Australian competition watchdog cracks down on Facebook and Google

Australia is set to crackdown on Facebook and Google with moves to introduce greater regulation for digital platforms

Google and Facebook will face greater regulation in Australia following a report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The preliminary report by the nation’s competition watchdog raised concerns about the market power of the two media and technology giants including the companies impact on Australian businesses, particularly, their ability to monetise content. It also outlined concerns about the extent that consumers data is collected and used by companies to target advertising.

To address these concerns the report proposes a number of recommendations including a “new or existing regulatory authority be given the task of investigating, monitoring and reporting on how large digital platforms rank and display advertisements and news content”.

The report also proposes preventing Google’s Chrome browser from being installed as a default browser on mobile, tablet and computer devices. It also includes recommendations to strengthen merger laws, deal with copyright, and take-down orders, and the review of existing, disparate media regulations.

The ACCC is also considering a further recommendation for a specific code of practice for digital platforms’ data collection to better inform consumers about how platforms collect and use their information as well as changes to the Privacy Act to enable consumers to make informed decisions.

Rod Sims, chair of ACCC, said, “Digital platforms have significantly transformed our lives, the way we communicate with each other and access news and information. We appreciate that many of these changes have been positive for consumers in relation to the way they access news and information and how they interact with each other and with businesses.

“But digital platforms are also unavoidable business partners for many Australian businesses. Google and Facebook perform a critical role in enabling businesses, including online news media businesses, to reach consumers. However, the operation of these platforms’ key algorithms, in determining the order in which content appears, is not at all clear.”

Sims continued, “Organisations like Google and Facebook are more than mere distributors or pure intermediaries in the supply of news in Australia; they increasingly perform similar functions as media businesses like selecting, curating and ranking content. Yet, digital platforms face less regulation than many media businesses.

“The ACCC considers that the strong market position of digital platforms like Google and Facebook justifies a greater level of regulatory oversight.

“Australian law does not prohibit a business from possessing significant market power or using its efficiencies or skills to ‘out compete’ its rivals. But when their dominant position is at risk of creating competitive or consumer harm, governments should stay ahead of the game and act to protect consumers and businesses through regulation.”

The ACCC is currently investing five incidences of breaches to competition or consumer laws by digital platforms as a result of this inquiry.

The ACCC will take submissions regarding its recommendations with the final report to be delivered to the Government by June 2019.

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