Australia’s competition watchdog is poised to call for far-reaching new regulations on Facebook, Google and other tech giants, which could have global ramifications for how they make money and choose the content people consume.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) recommendations, if confirmed, would be among the strongest yet in a drive to rein in the power of digital behemoths amid a host of worldwide concerns ranging from anti-trust issues to privacy abuse, and their role in spreading disinformation and hateful content.
Following an 18-month inquiry into the power of digital platforms, the commission is due to issue its final report by Sunday.
It is expected to include proposals for sweeping controls over tech companies’ handling of personal data and their use of “opaque” algorithms to rank how they display advertisements, search results and content.
In a 328-page preliminary report issued in December last year, the commission had raised alarm over the “substantial” market power wielded by the likes of Google and Facebook, and notably the “lack of transparency” in their operations.
“We are at a critical point in considering the impact of digital platforms on society,” said the report, initiated by the Australian government at the behest of the country’s main media organizations.
The report focused particular attention on the huge impact Google and Facebook have had on Australia’s news industry, with the number of newspaper and online journalists falling more than 20 percent since 2014 as digital advertising revenues were overwhelmingly captured by the two tech titans.
“While the ACCC recognises their significant benefits to consumers and businesses, there are important questions to be asked about the role the global digital platforms play in the supply of news and journalism in Australia,” it said.
A set of preliminary proposals set out in the report, many of which are expected to figure in the final conclusions, include greater regulation over the handling of personal data, similar to Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation introduced last year.
It also called for new penalties for invasion of privacy and greater controls on merger and acquisition activity by the biggest digital firms.
One of its most radical suggestions is the creation of an algorithm review board to monitor the complex formulas used to deliver advertisements, and rank news content and referral services to news media.
The commission said such a regulator was needed to ensure the big digital players do not “favour their own business interests, through their market power and presence across multiple markets.”
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