Transparency remains a key focus for ACCC ahead of final version of digital platforms code

Issues of transparency involving digital platforms and data remain among the top priorities of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, says its chair Rod Sims.

In the ACCC’s recently released annual report, Sims surmised key activity by the commission for the 2019-20 financial year, ahead of the release of a forthcoming final mandatory code of conduct for Australian news media businesses and digital platforms.

ACCC chair Rod Sims

In the report, Sims reiterated the position of the ACCC following its 2019 Digital Platforms Inquiry (DPI).

“Transparency and inadequate disclosure issues involving digital platforms and consumer data were a major focus of the DPI and remain one of the ACCC’s top priorities,” he said.

After the federal government adopted key recommendations by the ACCC, a draft mandatory code was released for public consultation, as was a news media bargaining code.

Despite recent worries expressed by multiple leading digital publishers that implementing the code may ‘disadvantage the rich variety of new media voices that have sprung up over the last decade and a half’, Sims said the ACCC will “soon” settle on a final code.

Based on the draft code, publishers would be able to bargain with tech giants like Google and Facebook to receive payment for their news content, with Facebook responding by threatening to block Australians from sharing news.

In this report, the ACCC insists the code will still be implemented, with the final version will cover elements including data sharing, ranking and display of news content, and monetisation and sharing of revenue generated from news.

It will also “establish appropriate enforcement, penalty and binding dispute resolution mechanisms”, said the report.

The annual report also addressed forthcoming reports, including reports to the Treasurer every six months as part of the ongoing Digital Platform Services Inquiry.

“Digital platform services covered by this direction include internet search engine services, social media services, online private messaging services, digital content aggregation platform services, media referral services and electronic marketplace services (both app stores and general online marketplaces),” the ACCC said.

“The direction also covers digital advertising services supplied by digital platform service providers and the data practices of both digital platform service providers and data brokers.”

The ACCC’s Digital Advertising Services Inquiry, which is currently looking into “markets for the supply of adtech services and ad agency services”, is due to produce an interim report by the end of 2020 and a final report by August 31, 2021.

Sims also used the report to address the continued need for competition in Australia, despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly with regards so some mergers that the ACCC failed to block.

“I cannot fail to mention the debate Australia needs to have about how concentrated we want our economy to be and therefore how we approach assessments of the competition effects of mergers,” he said.

“Competition must and will survive the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis, as it is fundamental for the recovery phase of the crisis. An open, well-functioning economy is essential to the prosperity of all Australians, and such an economy depends completely for its success on robust competition.”


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