The Coalition says it’s cracking down on Facebook and Google – but what does it actually mean? | Australia news

The federal government has announced its response to the competition regulator’s massive report on Facebook and Google, agreeing to new powers and funding for the consumer watchdog to monitor the digital giants.

But what will it actually mean?

What did the ACCC recommend?

In its landmark digital platforms report released in July, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission made 23 recommendations including:

  • a new digital division within the ACCC with the power to hold public inquiries and compel companies to provide information

  • giving users the option to choose a different default browser than Chrome and Google search on Android devices

  • a code of conduct to ensure news businesses on digital platforms are treated fairly and transparently

  • updating merger law and requiring the large tech companies to inform the ACCC about potential mergers that would lessen competition

  • a code for how companies handle complaints about the spread of misinformation

  • updating the Privacy Act to give users more control over their personal data including data porting and a greater level of consent before information is collected

  • a statutory tort for serious invasions of privacy

  • taxpayer funding for local journalism and media literacy organisations, and making donations to media companies engaged in public interest journalism tax-deductible.

What has the government decided to do?

The biggest announcement is $27m over four years to be announced in Myefo on Monday for the ACCC’s new digital division.

The new division will monitor and report twice a year on digital platforms, with the power to conduct inquiries when the treasurer directs it to undertake, and to take enforcement action.

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The division’s first inquiry will be to look at the competition for ad tech services and online advertising.

That announcement aside, the government is largely responding by announcing more reviews or voluntary codes.

The government will consult on more changes to the Privacy Act, including expanding the definition of personal information to include personal information collected by tech companies, strengthening notice and consent requirements, and the tort of privacy allowing people to take court action for compensation when their privacy is interfered with.

The review will also consider a recommendation that consumers be allowed to request to delete personal information companies hold on them.

In response to fake news, the government will ask the big companies like Facebook and Google to develop a voluntary code of conduct for disinformation and news quality, with oversight by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

There will be a voluntary code developed between the news companies and the digital platforms to be more transparent over the news feed algorithms and ad placement by November next year. The government has said if it isn’t satisfied with the code, it will consider a mandatory code.

In response to fake news, the government will ask the big companies like Facebook and Google to develop a voluntary code of conduct for disinformation and news quality

In response to fake news, the government will ask the big companies like Facebook and Google to develop a voluntary code of conduct for disinformation and news quality. Photograph: Facebook

There will also be a pilot scheme for people to lodge complaints about issues with the digital platforms, and this pilot will determine whether the government should bring in a digital platforms ombudsman to resolve complaints and disputes.

What has the government not adopted?

There will be no immediate changes to merger law, with the government promising “broad consultations” on the ACCC’s proposal next year. The ACCC will also be asked to monitor the EU’s efforts to force Google to offer alternatives to Chrome and Google search on Android devices, but there’s no plans to proceed with that for now.

There’s also no move on banning unfair contract terms, with the government proposing to consult more on protecting people.

The biggest rejection was the proposal to make funding journalism tax deductible. The government said it wasn’t going to act on that recommendation.

“There are a number of existing ways in which organisations that produce public interest journalism can seek deductible gift recipient (DGR) status and the government’s current focus is on implementing the DGR reforms announced in December 2017 before considering further changes,” the response states.

The government also rejected a proposal for a mandatory takedown code that would force Facebook and Google to remove material that was claimed to be infringing copyright. The government said there was the potential for unintended consequences.

What will it mean for people using Facebook and Google and other platforms?

Assuming changes to the Privacy Act get introduced and pass parliament, people will have more control over their own data, and if they’ve had their privacy breached, will be able to take the company to court over it to get compensation.

What will it mean for the media?

They will participate in more inquiries, and regional publishers will have access to more money, but in the immediate term there won’t be much of a difference for the media sector.

The government is also consulting on changes to make media regulation technology neutral. This would mean the same rules that apply to broadcast TV, for example, around local content, could also apply to services like Netflix.

Should the tech companies be worried?

Google and Facebook will likely be breathing a sigh of relief. There’s no immediate new regulation on them, just more reviews. The ACCC’s new digital division will likely cause some headaches for them in the immediate term but Google has already been taken to court by the ACCC, and it is expected more of these cases will pop up in the near future.

What are other countries doing?

A lot of the privacy changes proposed by the ACCC bring Australia closer to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) but because more reviews are taking place, it is going to be a long time before we get there.

The Australian government is consulting with New Zealand about its unfair trading provision, with a view to try to adopt something similar in the future.

In new Android devices from early 2020, Google will offer European users the option of choosing a different default browser other than Chrome, and Google search. It will present users with options for different browsers and search engines.

The EU Commission fined Google €4.34bn last year for blocking rivals on Android, and having an unfair advantage in pre-installing Chrome and Google search in Android.

2020 US presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has also proposed breaking up the big tech companies.



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