Australian govt probes Google, Facebook

3 simple, mind-blowing numbers that show the dominance of Google and Facebook in Australian advertising

Australian regulator says probe of tech giants spurs 5 investigations

The backdrop to this is the crushing dominance that Google and Facebook command in the $8 billion online advertising market - the routes businesses use to tell consumers about their products and convince them to buy.

Among the preliminary recommendations are those aiming to address Google and Facebook's market power and promote increased consumer choice, including a proposal that would prevent Google's browser Chrome being installed as the default on mobile devices, computers and tablets and Google's search engine being the default search engine on browsers.

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) on Monday released a 378-page report on the impact of Google and Facebook on competition in the advertising and news media markets.

The government isn't expected to act on the ACCC's recommendations until the final report is issued in June.

CRA also welcomed recommendations for the development of a take-down standard to ensure digital platforms remove copyright infringing material in a timely way and for the further review of the measurement of ads served on digital platforms.

The problem for a regulator like the ACCC is that the digital giants' business model is hard to regulate; their market dominance is derived from people's willingness to surrender their data freely, in exchange for the perceived value of being able to look at your sister's baby photos or find things online.

The ACCC is further considering a recommendation for a specific code of practice for digital platforms' data collection to better inform consumers and improve their bargaining power.

Other areas identified for further investigation in the ACCC's preliminary report included signalling where news stories came from, obligations to delete users' data, whether users should be able to opt out of targeted advertising, and measures to fund news and journalism in Australia. But consumers should also have the power - backed by strong penalties - to obtain all the personal information held about them by a company, details of every commercial arrangement within which that data has been transferred or sold to another party, how that data has been used and details of the source of all personal data not provided by the consumer themselves.

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"However, the operation of these platforms' key algorithms, in determining the order in which content appears, is not at all clear", he added.

"News and journalism perform a critical role in society".

Google and Facebook are transforming the way people communicate, access news and view advertising - and they are at risk of growing too powerful, according to Australia's consumer watchdog.

He added that this market dominance and the downturn of ad revenue has led to a cut in the number of journalists over the past 10 years.

The digital platforms act as "gateways" to media sites through services such as Google's search engine.

Facebook and Google's algorithms governing the display of advertisements lacked transparency, the ACCC said in its report, giving the firms "both the ability and incentive to favour their own related businesses" ahead of advertisers'.

"The preliminary report examines important topics in relation to Australia's changing media and advertising industry and we welcome the opportunity to contribute to the ACCC inquiry" a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

"Australian law does not prohibit a business from possessing significant market power or using its efficiencies or skills to "out compete" its rivals".

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