ACCC Digital Platforms report calls for sweeping reforms

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ACCC Digital Platforms report calls for sweeping reforms

Google and Facebook's dominance drives call for new regulation of privacy, competition, content and more.

The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry has delivered its long-awaited final report, and it recommends a raft of far-reaching regulatory changes to curb the powers of web giants in Australia, and make them more responsible for content they distribute.

The 600-page report focuses on the market power amassed by Google and Facebook and finds they’ve together accumulated so much of it that they distort markets and do harm to consumers and industry (especially advertisers and publishers).

The report also calls for reform of Australia’s privacy laws, to inform citizens about how digital platforms use their data and offer incentives to tend it well.

The report is lengthy and dense (and helpfully arrived just before deadline). iTnews has therefore chosen to summarise its key points. We’ll delve deeper into the document later!

Overall, the report finds that Facebook and Google in particular have amassed so great a user base, and are so far ahead of the market, that extraordinary barriers to entry now exist for would-be competitors.

Consumers, meanwhile, have sleep-walked into giving up their data without understanding “the bargain they are entering into with digital platforms when they sign up for, or use, their services".

Businesses are hurt because digital platforms’ power means they dominate the market for consumer attention and advertising, but are very opaque about whether they privelige services they offer ahead of those promoted by their advertisers.

The result is 23 recommendations, that we’ve grouped into four categories.

  1. New regulations

The document suggests lots of new oversight for digital platforms.

A call for the ACCC to establish a new branch focussed specifically on digital platforms is prominent. That branch should be given a five-year remit to proactively investigate digital platforms’ activities. The report also wants an inquiry into competition for the supply of ad tech services and whether such markets are sufficiently transparent.

It also calls for digital platforms to be brought under the same regulatory umbrella as Australian broadcasters and publishers, to deliver consistency.

The report also recommends the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner develop an enforceable code to regulate platforms’ use of data.

And lastly, the ACCC wants a new ombudsman to resolve complaints and disputes with digital platform providers.

  1. Privacy reform

Many privacy enhancements are suggested, with the headline item being introduction of a Consumer Data Right, the introduction of a statutory tort covering “serious invasions of privacy”.

Further suggested reforms would continuously adapt Australia’s privacy regime to effectively protect consumers’ personal information in light of the increasing volume and scope of data collection by digital platforms.

There’s also a bid for reform of the Privacy Act, including new penalties of “the greater of: AU$10 million, three times the value of any benefit obtained through the misuse of information, or 10 per cent of a company’s annual domestic turnover”.

  1. Taking responsibility for content

The ACCC also suggested that digital platforms need to do more to fight fake news, with an industry code of conduct to govern the handling of complaints around disinformation. The ACCC suggested the ACMA could enforce this body’s activities.

The review also calls for a mandatory industry code to govern the take-down processes of digital platforms, to facilitate timely removal of copyrighted content.

  1. Competition

The report has plenty to say on competition. It suggests Google being forced to offer Android users alternative search engines, and wants a code to ensure digital platforms don’t crown out publishers. There’s also plenty on how to ensure the big platforms compete fairly with publishers and provide access to their content, plus plenty more on how  ensure advertisers get a fair deal.

The report also calls for mergers law to change to take into account the impact data being acquired along with a company. It also wants advance notification of acquisitions by digital platforms that could impact competition.

There’s more. Lots, lots more. Which if you want to, you can read here, or graze a 38-page executive summary here (pdf).

iTnews will publish further analysis of the report in due course.

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