ACCC's ad tech inquiry to focus on data and supply chain opacity

Major publishers including Google and Facebook are expected to go under the microscope.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is seeking feedback on the role and use of data used to supply advertising services, as well as the opacity in the ad tech supply chain.

As part of releasing its issues paper for the Ad Tech Inquiry [PDF], the consumer watchdog said it wants to examine whether certain issues affect the intensity of competition and efficiency of markets for ad tech and agency services. 

These certain issues include unequal access to data; conduct that prevents competitors' access to data; or a lack of transparency in how suppliers deal with consumer and other data.

"Consumer data plays an important role in targeting digital display advertising to its intended audience, and measuring its results. We are interested in how targeting capability, availability of consumer data, and terms and conditions regarding data collection and management, affect your choice of which ad tech companies and ad agencies to use," the ACCC wrote.

In addition, the ACCC will use the inquiry to examine specific concerns that were raised in the Digital Platforms Inquiry, which delivered its final report in July 2019, regarding the additional opacity that was introduced by the use of ad agencies, including the way that large ad agencies are structured and how they report their revenue and purchasing arrangements.

"Holding groups often deal directly with suppliers of ad inventory (such as major publishers, Google, Facebook), advertisers typically contract with the Australian ad agencies. These corporate structures and arrangements have given rise to concerns from both publishers and advertisers about a lack of visibility or control over the terms on which the holding group supplies advertising inventory to the Australian ad agency," the ACCC said in the issues paper. 

The inquiry is also seeking views on whether market participants have enough information to make informed choices about the use of ad agency and ad tech services; competition throughout the ad tech supply chain and in the supply of ad agency services; and whether competition and efficiency are being affected by supplier behaviour. 

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The ACCC is seeking views from those who supply digital display advertising, as well as social media platforms, website owners, app developers, ad and media agencies, and ad tech services firms. 

"This inquiry will allow the ACCC to assess whether these advertising and ad tech markets are operating effectively and, importantly, gauge whether they are working well for a range of different stakeholders," ACCC chair Rod Sims said. 

"We strongly encourage all interested parties to make sure their views are heard."

The ACCC said as part of the inquiry it will use its compulsory information-gathering powers to access information from market participants that is not publicly available.

"What an inquiry offers the ACCC is information gathering powers that mean companies are legally obliged to provide us with the detailed information to go deep on these issues. We believe that online display advertising practices certainly warrant some digging," Sim said.

Submissions for the issues paper are due by 21 April.

The ACCC is due to deliver a preliminary report on the ad tech inquiry by 31 December 2020 and a final report by 31 August 2021. 

The ACCC's new digital platforms branch has been placed in charge of the ad tech inquiry. 

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