ACCC chair Rod Sims continues focus on marketplace power of Google & Facebook

Apple and Google may be facing further regulation if regulators across the world get their way according to a recent speech by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims.

In a speech to the Global Competition Review webinar Sims said the ACCC was closely monitoring moves by overseas governments and regulators that aimed to address competition and consumer concerns similar to those identified in the ACCC’s report. This includes US legislation introduced last week to address anticompetitive behaviour by dominant mobile app marketplaces.

“It is an exciting and challenging time to be a competition enforcer and regulator. There is much work underway in many jurisdictions to address the impact of the dominant digital platforms, whose global presences requires a global response,” Sims said.

“This is why international coherence and alignment on both regulatory and enforcement approaches is so important, and we remain in close contact with our counterparts working on these issues overseas.”

The ACCC has been looking closely at digital platform markets since 2017. It completed its original 18-month Digital Platforms Inquiry in July 2019, making 23 recommendations to address the dominance of the leading digital platforms and their impact in Australia. Nearly all of these recommendations were accepted by the Australian Government, including the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code which was passed in February by the Australian Parliament. The introduction of the code has resulted in both Google and Facebook signing voluntary commercial deals with all of the large and many smaller Australian news businesses in the country (Mumbrella at present has no agreement in place with either platform).

“We are extremely pleased with the results so far,” said Sims during his speech.

In addition, the ACCC has recommended that large digital platforms implement an industry code of conduct to govern complaints about disinformation. The Australian Government directed the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to oversee the development of this industry-led voluntary code, which was published in February this year with signatories including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, TikTok and Apple.

The ACMA provided a report to government in June on the adequacy of the code, and will continue to oversee its implementation.

The ACCC report also proposed some specific changes to the Privacy Act 1988, as well as broader reform of Australian privacy law. Its recommendations are being considered through the review of privacy law now being conducted by the Attorney-General’s Department.

Finally, the ACCC has requested additional funding to establish a permanent, specialist digital platforms branch within the regulator to ensure continuous and close scrutiny of the sector. As part of this role, the ACCC has been directed to carry out two further inquiries into digital platforms.

The ACCC published an issues paper on general online retail marketplaces, which is the focus of the Digital Platform Services Inquiry’s fourth interim report on 22 August 2021. Submissions to the issues paper, and responses to the surveys closed yesterday.

The ACCC and international regulators in the United States, Europe, the UK, and in Asia have launched a large number of inquiries, enforcement investigations and litigation relating to Google’s and Apple’s dominance in app marketplaces; and the dominance of digital platforms in other markets.

“While these enforcement actions and market studies are necessary to tackle the problems arising from dominant digital platforms, many jurisdictions are now recognising that they are not enough on their own,” Sims said.

Sims cited the five US anti-trust bills targeting major digital platforms and the new bill on app marketplaces, the European Commission’s draft Digital Markets Act, Germany’s new competition legislation for digital firms, the UK’s proposal to apply new rules to particular digital firms with ‘strategic market status’, as well as regulatory developments in Japan and draft legislation in South Korea targeting app marketplaces.

These proposals span issues from preventing further entrenchment of dominant market positions, promoting competition and greater transparency and fairness, respectively.

“Our own work at the ACCC must be tailored to match our own issues and concerns. But although the finer details of our approaches may vary, competition authorities can still achieve successful global outcomes by aligning their approaches to both enforcement and regulation,” Sims said.

“This will include alignment around up front regulation and rules as well as enforcement. The competitiveness, and the level and type of innovation in our economy, requires this.


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