Australia to police Facebook and Google

Australia is likely to open the world’s first office dedicated to policing Facebook and Google following recommendations from the country’s consumer watchdog, which spent the past 18 months examining the dominance of leading digital platforms.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) published the much-anticipated final report of its Digital Platforms Inquiry at the end of last week.

The new office, a specialist digital platforms branch within the ACCC, is among 23 recommendations in the report and it is proposed that it should proactively monitor and investigate potentially anti-competitive conduct by tech firms.

“We believe continuing scrutiny is necessary given the critical position that digital platforms occupy in the digital economy, their continued expansion and the opacity and complexity of the markets in which they operate,” said ACCC chair Rod Sims.


Of particular note to advertisers, the ACCC said one of the first tasks of the new branch should be to “conduct an inquiry into the supply of ad-tech services and online advertising services by advertising and media agencies”.

The new office would then identify any competition or efficiency issues, seek greater transparency in the supply of these services, and report back to the Australian government as issues arise.

Other recommendations in the ACCC report cover the need to strengthen privacy laws, including the introduction of a privacy code of practice specifically for digital platforms, a general prohibition of unfair commercial practices and further protections for the news media.

The ACCC said it also wanted changes to Australia’s merger laws to expressly recognise the importance of data.

This is because it noted that, when large tech firms acquire start-ups, they may entrench their market power by gaining access to data while also removing future competitive threats.

“The world has now recognised the impact of the digital platforms’ market power and the impact this has on consumers, news, businesses and society more broadly. Continuing national and world action will now follow,” concluded Rod Sims.

Coming just days after the US Federal Trade Commission approved a record USD$5bn settlement with Facebook over the company’s privacy policies, the Australian government welcomed the ACCC’s recommendations.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told reporters that the ACCC’s new digital platforms branch would “lift the veil” on the algorithms used by Facebook and Google for their advertising and data collection.

“These companies are among the most powerful and valuable in the world and they need to be held to account and their activities need to be transparent,” he said.


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