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Sims: ACCC Inquiry Just The Start For Tech Regulation

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims has defended the Digital Platforms Inquiry against critics who say Australia can do nothing on its own and the recommendations don’t go far enough.

Speaking at the Melbourne Press Club today, Mr Sims said the recommendations are a starting point to regulate an industry that will require expanded and further regulation in the future.

“We remain convinced that our recommendations have got it right,” Mr Sims said.

“Not only is there no single silver bullet, but we are now starting a journey that has a long way to go.”

Mr Sims said the Commission will focus on addressing “the problems we can identify now, but also let us put in place mechanisms… to deal with other problems when they inevitably arise”.

The ACCC chairman also revealed the Commission has five “well advanced” investigations into digital platforms, adding that the recommended conduct codes in the report “must be binding, legally enforceable and with meaningful penalties for breaching them”.

He hit back at doubters who think Australian scrutiny will have no impact on the behaviour of overseas digital platforms.

“Facebook and Google are clearly subject to our laws,” Mr Sims said.

“They either comply or do not do business in Australia.”

He said he doesn’t think the companies would withdraw access to their services in Australia, as they have threatened to do in other countries when faced with regulation, because overseas counterparts are “sympathetic” to the issues raised in the report as well as the proposed solutions.

One of the recommendations in the report is for a new, “harmonised” framework for the regulation of media and tech companies to ensure a level playing field.

Another is for the establishment of a permanent branch within the ACCC targeting digital platforms, a recommendation Mr Sims said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has already endorsed.

Mr Sims said Facebook and Google already have “unparalleled” access to Australian audiences, but as publicly listed companies with an obligation to shareholders, can’t be satisfied by anything other than increased user engagement and expansion into new markets.

“If their profits were simply expected to stay at current levels their share prices would plummet,” Mr Sims said.

He said this sat in contrast to the message platforms were trying to send that they were merely “dumb pipes” serving as conduits to information, and the behaviour of tech giants provided further evidence that wasn’t the case.

While he stressed the law had no prohibitions against companies accruing market power, that didn’t mean they could use their dominant position to handicap other companies who depend on their platform to do business.

Many of the recommendations in the report were focused on reforms to assist media companies and maintain the financial viability of journalism, including the provision of new funding for local and public interest journalism, both through government support and tax adjustments to encourage philanthropic support.

As well as the impact on journalism and media companies, Mr Sims also highlighted the impacts of data collection and issues surrounding its storage.

Privacy policies that require users agree to hand over their data in order to use a service, without having a proper understanding of – or a say in – what data is collected were also highlighted as a focus.

Misuse of data and improper storage allowing it to fall into the wrong hands has also been blamed for a growth in scams and identity theft, which are expected to reach record losses this year.

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