The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chair Rod Sims recently gave a speech detailing the dominance of digital platforms online.
Our modern economy is built upon technology, with one or two major digital platforms influencing and shaping the behaviour and desires of consumers. According to Rod Sims, this makes it increasingly difficult to regulate competition whilst encouraging innovation. The ACCC initially released its Digital Platforms Inquiry in mid-2019 with recommendations focusing on (1) bargaining power imbalances in Australia between Google and Facebook, (2) issues with misinformation publication online, (3) digital privacy law concerns, and (4) ineffective regulatory compliance for online sectors. The Australian Government responded to these recommendations positively, implementing the News Media Bargaining Code, strengthening industry standards for online publication, acknowledging privacy law reform, and promoting the continued monitoring of digital platforms.
Presently, the ACCC is working through its Digital Platform Services Inquiry which aims to examine all the moving pieces of digital platforms. This involves assessing private messaging, search and social media services in Australia, app marketplaces, web browsers, and general search engines. Additionally, the inquiry looks into digital advertising technology, ad tech supply chains, transparency procedures, and competition through vertical integration in an online landscape.
The ACCC has seen some success in its challenges in the previous years against Google as well as Facebook, however, it is clear that Australia alone cannot restrain these major digital platforms in a competitive context. In his speech, Rod Sims mentioned that international support will be necessary to properly regulate digital platforms, citing current ‘US anti-trust bills targeting major digital platforms and the new bill on app marketplaces, the European Commission’s draft of a Digital Markets Act, Germany’s new competition legislation for digital firms, the UK’s proposal to apply new rules to particular digital firms with “strategic market status”, as well as regulatory developments in Japan and draft legislation in South Korea targeting app marketplaces.’
Similarly, consumer concerns over online app marketplaces require international collaboration. The ACCC previously instituted proceedings against the Apple App Store and Google Play store to find various practices that were unfair and detrimental to consumers. Moreover, unclear terms and conditions are having a severe impact on children who have access to mobile devices from a young age. This has resulted in several privacy and data collection breaches, as well as immoral gambling and gaming manipulation.
It is apparent that the ACCC is moving into high gear, liaising with international counterparts and regulators to rein in the dominance of digital platforms. Proper competition and consumer benefit will be incumbent on universal collaboration and only time will tell what new laws and policies will govern our digital society.