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ACCC Query Facebook, Google “Unfair Advantage”

The ACCC has warned digital tech giants – such as Google and Facebook – may have an “unfair advantage” over traditional media in attracting advertising revenue, citing disparate regulations and licenses.

Sims has also called on blue chip advertisers to better engage with the ACCC’s digital platform inquiry, prior to its published recommendations into Facebook and Google’s dominance.

“… let me be clear here: there is no evidence that could be put before a court that this discrimination or favouritism is necessarily occurring in Australia,” he asserts.

“Equally, we don’t know that it isn’t. Google and Facebook want us to take them on trust.”

Sims has called for tougher rules regulating the digital tech giants, affirming the current state is “inconsistent and out of step” with how media companies work.

“The policies and legislation have not kept pace with the stunning rise to influence of digital platforms and, in particular, Facebook and Google,” Sims remarks.

The consumer watchdog’s argument is that digital tech platforms such as Facebook and Google operate as more than news distributors, and increasingly perform similar functions as traditional media companies – e.g. selecting and ranking content.

Unlike TV and radio, such digital tech platforms are not subject to licensing conditions which restrict political advertising, nor mandate a minimum amount of local content.

“Our concern here is that this regulatory imbalance may provide an unfair advantage to digital platforms in attracting advertising expenditure by allowing them to operate within a very different journalistic context to traditional media outlets,” asserts Sims.

“In the digital news context, consumers also face a potential risk of being surrounded by filter bubbles, or echo chambers, and ultimately reading less reliable news”

“Again, while the evidence of this occurring in Australia is not yet compelling, the importance of this issue means it requires closer scrutiny.”

Acknowledging that “being big is not a sin”, Sims claims the dominance of Facebook and Google warrants closer scrutiny to assess competition and consumer harm.

Sims also touched on the ‘transparency equation’ of Facebook and Google – wherein advertisers can verify whether ads purchased are actually shown to the target audience.

“The AANA and Free TV have raised that Facebook and Google monitor the delivery of advertisements on their own platforms arguably acting as the scorekeeper in a game where they are a player, while, for example, TV broadcasters are subject to third party verification of their audiences.”

“Both Google and Facebook have rejected claims that advertisements on their platforms are not verifiable,” warns Sims.

“In addition to internal processes, they both say they allow third party measurement partners to verify metrics on behalf of advertisers.”

The ACCC has not reached a conclusion on the issue, however, hopes to “achieve clarity” before its final report in June.

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