|Australia is also delving into the effect big tech is having on their markets.|
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued its first Digital Platform Services Inquiry interim report (Interim Report) that “looks at competition and consumer issues associated with online private messaging services, updates previous findings reached by the ACCC as regards social media and online search services and also identifies some common concerns across different types of platforms.” In conjunction with the Interim Report, the ACCC published the research on which the agency relied.
To no great surprise, many of the very same market dominance, consumer and competition harms, and privacy issues turned up by the ACCC have been highlighted in reports from other nations. In Australia, Facebook is the dominant social messaging platform, Google the dominant search engine, and the two companies rule the online advertising market. The ACCC alleged the sort of harm that flows from dominance in a marketplace to competition and consumers. Australia joins the European Union (EU), the United States (U.S.), and other jurisdictions in starting to address the problems created by large technology companies. Whether this investigation will lead to changes in how Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, and others operate in Australia remains to be seen, and even if it does, given the nation’s small population and GDP relative to the EU and U.S.
The ACCC provided this background:
- In February 2020 the Government announced that the ACCC would have a role for five years to monitor digital platform services and their impacts on competition and consumers.
- As part of this role the ACCC is to provide the Australian government with six-monthly reports on digital platform services. This is the first of these six monthly reports.
- Online private messaging describes services that enable users to communicate privately with friends, family members, colleagues and other contacts, one-to-one and/or with a group in real-time and in various forms such as text, voice or video.
- The ACCC’s second report will be on app marketplaces; the ACCC is continuing to conduct its Digital Advertising Services Inquiry, with an interim report to be provided to the Treasurer by 31 December 2020.
Moreover, the Interim Report follows the ACCC’s 2019 Digital platforms inquiry – final report
The ACCC concluded:
- there are a range of regulatory proposals and developments being considered across different countries. The impact of these newly implemented developments or draft proposals on competition and consumer concerns will be observed over time.
- The identification and existence of similar competition and consumer protection issues across international jurisdictions presents an opportunity for regulators and lawmakers to work together to develop effective solutions. While different jurisdictions may take different approaches, there may be benefits from collaboration and learning from each other’s experiences to help develop fit-for-purpose measures that suit each individual jurisdiction. The ACCC will continue to proactively monitor regulatory developments and responses by platforms to understand the impact on competition and consumer outcomes in digital markets. In particular, we will observe the extent to which a new regulation or law in one jurisdiction results in positive competition and consumer outcomes in another jurisdiction.
- The ACCC recognises there is an ongoing opportunity for regulators to learn from each other and collaborate across international jurisdictions to address common challenges in digital markets. A collaborative approach may bring more benefits if it reduces the risk of disjointed markets, where competition and/or consumer issues are exacerbated in some jurisdictions but not others (for example, if platforms respond differently to regulations in different jurisdictions). A fragmented international approach to regulation may also impose a greater regulatory burden and costs on platforms, which could create additional competition and consumer harms.
- As the European Commission, Executive Vice-President, Margrethe Vestager expressed:
- …it is unrealistic to expect that there will be a precise, one-size-fits-all solution to address the range of issues that digital platforms present. Having said that, if we can formulate appropriate policy responses around the world on the basis of shared experiences and knowledge and if possible, common visions, I consider that that can only be beneficial, both for citizens and businesses.
- Accordingly, the ACCC will continue to proactively engage with international regulators to identify and where needed, work collaboratively to address similar issues and challenges raised by platforms and markets.
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