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Millions of UK consumers could be about to hold a billion-dollar tech giant to account. Here’s how

Tech giant Qualcomm makes chipsets used in millions of smartphones around the world | Credit: Adobe

Anabel Hoult, CEO

Anabel Hoult, CEO | Which?

3 min read Partner content

Which? is bringing a landmark claim against tech giant Qualcomm not only so consumers can get their money back, but to send a message to big companies that manipulative practices and abuse of power is unacceptable

Qualcomm might be the biggest company you’ve never heard of. Without realising it millions of us have used this corporation’s technology and you probably do so for hours on end every single day. In fact, you could be holding it in your hand right now.  

This multi-billion dollar US tech giant makes the tiny chipsets that go into millions of smartphones around the globe.   

The problem is this heavyweight has allegedly been abusing its dominance in the market and overcharging smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung for its technology – costs Which? thinks are likely to have been unfairly shouldered by consumers like you and I. 

However, a fightback has been under way, with class actions filed against Qualcomm in Canada and USA. Its behaviour has caught the attention of regulators and courts alike, from Taiwan to Europe. Judges have taken Qualcomm to task across the globe and, in some cases, found the corporation guilty of abusing its position in the market and hitting it with heavy sanctions. For example, the company had to pay the Taiwan Fair Trade Commission a settlement of US$93 million for overcharging smartphone manufacturers. 

Now Which? believes it’s the turn of 29 million people in the UK to get justice. It’s arguing that Qualcomm’s anti-competitive practices have taken around £480 million from consumers’ pockets and action needs to be taken.  

Which? has a proud history of fighting for consumers in the face of powerful opposition.  This includes using its legal powers to launch super-complaints, for example to prevent innocent people losing life-changing sums of money through bank transfer scams.  

Over the years Which? has strongly influenced government legislation to protect consumers, such as a recently-introduced law that can inflict fines of up to £500,000 on anyone found responsible for nuisance calls.  

Now thanks to the opt-out collective action regime that was introduced by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, Which? has launched a landmark case which could potentially see millions of people get up to £30 back in their pockets, depending on the number and type of smartphones they purchased since October 2015.  

I’m angry that a company may have been causing extra costs which could be hiking the cost of products that are essential to our everyday lives, and that it’s happening without proper accountability.  

Anti-competitive behaviour is unlawful and it can have serious consequences for consumers, but ultimately it's up to the courts to decide if a company has broken the law. Luckily, the collective action regime – something Which? had long been calling for – has opened the door to redress for millions of consumers for breaches of competition law.  

Without Which? bringing this claim on behalf of affected UK consumers, it would simply not be realistic for consumers to seek damages from Qualcomm on an individual basis. That’s why it’s so important that consumers can come together like this and stand up to the world’s biggest companies when they have crossed the line.  

An ‘opt-out’ redress regime means that people won’t have to do anything to be included in the claim, although Which? is urging anyone affected to sign up for updates on the action so they can track its progress.  

Which? is bringing this landmark claim against Qualcomm not only so consumers can get their money back but to send a message, loud and clear, to big companies that these kind of manipulative practices and abuse of power is unacceptable.  

This claim could represent a significant turning point in consumers’ ability to stand up to huge corporations and help shift the balance of power between consumers and giant corporations for years to come. 

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