refunds for thousands of holidaymakers, secured landmark changes for leaseholders and given increased protection to people arranging funerals for loved ones”.
“We have always been clear that there is more we could do with stronger and more flexible powers and have submitted proposals to this effect to the government,” the spokesperson added.
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