The ACCC has released the Digital Platforms Inquiry with 23 strong recommendations to rein in the powers of online tech giants like Facebook and Google.
The ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry (623-page final report here) focuses on Digital Platforms (including Facebook and Google but referring to any platform like Amazon) and its impact on consumers (privacy and you as the ultimate product), media content creators and advertisers. Forgive us for only providing an overview.
What is the Digital Platforms Inquiry?
Google and Facebook both operate multi-sided platforms. On
one side, they offer services to consumers for a zero monetary price to obtain
consumers’ attention and data, which they monetise. On the other side, they
sell advertising opportunities to advertisers. Both companies generate most of
their revenue from advertising.
GadgetGuy first reported on this in March, and it comes down to a few things. 90% of the world’s personally identifiable data (you) has been created in the past two years by tech giants ‘snooping’ on your every move. Search, shopping, location, device used and oversharing on sneaky social media by volunteering information likes, dislikes, facial and sentiment recognition etc.
More importantly, the internet and some very clever
programmers have developed tools to passively track our every 24/7 moment and
file it into vast data profiles to enable highly targeted advertising to be
directed to us.
The ACCC states that data is collected from the user’s interaction with vast numbers of other websites and apps (websites that use Google advertising services or offer sign-in options through Google). This is then combined with the data from the owned and operated platforms, and, in Google’s case, with data collected from a user’s device (Android mobile operating system).
As a result, approximately 95% of general searches in
Australia are via Google, and Google earns almost 96% of all search advertising
revenue in Australia.
The Digital Platforms Inquiry found significant overlap in the issues around the product the digital platforms sell – you, your profile (data) and your privacy
For example, if Facebook or Google did not gather so much
information about you, then the product (targeted advertising) would not be as
attractive to advertisers and content creators. The content creators
(publishers, newspapers, radio and TV) argue that they don’t collect such data and
risk extinction in the face of the tech giants’ power.
Put bluntly Where Google’s and Facebook’s business users are
also their competitors, there are questions about whether there is a level
playing field, or whether they can give themselves advantages by favouring
their own products.
Beefing up privacy laws becomes a two-edged sword
The Tech giants argue that their profiles enable better-informed
consumers by cutting through the mass advertising static and offering products
they need at competitive prices. The trade-off is protecting consumers privacy and
offering complete data transparency. More importantly, do consumers make informed
choices about how their user data is collected and used by digital platforms?
Can the collected data be used in ways that harm society?
The ACCC’s view is that few consumers are fully informed of,
fully understand, or effectively control, the scope of data collected and the
bargain they are entering into with digital platforms when they sign up for, or
use, their services. There is a substantial disconnect between how consumers
think their data should be treated and how it is actually treated.
The bottom line is that consumers need to know how data is collected
and have some say over how it is used.
The ACCC found, against the background of an ocean of
personal data that is already public, there is now, and will be in the future,
a need for continued community acceptance and trust in the handling of personal
data by both governments and business.
Many digital platforms use standard-form click-wrap
agreements with take-it-or-leave-it terms and bundled consents, which limit the
ability of consumers to provide well-informed and freely given consent to
digital platforms’ collection, use and disclosure of their valuable data.
That has to change. In doing so, it may stop some digital
platforms from providing their so-called free services. The only statutory body
that can make Australia-wide change is our Federal Government, and it needs to
allocate significant resources to the ACCC to do it.
You can find a list of the 23 recommendations (from page 30-37) here.
“Our recommendations are comprehensive and forward-looking
and deal with the many competition, consumer, privacy and news media issues we
have identified throughout this Inquiry,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.
“Importantly, our recommendations are dynamic in that they
will provide the framework and the information that governments and communities
will need to address further issues as they arise. Our goal is to assist the
community in staying up to date with these issues and futureproofing our
enforcement, regulatory and legal frameworks.”