Australia to develop digital watchdog to monitor Facebook and Google

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has published a report that explores the need for a digital ombudsman and proposes changes to the Privacy Act to allow consumers to make informed decisions


Australia's antitrust regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), has announced its plans to develop an ombudsman to monitor the influence of Facebook and Google within news and advertising in Australia.

The ACCC published a preliminary report that comprised of 11 recommendations and eight areas for further analysis as the inquiry into Google and Facebook's reign over digital platforms continues. Additionally, it will examine the extent to which consumers' data is collected and used for targeted advertising.

In a statement ACCC said: "The ACCC also notes that consumers will be better off if they can make informed and genuine choices as to how digital platforms collect and use their data and proposes changes to the Privacy Act to enable consumers to make informed decisions."

The ACCC also called for feedback on the recommendations and the proposed areas for further analysis.

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The ACCC stated that in today's digital age "Google and Facebook are now the dominant gateways between news media businesses and audiences," and added that "this can reduce the brand value and recognition of media businesses". Traditional media businesses and, in particular, traditional print media businesses have lost advertising revenue to digital platforms, the ACCC claimed. "This has threatened the viability of business models of the print media and their ability to monetize journalism."

The report sparked questions about the range and reliability of news available via Google and Facebook. "The ACCC's preliminary view is that consumers face a potential risk of filter bubbles, or echo chambers, and less reliable news on digital platforms. While the evidence of filter bubbles arising on digital platforms in Australia is not yet strong, the importance of this issue means it requires close scrutiny," the ACCC commented.

"News and journalism perform a critical role in society" ACCC chair Rod Sims stated.

He added that this market dominance and the downturn of ad revenue has led to a cut in the number of journalists over the past 10 years.

The proposed preliminary recommendations and the areas for further analysis identified aims to address negative impacts of digital platforms and, according to ACCC, will also contribute to the debate about the appropriate level of government oversight.

One of the recommendations includes a proposal to prevent a Google's Chrome browser and search engine being installed as default on mobiles, computers and tablets.

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Additionally, Sims stated that the inquiry has uncovered concerns that some digital platforms have breached competition or consumer laws, of which the ACCC is currently investigating five allegations to determine if enforcement action is needed.

"The ACCC considers that the strong market position of digital 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. 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," Sims commented.

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