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ACCC Preliminary report submissions: selected extracts and key points  

The inquiry has considered a range of issues related to the digital landscape

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The ACCC released its Preliminary Report into digital platforms in December 2018 ahead of its final report to be released in June 2019. The report focused on how digital platforms, in particular Google and Facebook, are impacting the media landscape in Australia, and raised concerns around access to reliable information, advertising regulations, and threats to the privacy of Australians using these platforms.

The inquiry has considered a range of issues related to the digital landscape such as the impact of online search engines, social media and digital content aggregators. There has also been a significant emphasis on how the digital shift has impacted and will continue to impact news media in Australia, including the future of journalism, advertising and consumer access to news content.

The ACCC called for responses to its Report, a selection of which are presented below.

The selection of submissions and topics reflect the key interests of NewsMediaWorks and therefore do not provide a full review of all information and stakeholders. 

View all submissions here.

See our wrap-up of the Preliminary Report here.

 

ABC
– Believes that public broadcasters and commercial entities “do not and should not require the same regulatory treatment.” 
– Supports (and is already engaged in) news literacy efforts 
– Supports initiatives to better fund journalism including additional funding to the Innovation Package
-On tax reforms such as tax-deductible subscriptions, the ABC has no specific comments to make except that “any initiative that encourages the public to engage with trusted domestic media outlets…can only be of benefit to the media environment and the broader community.” 
-Highlights need for ongoing funding of public broadcasters  

 

American Bar Association
-Concerned that many of the recommendations made by the ACCC may be premature, not evidence-based, and not yet clarified in enough detail. 
-Cautions the ACCC from using outdated economic models to determine the market share of companies
-Points out that “as a general principle, flexibility in pricing is crucial to competition in any market-based economy.” 

 

ACMA
– Believes that a new regulatory framework should cover all producers, aggregators, curators and distributors of news and journalistic content, without interfering with their editorial independence.” 
– Wants to see “transparency, reliability and diversity in ranking, selection and distribution of news and journalistic content” 
– Wants “A single content regulation framework and a single regulator” 
– Supports a news media “health tick” for compliant media providers  

 

Association for Data-driven Marketing & Advertising (ADMA) 
-Concerned that the Report has gone beyond its stated intentions initially developed by the ACCC
-Says “the proposed recommendations will add another level of regulatory complexity that may prove to be an untenable burden for many small to medium sizes businesses, charities and not-for-profits.”
-Points out that a new Code of Practice “should not be necessary as existing regulation already addresses privacy protections, misleading and deceptive conduct, unfair terms and other areas of concern” 
-Claims “the characterisation that the data owned by Google and Facebook is inaccessible to news and traditional media organisations is somewhat misleading.” 
-Says “we reserve a level of skepticism that the challenges faced by the disruption and transformation of the news and media industry can most effectively be addressed through additional regulation” and therefore cautions against further regulation. 

It is worth noting that Facebook and Google representatives sit on the ADMA board (link 

 

Australian Association of National Advertisers 
-Believes further regulation in this space is “premature” and the ACCC should instead consider updating existing legislation.  

 

Australian Digital Alliance 
-Supports a standardised takedown system for the removal of copyright infringing content posted by third parties to digital platforms, with some conditions on its structure (especially a safe harbour system).  

 

Australian Press Council 
– supports the need to address the market power of digital platforms and monitoring their activities and the potential consequences of these activities for news media organisations and advertisers
– “The Press Council is not convinced about the need for major change to the current regulatory arrangements covering the print and online news media sector.” 
– supports moves to improve the news literacy of Australian consumers; however, it questions the need for a government entity to be involved in this process. 
– “would not support giving the government regulator (ACMA) the power to determine standards or principles by which the print and online publishers operate”
-Wants ACCC to look at platforms beyond just Facebook and Google  

 

Centre for Media Transition, UTS 
– Supports idea of a “health tick” for news media organisations, but also empahsises that a cross-platform approach needs to be considered: supports establishing a single set of news reporting standards, a single destination for consumer complaints, and a system where outcomes are based on publicising both lapses in journalistic standards and those cases where careful consideration comes down on the side of the public interest in fair, accurate and open reporting.
– fully supports news literacy initiatives 
– supports the move to review the impact of the recent Regional and Small Publishers’ Jobs and Innovation Package
– “we would urge any move to making subscriptions tax deductible be front ended by a comprehensive study into the information needs of Australians and modelling of the cost of tax deductibility and back ended by a sunset clause ending the subsidy at some fixed time, say, after ten years.” 
 

Commercial Radio Australia  
– “Does not accept Google and Facebook’s claims that their audience measurement methodologies are objectively verifiable” and wants to see a reliable digital audience method methodology imposed upon digital platforms by the Commission as a condition of access. Says that the platforms’ claims are not supported by evidence. 
-Believes the “glaring inequalities” in the current regulatory structure may threaten the viability of commercial radio broadcasting if not corrected without delay. 
-Wants to see a new regulatory authority monitoring the ranking of news and journalistic content by digital platforms, and the independent monitoring of digital platforms 
-Concerned that dominance of digital platforms creating filter bubbles and consumer exposure to unreliable info 
-Wants to see tax subsidies for production of news content by radio broadcasters 

 

Country Press Australia 
– “believes that digital platforms such as Facebook and Google are doing enormous damage to the fabric of the regional communities” and “supports legislation that will force the dilution of their market dominance.”
– urges Government to legislate to ensure a fair and reasonable percentage of advertising be allocated to regional publishers
– “The digital platforms have plundered our content which not only damages our businesses but is a gross abuse of market power. CPA urges the ACCC to recommend Government legislation to either stop this or make them pay, or a combination of the two.” 
 

Copyright Council  
– Emphasises the current challenge to protect copyright online, especially when a number of digital platforms have substantial market power
– Broadly agrees with the recommendations made in the Preliminary Report and the areas for further investigation, including the establishment of a Digital Platforms Ombudsman 
– Believes the works of journalists and other creators in Australia needs to be “appropriately valued and preserved”
Recognises that “a significant number of consumers will not pay for news” 

 

Digital Industry Group Inc. (DIGI) 
– Members include Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Verizon Media
-Concerned that the ACCC Report goes beyond the original goals of the inquiry. 
-Believes the “badging” of news media content (like a health tick) is “out of step with consumer behaviour online and is not conducive to supporting consumer choices.” 
-Cautions the ACCC against “a one ­size fits ­all approach that is imposed upon companies regardless of their scale and resources” and that well-intentioned measures may actually have an anticompetitive effect. 
-Claims “data collection and algorithm use is central to how digital service providers guard the safety and security of Internet users” and proposals to prevent data collection “work from a false assumption that targeted advertising is not valuable to consumers and businesses alike”
-Is concerned that “if compliance becomes overly complex and results in declining revenue, global companies and startups may withdraw or not develop products and services for the Australian market”
-Suggests that algorithm transparency does not have clear evidence of benefit to Internet users.
-Claims that “a mandatory takedown standard, as proposed by the ACCC, would “represent a significant departure from the globally accepted standard for issuing take­down notices that is relied upon by online service providers and content creators around the world.”   

 

DuckDuckGo 
supports ACCC’s Preliminary Recommendation 3, “choice of browser and search engine.”

 

Facebook 
-Says the ACCC is “without evidence that anyone has misused market power” and argues that “monetisation challenges for news media…long predate Facebook.” Furthermore states that claims by the ACCC that Facebook has substantial market power “are not supported by economic analysis and are contradicted by commercial evidence”. Facebook says that “in several instances, the [ACCC’s] Report’s findings appear to rest solely on allegations made by companies that Facebook competes with.” 
-Would support evidence-based regulation strengthening privacy protection for consumers across all industries, and supports the creation of an ombudsman to field advertising-related complaints from advertisers and consumers. Claims that “we do not sell personal data and we don’t tell advertisers who users are.” 
-Argues that digital platforms like Facebooks have “grown the market for advertising” and “helped propel that growth”. Says that ACCC’s recommendations are supported by news companies hoping regulation will “insulate them from changing consumer preferences” and such recommendations put “the interests of a select group of publishers ahead of millions of Australian users and advertisers who derive enormous benefits from Facebook’s products and services.” 
-Claims that appointing a government news ranking regulator will “not solve concerns about sustainable journalism.” Says that Facebook is already “providing greater transparency over how News Feed ranking works” and says revealing detailed information on algorithms would allow “third-party publishers more easily to game the system” and would “not provide meaningful transparency to people.” 
-Claims that “imbalance in bargaining power between Facebook and news publishers is not supported by any evidence” and complaints rest “on the complaints of a few stakeholders that compete with Facebook for ad revenue.” 
-Claims that “publishers control whether and how their news is accessed on or through Facebook” and that “Facebook is not a ‘must have’ channel of distribution for news publishers and should not be regulated as one.” 
-Raises concerns that the proposal to create a new Ad Regulator and impose regulations on digital platforms would “hurt Australian businesses” and innovation. 
-Claims “untargeted advertising will not benefit Australian consumers or businesses” but instead “harm” them. 
-Claims that the data Facebook holds is not unique, can be easily replicated, and does not alone prove that Facebook has market power.

Foxtel 
– agree that “a number of digital platforms hold substantial market power and are engaging in practices that undermine competition from media content providers, and we welcome the recommendations aimed at addressing the anti-competitive practices of digital platforms.”
-Do not support a mandatory take-down standard 

 

FreeTV 
– “We consider that new regulatory models should be created: firstly, to ensure that Australian content can be fairly monetised on the digital platforms; and secondly, to ensure that original Australian content (including news content) is protected and supported.”
– Supports tax initiatives for the production of journalism, tax deductibility for personal subscriptions,  and expanding the Regional and Small Publishers Fund.
– “the ACCC should recommend that digital platform providers who have a substantial degree of market power in the programmatic advertising market, should be subject to a separate access regime regulated by the ACCC.” 
– “a new code of practice requirement could be introduced for the digital platforms to regulate how Australian content is displayed on the digital platforms, alongside a separate Mandatory Standard on copyright takedown.” 
– Wants to see more transparency and regulation of algorithms 
– supports the badging of content produced by automatically accredited news and journalistic sources 

 
Getty Images
– Supports recommendations 1-8 outlined in the Preliminary Report, including new regulatory oversight, review of regulatory framework, and a mandatory take-down standard for copyright infringement. 
– “strongly supports funding of quality journalism and the continued support of the government in this regard” 

Google 
-Argues that it helps publishers spread their content and to earn revenue through advertising, and says the real issue is “the gap between the public benefit and the private willingness to pay” 
-Argues it already supports public-interest journalism through the Google News Initiative
-Supports government tax incentives and tax-deductible news media subscriptions 
-Asserts that “any privacy-related recommendations made by the ACCC should apply to all organisations that are currently subject to the Privacy Act, not just digital platforms or organisations that meet a particular threshold.” 
-Argues “Additional regulatory oversight of favouring and news ranking is unnecessary”: Rejects ACCC investigation of the Google algorithms because the ACCC has provided no evidence proving Google favors its own products and services, or engages in other anticompetitive behaviour
-Argues “Publisher concerns about referral traffic do not justify new regulation”: “government regulation of our search results with regard to the treatment of certain news publishers’ content should be considered only in response to the strongest, clearest evidence of harm to consumers.” 
-Argues existing consumer law is effective and doesn’t need to be changed 
-Says it is already supporting news literacy initiatives and supports improvement of this by the government 
-Overall rejects much of the criticism from the Preliminary Reports, says the ACCC misinterpreted many Google policies and actions, also argues it doesn’t have total market power for any service 
– “The Preliminary Report does not contain any evidence or analysis showing that there is a market for “news media referral services,” or that Google even competes in such a market.” 
-Argues “platforms like Google have resulted in a world in which readers have access to more quality journalistic content, at lower prices.”  

Guardian Australia 
– supports ACCC recommendations 1 and 2 on updating merger law to preserve and enhance potential competition to the major digital platforms.
-Agrees with the establishment of an external regulator and Recommendation 5 to create a regulatory authority to monitor, investigate and report on the ranking of news and journalistic content by digital platforms
-Believes there are “more effective” ways to support journalism than through the Innovation Package, as “the deliberate exclusion of certain publications based on what appeared to be politically motivated grounds raise concerns about the fairness of this approach.”
-Welcomes the proposal for tax offsets for the productions of journalism 
-Calls for the zero-rating of GST on civic journalism, the creation of a philanthropic fund for civic journalism, and development of a civic journalism tax relief 
-Wants to see updates to data protection framework in Australia to meet a similar standard as Europe 
-In relation to tax deductions for “personal subscriptions for publications by media businesses”, the Guardian welcomes this proposal, but notes that a range of independent media are not signatories to the ACMA code of practice or the Australian Press Council (APC), therefore multiple editorial codes should be recognised
 

Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas 
-Supports the re-examination of the broad framework of tax and charitable activities
-encourages the Inquiry to examine what other regulatory changes and incentives might be created specifically to promote greater philanthropic funding for journalism. 

McPherson Media Group 
-Is concerned that “the two dominant platforms may be already so powerful as to prevent any one nation state from exercising any effective oversight, regulation or control.”
-support the establishment of a unified, platform-neutral regulatory framework.
-Wants to see a system whereby platforms pay for content in a way “which ultimately rewards content providers.” 

 

MEAA 
– supports “an overhaul of Australia’s communications laws to ensure a level regulatory  playing field for businesses that create and carry content”
– Wants to see the ACCC focus more on getting the platforms to pay for news media content 
– Disagrees with the idea of news media “badges” or “health ticks” due to concerns this would make the government or digital platforms the “editors in chief” 
– Supports news literacy initiatives 
-Supports the establishment of Media Diversity Fund for new media entities dedicated to in-depth public interest journalism.
-Supports tax incentives for funding public-interest journalism, and tax-deductible news media subscriptions 
– supports the concept of digital platforms being subject to external and independent complaints review and determination mechanisms 

Microsoft 
-Supports in principle the strengthening of privacy protections 
-Suggests that any regulatory monitoring should not include “market participants with limited presence” 
 

NewsCorp Australia
– Wants to see the ACCC having regulatory oversight as opposed to creating a new digital platforms ombudsman. Proposes the creation of a Digital Platforms Unit within the ACCC to “provide enhanced competition scrutiny of digital platforms” and respond to concerns of consumers and publishers. 
– Argues that Google has significant market power in many areas due to its comprehensive portfolio, even if its complex structure obscures Google links or ownership (such as delivering display advertising through third parties). Added to this is “conflicts of interest and lack of transparency”. 
-Potential for digital platforms abusing their market share is “almost limitless”, including misleading reporting of advertising performance. 
– Believes that the platforms should be required to prove to a future ACCC regulator that “algorithms are not discriminatory”. The ACCC would administer a register of algorithm changes to assist review and investigation of the impact of changes. 
-Calls for a separate inquiry into ad tech industry
-Wants to see the ACCC establish regulatory oversight of “digital platforms’ ranking of news and journalistic content…and provision of referral services.” Wants to see original content creators receiving better outcomes, and the prohibition of digital platforms from using publishers’ content without fair compensation. 
-Thinks that the recommendations relating to privacy law and opt-in targeted advertising are beyond the scope of this report. 
-Worries that a news media “badge” or health tick would shift extra burden onto news media organisations. Not opposed to the idea in principle, however. 
-Does not support ACMA code of conduct as government oversight of news media organisations
-Supports tax reforms including tax-deductible news media subscriptions, but “does not consider that such measures are likely to have a significant impact on the underlying issues identified in the preliminary report” due to the market power of Facebook and Google being a structural market problem. Same goes for news literacy programs. Rather, reigning in anticompetitive practices, oversight of algorithms and regulation through the ACCC, are essential. 

In a separate document attached to the submission, NewsCorp has submitted a “Digital Platforms Inquiry Remedy Paper” that “sets out additional remedies the ACCC could adopt or recommend to Government”: 
– Functional separation of each component of Google’s ad tech function
-Divestment from Google Search and Google Ad Manager by Alphabet Inc
-Prohibiting digital platforms from using publishers’ content without fair compensation, remedied through actions such as “a licensing regime under a collecting society model”. 
-Digital platforms should be “required to give publishers access to data generated from visits to that publisher’s site.”

Nine 
-Acknowledge Facebook and Google as “unavoidable business partners for businesses looking to reach Australian consumers” and are “significant advertisers and distributors of Australian news and entertainment content.” 
-Wants to see the introduction of a new ex ante regulatory regime to be administered by the ACCC to regulate dominant digital platforms, and new regulatory rules to address the market imbalance. However, the creation of a new regulatory body would “stall the implementation of meaningful solutions arising from this inquiry.” 
-Supports tax offsets for news production, and tax-deductible news subscriptions 
-Acknowledges that it has received substantial benefits from relationships with Google and Facebook, including revenue (and outlines the relationships it has with these platforms) 
-Believes that all industry support measures proposed “should be platform-neutral and encompass all forms of news media and journalistic content.” 
-Supports an OAIC Code of Practice for digital platforms, but only if it is placed on Google and Facebook. 
-Supports the idea of news literacy programs being developed in Australia
-Considers opt-in targeted advertising “would be excessive” and would cut across business models.  

 

The North Western Courier, Star News Group (same text in both submissions)  
-Directly targets Google and Facebook as damaging the business model of their paper
– Supports tax incentives, including funding for journalists and publishing public-interest content 

 

Oracle Corporation 
-Claims “Google exploits consumers and small businesses and in doing so forecloses competition in advertising markets, and is able to “abuse substantial market power obtained from its market position.”
-Argues that Google’s collection of data goes beyond what users may be aware of, especially as information can be cleaned through the combined examination of data, and that “only a small amount of the data Google collects is made available to Google Account holders” and claims “Google’s activities are show to breach [Privacy] law.” 
-Believes that “the Privacy Act should also be amended to require express opt-in consent where location data is collected from any mobile device.” 
-Says the ACCC “should consider whether Google’s privacy policy is also misleading and deceptive within section 18(1) of the Australian Consumer Law” and point out that several parts of the policy are void. 
-Points out that even metadata (such as location) can give significant insights into a customer’s attributes and habits: “even race, age, health, religion and financial status may be deduced from the places a person’s smartphone frequents.”  

Oracle attaches to its submission, “Google’s Shadow Profile: A Dossier of Consumers Online and Real World Life”, in which it makes the following points: 
– “Google is using massive amounts of consumers data, not all of which it discloses to consumers, to micro-target advertising. All without the consumers’ knowledge or consent.” 
-Users cannot access the entirety of the data Google collects about them, or their “Shadow profile”. These profiles enable targeted advertising even if users have opted out of this level of personalisation

Outdoor Media Association 
– recommends that “an independent regulatory body be established to monitor the business practices of the major digital platform players and that the membership of the body include representatives from the OOH industry.”
– believes that “the ACCC should ensure that digital platform providers face the same level of regulatory and standards compliance in the Australian advertising market and ensure that there is a level playing field.” 

 

Provincial Press Group 
Believes that Google and Facebook having a negative impact on Australian media, especially funding 
-supports tax incentives and innovation funding for news media 
-Wants the government to introduce licensing/copyright fees on Google and Facebook for regional publications’ content. 
 

Public Interest Journalism Initiative 
 “digital platforms are key distributors of news content, and have become a key means by which news, including journalism, is distributed, produced, accessed and consumed…. It is not sufficient for the digital platforms to protest that they are not publishers in order to evade regulation.” 
-Wants to see revisions made to The Regional and Small Publishers’ Jobs and Innovation Package to encourage and fund public-interest journalism 
-Supports tax concessions and/or incentives for eligible media organisations, and making news subscriptions tax-deductible (this submission has extensive commentary on the topic of tax) 
– recommends the creation of an independent production fund backed by the Commonwealth for public-interest journalism  

 

Queensland Country Press Association 
– Is “actively urging the Commonwealth Government to legislate to ensure a fair and reasonable percentage of advertising is allocated to regional publishers.”
– “Whilst support from the Innovation Fund and suggestions of tax incentives for country newspapers is of limited advantage, it is advertising support which is the most practical and cost effective means of supporting the viability country newspapers”  

 

Queensland Law Society 
– agrees with the preliminary report’s finding that ‘that consumers are unable to make informed choices over the amount of data collected by the digital platforms, and how this data is used’.
-Believes that “the use of any data should be limited to the disclosed purpose” 

 

REA Group 
-Believes Google and Facebook “have market power in their respective spheres, could use their market power to favour their related businesses, and discriminate against others”
– considers it critical that, in its final report, “the ACCC explicitly recommends that businesses that are not “digital platforms” within the terms of the Inquiry should not be subject to any new regulatory regime.”  

 

SBS 
 States that it is essential that SBS be appropriately funded in order to continue to provide its services to the Australian public
-Concerned about the transparency of algorithms of the digital platforms 
– supports further exploration of the proposed ‘trust mark’: “a ‘badge or signal’ on the news content as it appears in search results or a user’s news feed” (as suggested in the ACCC Prelim report) 
-Supports the push for news literacy programs and says “SBS is ideally placed to have a key role in this training.” 
-Supports further investigation by the ACCC into tax incentives for the production of news media. “However, subsidies and incentives to commercial media to fund the production of news and journalism should not come at the expense of adequate funding to the public broadcasters.” 
-Supports a “platform-neutral approach to regulation”: “SBS supports further consideration of whether an ombudsman would be best placed to carry out the activities outlined in this section, or if they are better placed with an existing regulator, or another type of regulator” 

 

Twitter 
 submission stands together with an industry submission from the Digital Industry Group Inc. (DIGI).
-argues that the Twitter algorithm is too complicated to be regulated by a third party 
– rejects ACMA determining a Mandatory Standard regarding digital platforms’ take-down procedures for copyright infringing content, because Twitter says they are already doing enough to respect copyright 
– Argues that the “preliminary recommendations in relation to consent require further analysis and stakeholder consultation by the ACCC” and rejects a one-size-fits-all approach. Rejects the idea of external audits and not cost effective. 
-Defends the collection and use of consumer data, saying that it is just as much about “enhancing the user experience” as targeted advertising. Rejects “opt-in targeted advertising” 
– Says it is supporting media literacy projects 
– In regards to “supporting choice and quality of news journalism”says it is not part of the problem but instead allows for more people to gain access to important information. 
-Regarding data deletion, argues that “a platform should be able to reserve the ability to keep data even where a person ceases using the platform” 

US Chamber of Commerce 
-Concerned about regulation creating “public-sector restraints on trade that generate anti-competitive effects that harm consumer welfare.
 

Village Roadshow 
– want to see the removal of copyright-infringing material
– Believes that Google is “complicit in enabling piracy 

 

Please send any queries or corrections to: [email protected] 

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