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The ACCC releases preliminary report on digital platforms

ACCC goes hard on Facebook and Google, raises concerns about the impact on news media consumers in Australia.

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The ACCC has released its preliminary report into digital platforms today, 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.

In case you don’t want to read the whole 374 pages for yourself, here are the main points to be across:

Digital platforms are here to stay and they’re growing at an incredible pace

The ACCC makes clear that digital platforms such as Google and Facebook has fundamentally changed the nature of so many aspects of our lives, from how we search for and access information, to how people interact with each other around the world. The report is by no means anti-digital: it makes a case for all of the benefits that these services have brought us, and also points out that millions of Australians are enjoying these platforms every day. At the same time, however, the report raises several key concerns about whether the amount of power and influence these platforms have is healthy for business and democracy in Australia and questions the current lack of strong regulations that keep these platforms in check.

 

 

Lack of transparency

The lack of transparency means that advertisers are unable to verify whether advertisements are served to their intended audience.

Changes to the algorithms that digital platforms use can happen suddenly and without enough information being provided.

Need for regulatory reform

The report includes 11 preliminary recommendations by the ACCC to the Australian Government.

These recommendations, in summary, are:

  1. Changing Australian merger law to better promote healthy competition, and to protect data collected by companies from being bundled in with other company assets during mergers and acquisitions.
  2. Asking large digital platforms (such as Facebook and Google) to provide advance notice of the acquisition of any business with activities in Australia. This will allow the government to review beforehand how proposed acquisitions will impact industry competition.
  3. Preventing providers of operating systems from having default internet browsers, and instead having choices available for users.
  4. Setting up a regulatory authority to monitor, investigate and report on whether digital platforms are engaging in discriminatory or anti-competitive conduct by favouring their own business interests above those of advertisers or potentially competing businesses.
  5. Monitoring, investigating and reporting on the ranking of news and journalistic content by digital platforms and the provision of referral services to news media businesses (performed by the same authority in 4)
  6. Designing a regulatory framework that is able to effectively and consistently regulate the conduct of all entities that produce and deliver content in Australia, including news and journalistic content, whether they are publishers, broadcasters, other media businesses, or digital platforms.
  7. Setting a Mandatory Standard regarding digital platforms’ take-down procedures for copyright-infringing content to enable effective and timely removal of such material.
  8. Amending the Privacy Act to better enable consumers have greater control over the collection and use of their personal information.
  9. Enabling users to make informed decisions regarding the collection and use of their data, and remove the huge imbalance of power in sign-ups and user agreements.
  10. Introducing a statutory cause of action for serious invasions of privacy to increase the accountability of businesses for their data practices, giving consumers greater control over their personal information”
  11. Making unfair contract terms illegal (not just voidable) under the Australian Consumer Law to more effectively deter digital platforms, as well as other businesses, from leveraging their bargaining power over consumers by using unfair contract terms in their terms of use or privacy policies.

 

Note that these recommendations have been presented here in an extremely condensed format and appear in the report in context and with specifics attached. Therefore, we recommend that you read the relevant section of the report if you require more detail around any of the above.

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