Australia builds office to investigate the digital ad market of Facebook and Google

The Australian Government is establishing the World’s first dedicated office to police Google and Facebook Inc. as a part of reforms designed to rein in the U.S. technology giants. This move is undoubtedly to set a precedent potential for global lawmakers.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) after an 18-month investigation found that Facebook and Google hold massive power in the country’s online advertising as well as news distribution markets. The commission also believes that the antitrust and privacy laws have not yet caught up to the real world.

This move follows the recommendations of the antitrust watchdog that asked for a dedicated office inside the anti-trust regulator to investigate the tech giants’ market power. The task of this office is to examine the digital ad market.

With this move, the regulatory screws have tightened on the online platforms. Governments from the United States to Europe are scrambling to address concerns ranging from the spread of fake news, hate speech, and anti-trust issues.

Experts believe that the $5 billion fine on Facebook for privacy breaches shows that the regulators are taking such issues extremely seriously. As per a Reuters report, on the release of ‘report on future regulation of the dominant digital platforms’, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, said, “These companies are among the most powerful and valuable in the world. They need to be held to account, and their activities need to be more transparent.” Frydenberg also added that the government intends to ‘lift the veil’ on the closely guarded algorithms that the tech giants use to collect and monetize users data.

A special branch of the ACCC will be formed to scrutinize the way these companies used algorithms to match ads with viewers, providing them a grip on the main income generator of media operators. This new office is one of 23 recommendations. Other suggestions include protections for the news media, strengthening privacy laws, and a code of conduct that requires regulatory approval to govern the way internet giants profit from user-generated content.

Reuters report added that Facebook and Google had opposed the tighter regulations while traditional media owners have backed reform.

Traditional news media owners believe that with strong policies like these and working it out with the government can ensure real change. The two tech giants are also expected to work with the government as they feel that ACCC has underestimated the competition level for online advertising.

According to the commission, five investigations on Google and Facebook are being conducted in Australia. To curb Google and Facebook’s market power, the commission recommends overhauling privacy laws to make people aware of their data and power them to delete what is being stored. This change aligns Australia with elements of the EU’s GDPR.
Other recommendations include establishing codes of conduct for online tech giants that deal with media companies and handle complaints about online misinformation, strengthen the copyright owners to remove their content from Facebook and Google, changing merger laws to include data and technology implications, and strengthen anti-competitive rules.

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims told Reuters that, “We cannot leave these issues to be dealt with by commercial entities with substantial reach and market power. It’s really up to government and regulators to get up to date and stay up to date in relation to all these issues.”

These times are not seen to be very cheerful for online media giants, especially Google and Facebook. Other than the $5 billion fine on Facebook by US’s FTC and actually starting a task force to monitor Facebook, some more recent instances include, Britain to have a code of competitive conduct by appointing digital markets regulator, a European Commission report is finding the need for a regulatory regime to apply antitrust rules to digital companies.