ACCC flags concrete plans to tackle digital media giants' power imbalance

Written on the 13 August 2019 by Business News Australia

ACCC flags concrete plans to tackle digital media giants' power imbalance

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has delved deeper into the type of regulatory codes that could be used to tackle the distortionary power of digital platforms like Facebook and Google.  

Following the regulator's recent report into the out-of-control growth and dominance of these companies that can benefit from content paid for and created by traditional media outlets, ACCC Chair Rod Sims has disruption and dislocation in  media markets should concern all Australians.

Speaking at the Melbourne Press Club today, Sims noted the regulatory imbalance between traditional media and digital platforms.

"While digital innovations have the potential to transform societies for the better, there are also forms of innovation that can be harmful," he said.

Several of the Inquiry's 23 recommendations were directly focused on media and journalism, including the establishment of a new platform-neutral regulatory framework to ensure effective and consistent regulatory oversight of all entities involved in content production or delivery in Australia.

"There is an imbalance in the current regulatory treatment of content delivered via traditional broadcasting compared to content delivered via digital platforms, and that needs to be addressed,"  Sims said.

"We have also recommended an enforceable bargaining code administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority to ensure that media businesses are treated fairly, reasonably and transparently by the large digital platforms."

He said this "vital" code would cover the sharing of data and understanding elements of algorithm outcomes while not inappropriately impeding monetisation and overall value sharing.

"The codes we have recommended to government must be binding, legally enforceable and with meaningful penalties for breaching them," Sims said.

He said while the digital platforms offer benefits with their 'free' services, and most users now have some understanding of how their data is treated, the Inquiry found a substantial disconnect between how consumers think their data is used, and how it is actually used.

"Few consumers are fully informed of, or can effectively control, how their data is collected, used and shared by digital platforms when they sign up for or use their services,"  Sims said.

"Trust is at the heart of the digital economy. It is important that there is transparency over the collection and use of data so consumers can exercise real choices and have meaningful control over their data."

"It is very important to recognise the role digital platforms perform in our individual and collective lives, and for governments and us all to be proactive in anticipating challenges and problems."

He noted thoughtful regulatory frameworks could help harness the benefits of innovation while protecting society from its potential harms. 

"There is no single silver bullet, but we see the recommendations in this report as the start of a journey that has a long way to go," he said.

"Our recommendations both precisely address the current problems, and provide a continuing flow of information so that our government and our society can stay ahead of these issues."

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