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As news of Facebook’s dramatic decision to remove all news content from its
Australian feeds ricocheted around the world in mid-February, local observers
wondered whether the country’s competition regulator and its lawmakers had
overplayed their hand. When, just days later, Facebook announced that it would
reverse its decision and return news to Australian users, speculation turned to
whether the government had caved in to pressure and allowed the social-media
platform to emerge victorious.
Attentive MLex subscribers would not have engaged in such speculation. Since
our Australian team began reporting on the government’s ambitious Digital
Platforms Inquiry at the end of 2017, it has been clear that the wave of
regulation taking shape in Canberra provides a more nuanced picture than
national speculation might allow for.
Put simply: The regulatory legacy of the Digital Platforms Inquiry has been one of
pain and concern for the platforms.
The most headline-grabbing development — in large part due to the interest of
media publishers who are set to benefit from the new law — has been the
drafting of legislation to force both Facebook and Google to pay news publishers
for the use of their journalism.
Australia’s bold experiment has caught the attention of media publishers around
the world, whose attention must regularly turn to how to reverse — or even just
postpone — the industry’s demise. But the news-bargaining code — while
perhaps the most globally significant piece of legislation to stem from the inquiry
so far — is just one small part of a regulatory onslaught that, as our reporting
suggests, poses a real challenge to Facebook and Google.
The 18-month inquiry has also spawned significant enforcement action targeting
the platforms with revamped consumer laws that can inflict significant damage
on even the world’s most robust balance sheets. The Australian Competition &
Consumer Commission’s campaign of lawsuits targeting Facebook and Google
are also significant because they home in on two of the Digital Platforms
Inquiry’s key concerns: so-called killer acquisitions and the competitive
implications of platforms’ control of large datasets. In addition, there are the
privacy-related links to the consumer-driven lawsuits that seek to redress
allegations that Google and Facebook’s users have been misled by the
companies’ disclosures over how they collect and use data.
The inquiry has also seeped through to the ACCC’s management of merger and
acquisition reviews. For example, its serious concerns about Google’s now
completed acquisition of smartwatch maker Fitbit and its ongoing probe into
Facebook’s move on Giphy both contain echoes of the inquiry’s final report,
which placed the control of data and the impact that can have on a market at the
center of its antitrust concerns.
The take-home message of all this is that Australia’s bold experiment in
regulating Big Tech has placed the policymaking of a nation with a population of
just 25 million people at the heart of international debate, as regulators tighten
their focus on the world’s largest companies.
We trust that you will enjoy reading this report and find it a useful guide to a
complex, evolving issue. The reporting here is a brief example of the insight and
predictive analysis that MLex brings subscribers every day.
Download the report here
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David is a longtime veteran of Dow Jones and worked for them in the U.S., Europe and Asia, serving as senior news editor for Dow Jones Newswires in Asia and later editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review. He was also deputy director of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at The University of Hong Kong. He helped found Global Asia, a quarterly journal on international affairs, in 2006 and led a team that founded the Jakarta Globe newspaper in 2008. He has been in Asia since 1994.
David received a BA from the University of California at Berkeley and an MA and Ph.D. from Harvard University.
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