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Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill (Fourth sitting)

Debated on Thursday 15 June 2023

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Rushanara Ali, Mr Philip Hollobone, Dame Maria Miller

† Carter, Andy (Warrington South) (Con)

Coyle, Neil (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)

Davies-Jones, Alex (Pontypridd) (Lab)

Dowd, Peter (Bootle) (Lab)

† Firth, Anna (Southend West) (Con)

† Ford, Vicky (Chelmsford) (Con)

† Foy, Mary Kelly (City of Durham) (Lab)

† Hollinrake, Kevin (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade)

† Malhotra, Seema (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)

Mayhew, Jerome (Broadland) (Con)

Mishra, Navendu (Stockport) (Lab)

Russell, Dean (Watford) (Con)

† Scully, Paul (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology)

Stevenson, Jane (Wolverhampton North East) (Con)

† Thomson, Richard (Gordon) (SNP)

Watling, Giles (Clacton) (Con)

† Wood, Mike (Dudley South) (Con)

Kevin Maddison, John-Paul Flaherty, Bradley Albrow, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee


Kelli Fairbrother, Co-founder and CEO, xigxag

Christian Owens, Founder and Executive Chairman, Paddle

Tom Morrison-Bell, Government Affairs and Public Policy Manager, Google

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 15 June 2023


[Rushanara Ali in the Chair]

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill

The Committee deliberated in private.

Examination of Witnesses

Kelli Fairbrother and Christian Owens gave evidence.

Q 161 Good afternoon. We will now hear oral evidence, for the 13th panel, from Kelli Fairbrother, co-founder and CEO of xigxag, and Christian Owens, founder and executive chairman of Paddle. We will have until 2.30 pm. Could the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record?

Kelli Fairbrother: I am Kelli Fairbrother. I am the co-founder and CEO of xigxag.

Christian Owens: And I am Christian Owens. I am the founder and executive chairman of Paddle.

Q Thank you very much for coming to give evidence to us this afternoon. If you could say a few words about your businesses—what they actually do and what your services actually are—when answering, that would be helpful.

I know that both of your businesses are players in the digital market sector. It would be useful to understand, with some illustrative examples, how the current market dominance of a few large tech companies affects how you do your business, and how it has perhaps affected how you have been able to innovate and the costs of innovation. Perhaps we can hear from Ms Fairbrother first?

Kelli Fairbrother: I lead an independent business based in Cornwall that is challenging the incumbents’ dominance of digital books, which we believe have not been innovated on in decades. Our aim is to create an exceptional digital book experience that keeps young people engaged in books, makes books more accessible to the one in five people who struggle with traditional reading, and saves the 320 million or so books that end up in landfill every year.

The challenge that we face as a fast-growing, innovative business is that Apple and Google use their dominant positions in the mobile device and mobile app ecosystem as a means of forcing themselves into transactions between us and our customers. They do that to us in two ways: they force us to distribute our apps through the app stores, then, because we are distributed through the app stores, they force us to use their in-app payment services when we want to enable our customers to buy in-app, which is clearly the most obvious way in which customers would expect to transact with us, as we are an app-led business. They also prevent us from using alternative providers such as Paddle, which is a great UK business that we would love to use.

The challenge that that creates is that, by forcing us to use their in-app payment systems, they charge us about five to 10 times more than we would pay in the free and fair online payments ecosystem—we would be paying about 3%, versus the 15% to 30% they charge—and they pay us our own revenue at least a month late. That is our own revenue—

Q “At least a month”? How long could that take?

Kelli Fairbrother: For example, the revenue that I earned on 1 January this year I did not earn back from Apple until 9 March. By comparison, on average, online payments are paid to us in about seven days on a regular basis. The fees are effectively allocating all of the costs and generating excess profits from a minority of people who use the system to deliver digital content and services, which happen to compete with Apple and Google’s content services businesses. The behaviour you see in the market is the result of this behaviour. Companies either need to charge more for in-app purchase or they force customers on to a web experience to redeem their content in the app.

You heard earlier from Match explaining the difference between Uber and Match. It is the same. If I were selling physical books, I would not be subject to a 30% tax, even if I were selling them through the app, so that is interesting. As a very early-stage business, this hit to our margin and our cash flow is especially precarious. As you can imagine, it makes it difficult to access investment, especially in what is a very difficult fundraising environment at the moment.

The other thing we observe is that, as a non-subscription-based business, the app stores are not really fit for purpose for our needs. Up until about a month ago, we were allowed to choose—we have a catalogue of 50,000 titles—from approximately 90 price points, from 99p up to about 1,000. Our customers receive invoices that say, “Audiobook: £7.99”. They do not give them any more detail, which makes it difficult to know which books they have bought and which books they are trying to return. We do not control returns.

Q Sorry, could I ask a question on this? You are given 90 price points by Apple and you have to choose them. Then Apple effectively does the marketing. If they say what it is, you cannot say anything extra about the products.

Kelli Fairbrother: In the receipts, yes, that is correct. I cannot merchandise—what we would call merchandise—or allocate the receipt to a particular title that the person bought to allow for the ability to reconcile transactions. It is not possible on Apple. Again, it is not fit for purpose. The way that the system works is that it is delivering you a receipt that says, “Audiobook: £7.99”. Those are the limitations of the system. Any discussion of it being a competitive product is quite misleading.

They offer us no control over our returns. Although there is some ability to control returns through the Apple system, it is difficult to understand exactly the process by which we are allowed to challenge returns. My co-founder is among the best in the world of digital media tech, a former director of production technology at ITV, and he is constantly frustrated by the limitations of the app store APIs. We get very little visibility into the transactions from Apple and Google. Our model for in-app payment where we sell these multiple thousands of different products is terribly supported by Apple and Google. We believe that it is either unintentionally—through neglect—unsupported, or intentionally, trying to force our customers to be on a subscription model.

I will have to move on.

Christian Owens: I started Paddle about 11 years ago to help small software companies and developers to sell their products internationally. Today, we do that for around 5,000 businesses, a number of which are based in the UK. We provide payment services. We help those businesses to take payments all around the world and to pay local taxes and be compliant with the various regulations of wherever it is they sell.

For the last 10 years we have had constant inbound from our customers—who we support by processing payments and paying their taxes for them online for the web or desktop-based version of their products—saying, “Why can’t I use Paddle for my iOS or Android app?” We have tried on numerous occasions to figure out a solution to that, but we are simply prevented, on the basis of the terms and conditions of the app stores, from allowing those developers to process transactions via any mechanism that is not controlled by Apple and Google. For us, we are explicitly prevented from competing. I have no problem if Apple or Google build a better solution than us—that should win. Today, we are not even allowed to try.

Q I just have just a couple of follow-up questions, because I think I got most of what I need from that. On the merchandise area, you say you cannot get out the receipts. Presumably, you have another mechanism, because you have got to ascribe some of it to the authors, or do you author all the books yourself? How do you process who has bought what on that side of things, rather than the back office bit?

Kelli Fairbrother: We are monitoring, on our own side, the transactions to be able to control entitlements, because we actually have to control the rights of the books for individuals who have purchased them. The risk for us is that a lack of ability to reconcile at the level of an individual transaction actually puts us at a degree of risk, in terms of our ability to manage the 100% accuracy of what we have delivered. The other interesting thing that happens, on the returns side, is that a customer could read the entire book and go to Google and get a return. I am only getting informed of that after the fact; I cannot really challenge the fact that the return was probably invalid. That is another example.

Q I know you saw the other panel. You have come out and put your head above the parapet, as it were, whereas a lot of companies would not. Why is that? How is your relationship with the app stores? You have a wider relationship with the app stores—do you see the positive side as well?

Kelli Fairbrother: I think the internet is global, and there are plenty of options out there. We are not convinced that we are not sending our own customers to Apple and Google, as an example. Customers are finding us, and they are being forced into particular ways to buy. Yes, there might be some benefit, but I am not convinced that the global internet would not provide me that same benefit and do it in a more competitive way.

Q Briefly, Christian, you talk about Apple or Google having a different, better system that you could then access. What do you think you would need to do to have the assurance that that system was safe and secure for what you are offering?

Christian Owens: We have been doing this for 11 years, exclusively for digital products and for software companies; we have worked with thousands around the world and sell billions of pounds worth of digital and software products a year. This is something that we are very familiar with. Really, one of the main reasons that companies come to Paddle is so they can do that in a compliant manner. With the nature of digital commerce being so international, and dealing with various regulations and things like this around the world, coming to a trusted third party that is able to navigate all of those things for you—but, in our instance, do so in a way that is economically viable for these businesses—is what we have been doing for the last 10 years.

We have a tried and tested solution that has been working, and that many millions of consumers have used over the last 10 years. It is just that we are prevented from selling in this single medium.

Q So you would be okay if they set standards for you to reach to have access?

Christian Owens: Absolutely.

Q One final question: do you think the Bill, as is, gives you the speed and depth of remediation that you need to level that playing field?

Kelli Fairbrother: We think the Bill is a great first start. We think that it will give the digital markets unit the powers to move quickly. We would love to see timelines around the conduct requirements built in. We think this is a great opportunity for the UK to take a leading role in creating a free and fair ecosystem in the mobile space.

Christian Owens: I have nothing to add.

Q Do you see Google and Apple acting in collusion and taking similar moves, or are they different moves? Do you see examples where they are putting similar blocks against businesses?

Kelli Fairbrother: Yes. It is interesting, because there are differences between the two ecosystems. Whereas I do get transaction-level data from Google, for example, I do not get it from Apple. Apple moved first to lower the price points from 30% to 15%, and Google took at least another six or 12 months after Apple moved to create that small business tier. Generally, they seem to be both on this path of using their dominant market positions to extract as much value from me. The question I would love to hear Google answer when they come in later is that these are our customers; my customers are also your customers. I just do not really understand why, if you can see that there is actual consumer harm happening, you are not working yourselves to address it.

Q Christian, do you see them acting—do you think they are in collusion?

Christian Owens: I would not want to say that that is definitely happening. I think it is rather coincidental that within six to eight weeks of any price change happening in one ecosystem, it tends to happen in the other, as mentioned with the small business tier of 15%, with the subscription tier after one year also reducing to 15%. It does seem that way.

Q You have been very brave, Kelli, in coming and talking about your experiences, because there will be some companies that say, “I don’t dare say that, because these guys have got so much power over me.” There are other issues where women sometimes do not speak out when they say that people have got power over them, so you are obviously being very brave. Do you think there is enough protection for people’s confidentiality in this Bill that others will feel that they can talk about what is happening?

Kelli Fairbrother: I am afraid that I am not a lawyer on the depth of confidentiality. From our side, we would love to see a little bit more transparency in the consultation process, so if there is action being taken by the DMU, we would love to make sure that we are being consulted if it affects our area. I am not sure I have a strong opinion on the confidentiality piece itself.

Q Christian, do you have any further—?

Christian Owens: No, not any specific details on this.

Q On a slightly different area, there were some concerns raised by some Members in the debate on the Bill about the Government changing the appeals process to one based on judicial review, as opposed to a merits-based review. How important, in your view, is that, and what would you want to see if the Bill progresses through Parliament?

Kelli Fairbrother: It is absolutely critical that judicial review is the standard that is used, because I think we have seen time and time again, in markets all around the world, that when Governments act, Apple and Google do their best to try to get around the work that is being done. They lawyer up—they have millions to spend on appeals slowing things down—and there really is a sense of urgency. This is existential for a lot of small app developers, so we would really urge that the Bill passes, it is not watered down and it passes without delay and without dilution, I think we would say.

Christian Owens: I agree.

I was interested in what you said about the cost of transactions. You suggested 3%. Where does that figure come from?

Kelli Fairbrother: Because of the constraints that Apple and Google put on us, we built a website, and on our website we use Stripe integration. The Stripe fees come out at about 3% to 4%, and it pays us every seven days. Again, this is where you can see competition; in the online payments ecosystem, there is healthy competition. Then you compare that with the app store monopolies and the control that it exerts over payments. The terms and conditions say that I am not allowed to use a prohibited payment method—for example, Christian is a prohibited payment method. That is not a free and fair ecosystem.

Q Christian, do you want to add to that? You are in that space. Is 3% or 4% the sort of—

Christian Owens: We take the action that Apple and Google are taking, in terms of processing a transaction. We do this for thousands of companies outside the realms of the app store. The average price that a business will pay us will be somewhere in the region of 5%, and we are able to provide all the same services. We do payment processing. We are able to pay local sales taxes. We are able to deal with fraud. We review, with a human, every product that we sell before we sell it to ensure consumer safety. We are able to do all that in a profitable way by charging 5% on transactions.

Q Sorry to flip between you, but Kelli, are your prices higher as a result of what you are having to pay? If there is freedom to choose who processes, will we see prices come down?

Kelli Fairbrother: For our site, because of the 15%, we tend to break even on most of our transactions—on a transactional basis. So for us, there actually is not a great deal of room, because we also pay the content providers. The challenge that we have at the moment is that we are trying to raise investment and look as investible as possible. The reason why we built the website is that we were given a really difficult decision: should we force people into a web-based experience, to try to regain the margin that we have lost, or should we raise our prices? For us, it may not be that you will see this immediately delivered back to the customer. For us, the position is that we are going to continue to deliver an exceptional experience to the customer and we are going to be able to afford to do that. That is the crux of it for us.

Q This will be the final question from me. If we look at the Bill overall, is there anything that it does not tackle that you think it should?

Christian Owens: In its current form—as it is now—this is a very good Bill, and I really encourage it to go through without being watered down any further. It is great as it stands; it is a great start. I think that it is going to allow small businesses in this country to be more competitive and not be giving away a third of their revenue, effectively, to Apple and Google.

Kelli Fairbrother: I agree.

Q This is a question that I forgot to ask Kelli earlier about payment. You said something about Apple paying you over a period of time. Is it not automated? Is there any reason why it cannot be? Late payments are always an issue for small businesses. You were talking about Stripe, which pays on a regular basis. Is this not on a regular basis as well?

Kelli Fairbrother: It is regular in the sense that the company takes a month of data and then pays me a month and some days later. So it happens every month, but it is happening every month on a timeline that is, again, at least five times as long as what I would be getting—using Stripe as an example.

I thank our witnesses for giving evidence today. We will move on to the next panel. Thank you very much.

Examination of Witness

Tom Morrison-Bell gave evidence.

Thank you very much for coming, and welcome. We will now hear oral evidence from Tom Morrison-Bell, Government affairs and public policy manager at Google. We have until 2.45 pm. Could the witness please introduce himself for the record?

Tom Morrison-Bell: I am Tom Morrison-Bell. I am a public policy manager at Google, and I work on a range of competition and media policy issues.

Q Thank you very much for coming to give evidence today. A 2019 Competition and Markets Authority report found that Google enjoyed over a 90% share in the search advertising market in the UK. Would you accept the argument that such a significant market share is to all intents and purposes a monopoly that hinders growth and innovation?

Tom Morrison-Bell: Thank you for the question. Let me just take a step back and look at how search and this question fit in with the current regime. A huge amount of consumer benefit comes from products such as Google Search. By and large, Google’s products are free, and there are also paid services that support around 700,000 small businesses in the UK. If you look at the financial aspects of search—so, advertising—the revenues generated are in a very small subsection of that. The market might be e-commerce or retail, for example, rather than general search. If you look at retail—people will place an ad next to a keyword such as “buy trainers”—you will see in the market that most retail searches do not start on Google Search. Also, advertising revenues on other e-commerce platforms are growing much faster than Google. So it is important to understand it specifically: yes, there is a general search engine, but in the case of markets, that can often be a different story.

Q I want to understand whether you accept that there is a problem with the effective monopoly. In terms of growth and innovation in the sector, I am keen to understand whether you have a view about some of the evidence, which you may have heard, that constraints are effectively a hindrance to innovation. One example, which we have just heard, is about the ways in which other payment systems are prohibited and about the costs associated with having apps in Google. Are some of those behaviours, and the way in which Google is interacting, inhibiting innovation and costing the consumer more in turn?

Tom Morrison-Bell: With respect, I do believe that Google is one of the most innovative companies and largest investors in innovation. Between 2018 and 2022, Google spent $145 billion on research and development. That includes amazing stuff that happens here in the UK. For example, Google DeepMind, which is probably the world’s foremost artificial intelligence research institute, is based here and is solving incredible problems such as protein folding.

Q I accept and recognise the innovation that Google brings. The Bill is addressing specific issues around market power and the dominance of big tech. Perhaps you could give us your more general views about the Bill and what your concerns are.

Tom Morrison-Bell: Yes, I can. I am happy to touch on some of those issues with regard to the Bill. As you will have heard by now, the Bill gives very extensive powers to the DMU that will be highly discretionary and very open-ended. That is how the Bill has been drafted. In Google’s case, those will be powers to direct how complex products are designed, and critically the regime will be forward-looking rather than backward-looking, which is how traditional competition policy works. As I have said, Google’s products and services drive a huge amount of consumer benefit in the UK, and these markets are fast-moving and complex.

With the Bill specifically, our key point is that in relation to products that provide a substantial amount of consumer benefit, that are innovative and that are complex, it is important that these very open-ended powers for the regulator have appropriate checks and balances. I wanted to bring to the Committee three specific areas in which we think the Bill can be strengthened. I am sure that you will have heard about these in other sessions.

First, I think there are strong grounds for making sure that the appeals standard is aligned with that in the Competition Act 1998, which is appeal on the merits as opposed to judicial review. Secondly, the Bill should ensure that consumer benefits can appropriately be considered by the regulator in the regime by adding a bit more coherence to the way the countervailing benefits exemption is constructed. Thirdly, one of the really innovative things that is designed to drive the Government’s ambition of ensuring that it is a speedy regime with innovation at its heart is this idea of a participative approach, whereby all parties involved in the market are encouraged into dialogue with the regulator.

One thing that the Bill provides for is for private cases to be brought before the digital markets unit has found any breach of a requirement on a firm. If that is the case, we think it is important that the digital markets unit is given the opportunity to make the decision first. Otherwise, there is a risk of the courts deciding something and the digital markets unit deciding something else, so that we end up with potentially conflicting compliance requirements on regulated firms.

Q I will finish with this question, because I am conscious that colleagues want to come in. In terms of the participative approach, I have cited before the CMA’s dialogue with Google over the Privacy Sandbox policy and their reaching an agreement on how to move forward. I cite that as an example of how the participative process has worked.

I want to come back to a specific point. You have talked about consumer benefit, and I think we all see the consumer benefit that can and does come from the innovation of Google. However, given your dominance and market power, do you accept that the way in which Google works with other companies is actually contributing to consumer harm as well?

Tom Morrison-Bell: As a general statement, no: I would not agree with that, straight up. We deliver huge amounts of consumer benefit. There are numerous areas where we are and have been in dialogue with the CMA. We really want to continue to be able to deliver that.

Q So you do not accept any of the examples we have heard of consumer harm.

Tom Morrison-Bell: Well, I think there are some things to unpack. For example, payment systems have been mentioned. We have agreed commitments with the CMA—I believe they are out to market testing at the moment—on offering a range of payment systems. When it comes to app stores, 99% of app users pay 15% or less on fees. There are important details here.

Q Tom, it is good to see you. Thank you very much for coming in front of us. We have had some quite punchy evidence sessions before this, so it is important that we get a balanced view. Obviously you are not here to speak for all of big tech and everything that has been going on. Let me give you a minute or two to give the other side of the argument about how you are benefiting, as you see it, the kinds of companies represented in the previous session and in the session before that.

Tom Morrison-Bell: Generally speaking, Google is estimated to provide around £55 billion of economic activity a year in the UK, as a starting figure. We have multiple products. It depends where you look. Workspace is our productivity suite, with word processing and similar, and is estimated to have saved 600 million hours for workers around the UK through more effective communication and speedier software. As I have said, tools like search and maps are free, and they also support businesses across the country to be more effective. That drives £55 billion in economic activity.

There is also our Play store. Android is open source and a free operating system that is available free to mobile device manufacturers, and they can make their own versions. That has substantially driven down the cost of handsets around the world and has been a huge contributor to making sure that people can have access to the internet at lower rates. The Play store itself is estimated to support about 240,000 developer jobs in the UK alone. That drives revenues for them of about £2.8 billion. Across the board, there is substantial benefit.

Q I know that you are broadly supportive of the Bill, although there are areas that you disagree with. Could you address the comments in our previous evidence sessions that were aimed specifically at Google? Until the Bill is passed, what can you do in the meantime to start addressing some of those issues?

Tom Morrison-Bell: There are two things there. First, what is most important about the regime is that consumers are at the heart of it, and that it is for the regulator, with the powers that it is given, to make the assessments as to whether practices are pro-consumer or not.

What we also think is important is that on one side we have very large and open-ended powers, with products and markets that drive a lot of consumer benefit, and on the other a need for more robust checks and balances to ensure that consumers really are at the heart of the regime. In a sense, it is less about what company X says about company Y than about the coherence of a regime to ensure that consumers are at its heart and that the Government’s ambition for driving innovation without blanket requirements on firms or unduly burdensome regulation is realised.

Q I have a final question on appeals. You talked about full merits. I understand the need to get the balance right in being fair to both sides, but how do you answer the charge? My biggest fear about the consistent level of JR is whether it is just used to kick things down the road, before starting on full merits, as we heard on Tuesday about the significant element of competition law from a competition expert. Basically, it would be used to outspend and outbox opponents.

Tom Morrison-Bell: Of course. There are two questions about appeals to address. One is speed, which I will come to, and the other is why there are good, principled reasons for that being the right standard.

As I said, the Competition Act has appeal on the merits as the appeal standard. These interventions are much more akin to what the Competition Act does. In both 2013 and 2019, the Government consulted on whether to lower the threshold in the Competition Act to judicial review. In both cases, it was decided not to do so. Indeed, in 2013, the competition appeal tribunal itself made a submission that that would not be appropriate, because it had seen cases overturned or sent back to the CMA.

Furthermore, in recent weeks, an interesting paper by the former head of the Government Legal Service, Sir Jonathan Jones, appeared as a law article. He said specifically with regard to the DMU that, with those very open-ended powers on the one side, the current proposals—his quote, not ours—give rise to “concerns about due process”, because of the imbalance. There are strong and principled reasons why.

There is also the speed point, which needs to be addressed. That is in line with the regime and, as when we worked on the Privacy Sandbox, we want this to be a speedy regime, to accelerate it. We have shown good will in real examples of how we have tried to make that participative approach work. But there are other existing regimes in which, by and large, the CMA is given time limits to which it has to respond. That is evident in gas or electricity prices, postal services, civil aviation, parts of financial services, parts of water and numerous other precedents in the UK of time-limited appeals. There is, however, scope to ensure that we end up with consumers at the heart. It is important—these are complex products—that at the end of the day we are able to have a system in which someone can scrutinise whether the decisions are right or wrong for consumers and companies. It is not just about whether due process has been followed.

Q No doubt you are right that there are consumer and business benefits from what Google does, so thank you for the investment you made to ensure that that is the case. We will always intervene—or we should intervene—where there is market failure. We believe that there is market failure in certain areas here, so this is in that context.

On innovation, we are keen that you continue your R&D spend and innovate. Is there anything in the Bill that will make you think twice about innovation? We asked other witnesses and they cannot see any issue, but some concerns have been raised with us. Do you feel that you might have to talk to the regulator or CMA before you develop a new product? Is that a rational concern that you have?

Tom Morrison-Bell: The Privacy Sandbox is probably the best example of perhaps any company, as far as I am aware. That is the only model to date that could be a bit like the participative approach. That is a really good example of where we were able to come to the regulator to say, “Look, when it comes to competition, there are trade-offs. In this case, it is privacy, with us phasing out cookies, with competition, because maybe you have to use different Google advertising technologies.” We would like the competition authority and the privacy authority to make sure that both their concerns are met before we roll things out. That is good, because it prevents costly roll-outs that might have to be rolled back, and regulators are aware, consumers have clarity and other businesses in the ecosystem have clarity as well. It is true that that required numerous months of consultation with the regulator, but I think there is the opportunity for the participative approach to work well. Again, because you have this open-ended and flexible system, it is important that there are checks and balances in place.

Q I think the question I am trying to ask is: you are not honestly saying that you are going to stop innovating because of this Bill, if becomes an Act?

Tom Morrison-Bell: No. We are really committed to the UK, which is a special market for us. We employ 6,500 people here. But those checks and balances are important to make sure that you know that your decision is right or wrong, not just whether due process has been followed.

Q I am sure we all agree that we want to put consumers at the heart of the regime. I want to put to you the very specific and powerful example that we have heard this afternoon, which I do not think you have really answered, from a British start-up in Cornwall selling electronic books. If it does it on an app, it will have to pay up to 30% in payment processing charges, and the payments can be delayed by as much as two months. If it does it with a web-based approach, where there is competition for payment processing—it uses Stripe, for example—it will pay 3% to 4% in processing charges and receive those payments within seven days. How can it possibly be in the best interests of my residents and businesses in Southend-on-Sea not to address that huge distortion in the market, with a huge monopoly and another system where there is more free competition?

Tom Morrison-Bell: With respect, I think that if you look at the broader Play system as a whole, 99% of all users of the Play store—those developers—pay 15% or less on their fees. By and large, the fees are staggered. That means that companies that make less money get to enjoy the benefits of the ecosystem in the same way as larger companies, which may pay larger fees.

On the payments point specifically, we are in discussions with the CMA, as I said. There are two different billing models, which are being agreed on and are out for market testing, so there is ongoing discussion in a constructive way with the CMA that will bring forward those two new payment methods.

Q But why do you prohibit other payment providers from operating?

Tom Morrison-Bell: I do not think we do. This is what the CMA process is going to yield: something called user choice billing or developer choice billing. In developer choice billing, developers can pick their billing system; with user choice billing, it is users who have the choice.

Q So you agree that it needs reform.

Tom Morrison-Bell: It is being reformed. The developers will have those choices, and those choices are being scrutinised by the CMA to make sure that they are good for consumers, that they are good for companies like the ones you mentioned, and that they are appropriate in the ecosystem.

Q If you are so keen at Google to work with the CMA and other competition authorities to get issues resolved quickly, why did Kelkoo tell us this morning that its issue is unresolved and has been going on since 2009, and why did the EU Commission need to make the announcement today about the investigation into ad tech procedures that it started two years ago, minus a handful of days? It seems to me that Google does not actually get these differences resolved in anything like a timely way.

Tom Morrison-Bell: I think there are a few things to unpack there. With respect, the Kelkoo case refers to the Google Shopping case with the European Commission. The remedy that was agreed by the European Commission as the competition authority was rolled out by Google in 2017, around 60 days after the finding was heard. The appeals are still going on, because there are different points of law that are being considered, but the remedy—

Q So it is six years of appeals.

Tom Morrison-Bell: But, importantly, the remedy that was agreed by the Commission has been in place for six years. That is not necessarily going to change if the points of law change. The remedy has been in place for that time, and the courts considered the opinions of various different complainants and Google as part of that appeal process.

Q What about this latest one, on ad tech, which has been going on for two years?

Tom Morrison-Bell: The Commission’s inquiry process has been going on for two years, rather than a legal process.

Q But I thought that you were trying to say to us that, where there was an issue, you would work to get that resolved really quickly with the competition authorities.

Tom Morrison-Bell: The proposed participative approach in the UK is different from how the competition system works in Europe.

Order. I am afraid that that brings us to the end of the time allocated for this session. On behalf of the Committee, may I thank our witness for giving evidence today?

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mike Wood.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 20 June at twenty-five past Nine o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

DMCCB12 Richard Stables, CEO, Kelkoo Group

DMCCB13 UK Finance

DMCCB14 City of London Law Society (CLLS) Competition Law Committee

DMCCB15 Epic Games, Inc

DMCCB16 Association for Commercial Broadcasters and On-Demand Services (COBA)

DMCCB17 The Walt Disney Company