Tech giants on no­tice

ACCC fo­cus on Google, Face­book


GOOGLE and Face­book are trans­form­ing the way peo­ple com­mu­ni­cate, ac­cess news and view ad­ver­tis­ing – and they are at risk of grow­ing too pow­er­ful, ac­cord­ing to Aus­tralia’s con­sumer watch­dog. The Aus­tralian Com­pe­ti­tion and Con­sumer Com­mis­sion (ACCC) has in­di­cated the need for po­ten­tial new reg­u­la­tions to stop ma­jor tech com­pa­nies from abus­ing their power to the detri­ment of Aus­tralia’s me­dia and dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­tries. In a pre­lim­i­nary re­port, it put forth 11 rec­om­men­da­tions to im­prove over­sight of the tech giants and pre­vent them from en­gag­ing in po­ten­tially dis­crim­i­na­tory con­duct. The watch­dog has rec­om­mended that 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 ACCC says there is a lack of trans­parency around the al­go­rithms used to rank and dis­play ads and news con­tent, which gives Google and Face­book the abil­ity and in­cen­tive to favour re­lated busi­nesses or busi­nesses they have an ex­ist­ing com­mer­cial re­la­tion­ship with. 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 tablets; and Google’s search engine be­ing in­stalled as a de­fault search engine on in­ter­net browsers. The ACCC be­lieves the dom­i­nance of 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,” ACCC chair­man Rod Sims said. “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 de­cline of tra­di­tional me­dia has seen dig­i­tal plat­forms grow ex­po­nen­tially in the past decade. Dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing has in­creased sub­stan­tially in Aus­tralia in re­cent years, ris­ing from less than $1 bil­lion in 2005 to al­most $8 bil­lion in 2017. Google and Face­book – who de­rive a vast ma­jor­ity of their rev­enue from ad­ver­tis­ing – have cap­tured 80 per cent of that growth in the Aus­tralian mar­ket. The ACCC’s in­quiry, which was prompted by for­mer Sen­a­tor Nick Xenophon, comes at the be­hest of news out­lets and dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ers who have seen their in­dus­try heav­ily dis­rupted. The in­quiry is look­ing at the broader so­cial im­pli­ca­tions of the rise of dig­i­tal plat­forms, such as is­sues of al­go­rithm-driven news dis­tri­bu­tion and fake news. Other im­por­tant is­sues be­ing looked at in­clude con­sumer aware­ness about the ex­ten­sive amount of per­sonal in­for­ma­tion col­lected by the likes of Google and Face­book, as well as con­sumer con­cerns re­gard­ing the pri­vacy of their data. The ACCC’s pre­lim­i­nary view is con­sumers are at risk of get­ting less re­li­able news from these dig­i­tal plat­forms and to only see this news through fil­ter bub­bles or echo cham­bers. The ACCC is seek­ing feed­back on its pre­lim­i­nary rec­om­men­da­tions, and the eight pro­posed ar­eas for fur­ther anal­y­sis and as­sess­ment. Fur­ther stake­holder fo­rums may be held in early 2019.

POWER STRUG­GLE: ACCC chair­man Rod Sims warns Google and Face­book are be­com­ing too pow­er­ful.

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