Australia’s consumer watchdog has called on the Federal Government to rein in the significant market power of digital media giants, Google and Facebook in its Digital Platforms Inquiry final report released on 26 July 2019 (Report).

After an 18 month Inquiry, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Report made 23 formal recommendations in total, many of which seek to address the substantial market power held by Facebook and Google. The Report also highlighted a disconnect between how consumers believe their data should be used and how it is actually being used by digital media entities.

The Report illustrated the ACCC’s concern at the effect on competition made by digital search engines, social media platforms and other digital content aggregation platforms in the media and the online advertising services market.

To address these trends, the ACCC’s recommendations include:

  • establishing a Code of Practice for digital platforms that would provide greater transparency for Australian consumers over how their data is collected, used and shared by digital platforms
  • developing a code of conduct to govern the interrelationship between Google, Facebook and other media platforms, which would require sign-off by the ACCC
  • strengthening consumer protections under the Privacy Act and privacy regime to ensure a broader range of digital data is captured by the legislation, and adding laws with respect to the manner in which digital entities can collect, use and store consumer data (including procuring user consent before obtaining the data). This will require a consideration of introducing protection standards across digital platforms for de-identification, anonymisation and pseudonymisation of personal information
  • updating merger laws to help deter monopolies within the digital media landscape
  • establishing a new digital markets branch of the ACCC with powers to investigate digital platforms and provide regular reports to government
  • establishing an ombudsman scheme to assist consumers in resolving complaints and disputes with digital platforms.

The Report comes just days after Facebook was fined a record AU$7.1 billion as part of a United States government probe into its privacy practices, in particular, the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal.

This Report will add to the increased pressure on tech platforms as they face growing concerns over their market dominance, the use of consumer data and their role as platforms used by others to spread misleading, and sometimes extremist, media content.

There will be a 12 week consultation process that will enable interested stakeholders to provide feedback on the Report’s findings and their implementation. Following the consultation process, the Government intends to finalise its response to the Report by the end of 2019.