ACCC to expand digital battle to online marketplaces and private messaging services

The likes of Ebay and Amazon are next on the watchdog's hit list.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will be expanding its digital platforms probe beyond the currently targeted Facebook and Google to look at digital marketplaces and private messaging services as well.

The ACCC handed down its Digital Platforms Report in July 2019, making a total of 23 recommendations that covered competition, consumer protection, privacy, and media regulatory reform.

ACCC chair Rod Sims said on Thursday that its new inquiry would cover not just the search, social media, and aggregation platforms that were looked into previously, but platforms including those facilitating the sale of goods and services between suppliers and consumers.

"These include general online marketplaces like Ebay and Amazon, app stores, private messaging services platforms, [and] data brokers," Sims said.

See also: Canberra unrepentant on Amazon: If you sell into Australia, you have to pay tax    

The work will be performed by the ACCC's newly stood up Digital Platforms Branch, which was created in direct response to the watchdog's first report. It has been charged with providing six reports over a five-year period on digital platforms.

"In essence, the scope of this work mandates a focus on the digital economy," Sims said.

"Each of the ACCC's monitoring reports under the direction will look at an individual sector and any practices by platforms that may result in consumer harm. In the course of our work we will also be taking into consideration developments in markets outside of Australia as well as trends and innovations that may impact the market power of platforms."

The first report to come from the new branch will examine search, social media, and online private messaging, and is due to the Treasurer on 30 September 2020.

The second is coupled with the ACCC's 18-month inquiry into digital advertising services and advertising agencies.

"Australian advertisers spent almost AU$3.5 billion on digital display advertising in 2019. Yet we don't know how much of that figure flowed through to the online publishers, and how much was retained by the intermediaries," Sims added.

During his speech on Thursday, Sims also touched on the draft news bargaining code that the ACCC published last week.

"While it is clear the digital platforms derive a significant benefit from making Australian news available on their services, this benefit is extremely challenging for the government to quantify," Sims explained.

"On this basis, the code presents a bargaining-focused approach that empowers news media businesses to fairly bargain for adequate payment for the value their news adds to the digital platforms."

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