In the latest instance of government crackdown on the use of personal data by global tech giants, Australia is to impose tighter regulations on the advertisement platforms of Facebook and Google. If the recommendations of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is executed, the country would have the world’s first dedicated office to police the US tech giants.
The final report of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) 18-month probe into the influence of Google, Facebook and other platforms in Australia was released on 26 July. It made 23 recommendations, including keeping a tab on how the companies used algorithms to match advertisements with viewers.
"Our recommendations are comprehensive and forward-looking and deal with the many competition, consumer, privacy and news media issues we have identified throughout the course of this Inquiry," ACCC chair Rod Sims said in the official announcement.
The ACCC probe has identified many adverse effects arising from the growth of digital platforms, including "disinformation and a rising mistrust of news".
The digital platforms have responded to similar situations with appeals to trust them and assurances of accountability in the future.
"There is nothing wrong with being highly focused on revenue growth and providing increasing value to shareholders; indeed it can be admired. But we believe the issues we have uncovered during this Inquiry are too important to be left to the companies themselves," Sims said in the statement.
On 23 July, the US department of justice announced that its antitrust division was reviewing the activities of "market-leading online platforms" without naming the US market leaders Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.
"Without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands," antitrust division assistant attorney general Makan Delrahim said in the announcement. "The department’s antitrust review will explore these important issues."
In Australia, the proposed specialist digital platforms branch within the ACCC will have "standing information-gathering powers" to proactively watch and investigate "potentially anti-competitive conduct," said the announcement.
"The ACCC branch will also provide regular reports to Government on issues as they arise, work closely with other arms of government to help co-ordinate work in this vital area, and be the crucial link with our overseas counterparts to share learnings and responses," Sims said in the statement.
The announcement comes a day after the ACCC listed the norms for using social media to promote business and connect with customers.
"There are no specific or different consumer laws or rules in place for social media. Consumer protection laws which prohibit businesses from making false, misleading or deceptive claims about their products or services have been in place for decades. These laws apply to social media in the same way they apply to any other marketing or sales channel," the announcement said.
The regulator has also warned that businesses and review platforms are breaking the law by not removing reviews that they know to be fake.