Competition watchdog ‘advancing many investigations’ into digital giants

ACCC has already launched one court action targeting Google

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The head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says that the ACCC is “advancing many investigations” in the wake of its Digital Platforms Inquiry.

“As outlined in the final report of our 2019 Digital Platforms Inquiry, the ACCC has concerns about consumers being misled over the collection and the use of their personal data, as well as a range of important competition issues, some also linked to data,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said today in remarks prepared for a Committee for Economic Development Australia event.

“It’s vital that we devote considerable resources to these issues given their dominance in all our lives and their effect on economic activity,” Sims told CEDA.

One of the recommendations of the ACCC’s inquiry, which concluded in mid-2019, was that the government establish a “specialist digital platforms branch” within the commission to boost scrutiny of the conduct and market power of companies such as Google and Facebook.

In December the government announced that as part of its response to the inquiry it would back a special unit within the ACCC “”to monitor and report on the state of competition and consumer protection in digital platform markets, take enforcement action as necessary, and undertake inquiries as directed by the Treasurer, starting with the supply of online advertising and ad-tech services”.

“The federal government has now funded the establishment of a permanent digital platforms branch at the ACCC to ensure proactive scrutiny of the sector,” Sims said today.

Sims noted that there is already one case that was sparked by the Digital Platforms Inquiry before the Federal Court. That matter involves Google’s treatment of privacy in the Android mobile operation system. The ACCC launched legal action in October 2019, arguing that Android users were being misled by Google’s treatment of location data generated by mobile devices.

The ACCC and Google are preparing for mediation in the case in August.

One of the ACCC’s 2020 compliance priorities, released today by the commission, is “Competition and consumer issues relating to digital platforms”.

Another focus area is the telecommunications sector, with Sims saying the ACCC was concerned about “misleading and deceptive selling practices of goods and services in the telco sector.”

“Indeed, we are taking enforcement and other actions against our major telecommunications companies more often than is consistent with a well-functioning market,” Sims said. “In particular, we are disturbed about the poor selling practices in remote Indigenous communities.”

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