Australian Watchdog Recommends Regulatory Body for Facebook, Alphabet's Google

Anna Jefferson
December 13, 2018

Google and Facebook Inc. face a regulatory crackdown in Australia after the nation's competition watchdog joined a chorus of worldwide criticism over their use of data and the market power they wield across news and advertising.

As the ACCC wrote in its report, the "widespread and frequent use of Google and Facebook means that these platforms occupy a key position for businesses looking to reach Australian consumers..."

"Australian law does not prohibit a firm from possessing a substantial degree of market power".

The ACCC went on to say that it believed costumers had to be able to make "informed and genuine" choices on how digital platforms collect and use their data, while at the same time pointing out that they were now unable to do so over lack of "adequate information" and subsequent inability to choose between platforms judging by their data practices.

"The ACCC considers that the strong market position of digital platforms like Google and Facebook justifies a greater level of regulatory oversight", said ACCC chair Rod Sims.

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has recommended a mechanism for monitoring how the major tech companies rank and display ads and news content, reported on Monday. Together the two sites have approximately 46 per cent of Australian display advertising revenue; no other website or application has more than 5 per cent market share.

Other preliminary recommendations suggest ways to strengthen merger laws, deal with copyright, take-down orders, a review of existing, disparate media regulations and changes to the Privacy Act to ensure consumers make informed decisions.

It also includes a proposal, albeit an unlikely one to achieve, that would stop Google's internet Chrome browser being installed as a default internet browser on mobile devices, computers and tables; and Google's search engine being installed as a default search engine on internet browsers.

The ACCC said it is further considering a recommendation for a specific code of practice for digital platforms' data collection to better inform consumers and improve their bargaining power.

"The regulatory authority could have the power to investigate complaints, initiate its own investigations, make referrals to other government agencies and publish reports and make recommendations", a section of the report said.

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Australia's government ordered the probe into the firms' influence as part of wider media reforms, amid growing concern for the future of journalism and the quality of news following years of declining profits and newsroom job cuts.

The ACCC is further concerned with the large amount and variety of data which digital platforms such as Google and Facebook collect on Australian consumers, which go beyond the data which users actively provide when using the digital platform. "This has implications across society because of the important role the media plays in exposing corruption and holding governments, companies, powerful individuals and institutions to account", Sims said.

The report contains 11 preliminary recommendations and eight areas for further analysis as the inquiry continues.

"Acting as an intermediary between consumers and news outlets, platforms are inherently influential in shaping consumers' choices of digital journalism", said the report cited by Efe news.

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