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Tell us how Facebook and Google are doing business with you, ACCC boss urges advertisers and agencies

Australia’s competition watchdog is calling on advertisers to get involved in the final stages of its inquiry into how digital platforms including Facebook and Google are affecting the local media landscape.

Speaking to Mumbrella ahead of a public speech to be delivered to the International Institute of Communication in Sydney today, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said he wants to hear more about from advertisers and media agencies about the advertising technology chain.

He said: “We are very much hoping we get much more from them. That is really important to us. I think the advertising and adtech supply chain are really interesting issues, this just shows how all the issues link one to the other.

In its interim report handed down in December, the commission flagged mandatory codes for publishers and online services along with tightened regulations of business generating $100m per annum from digital advertising.

Sims said “We’re seeking submission which are due at the end of next week, what we really want people to focus on is, firstly, do they think we’ve appropriately described the problem or have we got that wrong.

Sims wants to hear more from advertisers and media agencies

“And secondly, subject to the first point, what do people think about the proposed solutions? We’re really welcoming the type and nature of recommendations and any input on the areas for further analysis.”

Sims told Mumbrella: “For instance, many of the publishers complain that because there’s not very good checking of what advertisers get for their spend that opaqueness if you like, is making it harder for people with good content, trusted content, to say ‘you’ll get a good bang-for-your-buck with us.

“It’s hard for the advertisers to know whether they are getting people who really are reading those sites or whether they’re getting a low quality advertising view or whether its a fraudulent site.

“The interest in that ad area is very large and its importance extends well beyond the advertising market.

“If we’re going to come up with the right answers we really need people to let us know whether we have the right recommendations.”

In his Sydney speech, Sims highlights the weaknesses in Australian media regulation and the disparity between global digital services and local companies, saying: “Digitalisation and the increase in online news sources also highlight inconsistencies in the current sector-specific approach to media regulation.

“Virtually no media regulation applies to digital platforms and this contributes to regulatory disparity between media sectors that would appear to provide the digital platforms with an unfair advantage in attracting advertising expenditure because they operate under fewer regulatory constraints and have lower regulatory compliance costs.”

Sims also flagged the likelihood the commission will recommend tighter copyright rules in the final report due to be handed down in June: “Our inquiries indicated that media businesses faced difficulties in requesting digital platforms to take down copyright-infringing content in a timely manner. This is in part due to the uncertainties involved in establishing the digital platforms liability for authorising a copyright infringement. The mandatory standard is proposed in order to improve the enforceability of copyright protections online.

The ACCC boss also highlighted the global digital platform’s advantages over publishers and advertisers: “A secondary impact comes from the practices of the digital platforms which make it hard for media businesses to, as I have mentioned and in the jargon of a competition regulator, “compete on their merits”.

“As an example, one allegation is that the lack of clarity around the ad-tech supply chain disadvantages media businesses’ ability to monetise their content via advertising opportunities on their sites.

“As mentioned above, concerns over the differences in measuring advertising performance and delivery also highlight the potential of unfair comparisons between advertising on traditional media and advertising on Google and Facebook.”

Sims also repeated his idea for ACMA to have a formalised role in monitoring publishers’ output, saying: “Proposals aimed at providing people who consume news and journalistic content via digital platforms with greater transparency and certainty about the quality of the news produced. Effectively a ‘badge’ or signal would appear in relation to news content produced by news media businesses which have signed up to certain standards for the production of journalistic content. The ACMA would have oversight of these codes.”

Written submissions responding to the preliminary report of the the ACCC’s digital platforms inquiry can be lodged through the commission’s email address, platforminquiry@accc.gov.au until this Friday February 15.

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