A new monitoring unit, an investigation into the power of digital platforms and a privacy review promised in government’s response to ACCC DPI

The Australian government has finally handed down its response to the 18-month Digital Platform Inquiry conducted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which concluded midway through 2019.

In its response, the government has promised to establish a special unit inside the ACCC to monitor and report on the state of competition and consumer protection in digital platform markets and take enforcement where necessary.

The ACCC Digital Platform Final Report was handed down in July

Also promised is an investigation into bargaining power concerns between digital platforms and media businesses, to be conducted by the ACCC and enforced through a voluntary code of conduct.

A staged process to reform media regulation, aimed at a platform-neutral framework which covers both online and offline media is also on the list, as is an assurance that privacy settings will ‘empower consumers and protect their data’ while still serving the Australian economy.

The response was welcomed by the ACCC, with the immediate commitments and roadmap considered to be addressing the regulatory body’s main concerns. The watchdog is going to work to establish a permanent Digital Platforms Branch and it will also start a new inquiry into the digital advertising tech supply chain, with a focus on digital display ads.

In a 19-page response to the inquiry, the Morrison government, led by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, said there was no denying the impact the digital platforms have had on the landscape and that the way Australians rely on them means now is the time to take action and ensure a safer future.

The government claimed to have already begun taking action, including through investing $60m into quality regional journalism and amendments to the Privacy Act.

A voluntary code of conduct, measured on international examples such as Europe’s Code of Practice on Disinformation, will be rolled out, to be monitored by the ACCC. This code will also look at how balanced power is in the sector and what can be done to improve it.

In 2019–20 the government is committing $27m over four years to the Digital Platforms Branch, which will first be tasked with an investigation into the ‘black box’ process of media agencies and buying ad space.

The response comes after the ACCC’s 623-page report, which was released in July and made 23 recommendations, the majority of which have been supported by the government. Over the 12-week consultation period following the report’s release, the government received over 100 submissions.

ACCC chair Rod Sims said the body was ‘delighted’ with the response.

“We are delighted that the Government has recognised the significance of the ACCC’s findings on the impact of the leading digital platforms on competition, consumer, privacy, media and advertising markets,” Sims said.

“We’re proud that Australia will now be one of the first countries in the world to develop such a comprehensive roadmap for broad reforms relating to digital platforms.”

“Google and Facebook have grown to have almost unfettered market power with significant impacts on consumers that must be addressed.”

In response to the government’s comments, Facebook managing director ANZ, William Easton, said the platform ‘supports’ the decisions.

“We share the Government’s view that now is an opportune time for democratic countries like Australia to work with industry on new regulation for the internet that protects the choice and opportunities for millions of Australians that use our services.

We support a sustainable news ecosystem which is why we work with publishers to help them reach new audiences and invest significantly in tools to provide transparency over the content people and publishers see on our services. Our primary focus remains on achieving economy-wide privacy protection, data portability and a user-focused digital news distribution code, while preserving the many benefits that technology delivers in this country,” said Easton.

Google’s response was that it would continue working with the government on the ongoing changes and investigations.

“Australians come to Google for helpful products and services, whether it’s finding answers to questions, getting directions through maps, or businesses connecting with new audiences through advertising. We have engaged closely with the ACCC and the Government throughout this comprehensive process and will continue to do so in 2020, including on focus areas such as privacy, ad tech and our work with publishers,” said a Google spokesperson.

The government response made a brief comment about the merger laws in Australia and the ACCC’s recommendation to amend these, saying it would consider all outcomes. The Australian content and media regulation concerns are also on the list to be ‘considered’. Another paper is expected on these in 2020, co-authored by Screen Australia.

Advertising rules and restrictions will be reviewed in late 2020.

In response to the government’s suggestions, the Labor party issued an announcement station that the Morrison government’s ‘heart wasn’t in digital reform’.

“The Morrison government’s response to the ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry is an admission the Liberals have spent six years delaying long-overdue reforms and wasting time and resources on Groundhog Day processes that have gone nowhere,” read the statement.

“Much of the work the government says they’re going to do now could and should have been done years ago and Australia faces 2020 with a backlog of policy work that has piled up under the Liberals and Nationals.

“This government’s heart was never in the reform agenda or the Digital Platforms Inquiry.”

Labor said the government rejected calls for an inquiry in 2016, only commissioning one in 2017 as part of a ‘desperate crossbench deal’.

“It is deeply concerning that the Morrison Government still doesn’t get it when it comes to public interest journalism, particularly in regional areas, which was the core impetus of this Inquiry in the first place,” read the statement.

“This Government says they ‘support’ the ACCC’s recommendation that the ABC have stable and adequate funding, even as Morrison’s latest cut of $83.7 million over three years forces the ABC to axe a further 200 jobs.

Labor supports the establishment of a Digital Platforms Branch in the ACCC to safeguard competition and consumers in the digital economy.”


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