ACCC wants internet users, businesses to help legislative reform

Australians have been asked for their opinions about cracking down on internet giants and powerful social media platforms.

Internet users will be instrumental in any potential new crackdowns on digital platforms as the country’s consumer watchdog considers what changes to put to the government.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is seeking views from consumers, businesses and other parties for the next phase of legislative reform to address the concerns about dominant digital platforms.

It comes as the government launches its inaugural review into the News Media and Digital Platforms bargaining code.

ACCC chair Rod Sims said the watchdog had outlined options for addressing harms to digital users in a range of areas dominated by large digital platforms, including social media, search, app marketplaces, general online retail marketplaces, and ad tech.

He said now was the time “to consider whether further reforms are needed to supplement the important tools in Australia’s competition and consumer law to maintain a vibrant digital economy that drives innovation and enhances productivity”.

“There is momentum building internationally, with authorities and lawmakers around the world taking action to address the competition and consider harms arising on digital platforms,” Mr Sims said.

“These platforms hold powerful positions in the economy and society and can often dictate terms to businesses that use their services. This in turn can harm consumers and the small businesses that rely on them, including through higher prices, greater use of personal data, reduced choice, less innovation or lower quality products.

“We encourage all interested parties and consumers to provide their views.”

A new discussion paper released by the ACCC outlines a possible new regulatory framework, with potential measures that promote competition and increase consumer welfare.

Consumer protection, including obligations on platforms to deal more effectively with online scams and restrictions on other conduct that harms consumers, is also outlined in the paper.

The ACCC has not yet determined which proposals, if any, it will recommend, but Mr Sims said it was looking closely at the “significant reforms for digital platforms” occurring, or being proposed, in the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“While our key objective is to ensure any reform is appropriate for Australia, we recognize the benefits to all stakeholders of international alignment in this important area,” Mr Sims said.

“The News Media Bargaining Code, which was regulated by the Australian government in 2021, is a great example of how regulatory change can quickly and effectively address the consequences of the largest platform’s market power.”

Mr Sims’ comments come as the Treasury launches its review into that code 12 months after legislation was passed.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the “world-first” code had addressed the bargaining power imbalance between news media businesses and digital platforms and ensured media companies were fairly remunerated for their content.

Since February 2021, Google and Facebook have entered into around 30 commercial agreements with news media businesses.

“A key focus for the review will be assessing the extent to which commercial agreements between the digital platforms and Australian news businesses have contributed to this objective,” a spokesperson for Mr Frydenberg said.


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