ACCC calls for crackdown on tech giants

The ACCC has released its interim report on the influence of Facebook and Google.
The ACCC has released its interim report on the influence of Facebook and Google.

The competition watchdog is calling for a regulatory body to be given far-reaching powers to investigate and monitor powerful tech giants including Google and Facebook in Australia.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's call was among 11 recommendations in its preliminary report on a world-first inquiry into the impact digital platforms are having locally.

Among its key concerns were the algorithms used by Facebook and Google to rank display advertisements and news content, along with the huge amounts of personal information they collect from consumers using their digital platforms.

The ACCC found given the "substantial market power" enjoyed by Facebook and Google in Australia, a new or existing regulatory authority should be given powers to investigate, monitor and report on how they and other large digital platforms rank and display advertisements and news content.

The algorithms used by Google and Facebook - the largest digital platforms in Australia - give them the ability to favour related businesses or businesses with which they may have an existing commercial relationship over their competitors.

"Organisations like Google and Facebook are more than mere distributors or pure intermediaries in the supply of news in Australia; they increasingly perform similar functions as media businesses like selecting, curating and ranking content," ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in a statement on Monday.

"Yet, digital platforms face less regulation than many media businesses.

"The ACCC considers that the strong market position of digital platforms like Google and Facebook justifies a greater level of regulatory oversight."

The ACCC was tasked by the federal government in December 2017 to examine the impact that online search engines, social media and digital content aggregators are having on Australia's media and advertising markets.

In its preliminary report, the ACCC said while digital platforms had revolutionised the way consumers communicated and accessed news and information and offered many benefits, there were questions about their the responsibility they held as "gateways" to information.

One of its other key findings was that consumers were unable to make informed choices about the amount of personal data collected and used by the digital tech giants.

As a result, the ACCC wants changes to the Privacy Act to give consumers more control over the collection of their personal information and subject Google, Facebook and other digital platforms to external audits to ensure they comply with privacy laws.

The ACCC is also considering recommending a plan to stop Google's internet browser - Chrome - being installed as a default browser on mobile devices and computers and its search engine being installed as a default on internet browsers.

Mr Sims said he was concerned about the range and reliability of news available on Google and Facebook, with consumers at risk of being exposed to "filter bubbles, or echo chambers", and less reliable news on digital platforms.

The ACCC is due to provide its final report to the government by June 3, 2019.

Australian Associated Press