Australian Senators want digital giants 'reined in' beyond Media Bargaining Code

Concerns over their data practices added to those of monopolisation and lack of tax paid in Australia.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Senators have this week raised concerns with News Media Bargaining Code-adjacent issues, reigniting debate over monopoly practices employed by digital giants and the amount of tax they pay down under.

But on Monday night, senators put forward amendments under the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021 that try to rein in how data is collected and used by platforms operating in Australia.

Australian Greens Senator Nick McKim said Australians should have more control over how companies collect data about them online, who has access to that data, and how, and for what purposes, that data is used.

The amendment [PDF] raises concerns over privacy, and says the use of personal data for commercial gain can no longer be ignored by the government. It asks the government implement, as a matter of priority, protections equivalent to the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Aligning Australia's Privacy Act 1988 with parts of the GDPR has been called for by a handful of respondents to the Attorney-General's review of the Act. Facebook, for example, suggested that making such a change would prevent the creation of a "splinternet" and the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre (CSCRC), which is based out of Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, has similarly called for the definition of personal information to be amended to align with the GPDR

"The power of big data, corporations like Facebook and Google, to run surveillance on their customers, their everyday users, and to bundle up that data and sell it off for their huge profit at the expense of people's privacy and the integrity of their use online, is just extraordinary," Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said during debate on Monday night.

"It needs to be reined in.

"We have to make sure we implement proper protections for users' data and privacy right here in Australia."

Centre Alliance Senator Stirling Griff pointed to Facebook pulling Australian news from its platform on Thursday, saying the social media site "going rogue" has demonstrated to an urgent need to regulate digital platforms.

His amendment would force designated platforms to disclose their user data practices.

"They'll have to publish what types of data they collect, what data they make available to other businesses or foreign governments, and how users can opt out of having their private data harvested," he said.

"Transparency alone will not change their behaviour, but it will mean users are better informed about the practices of digital platforms and it will foster a debate about what practices are appropriate."

Labor Senator Deborah O'Neill used her time during debate to point to the proliferation of fake news on platforms such as Facebook.

"We saw the horrifying effects of Trump's big lie about the 2020 election, with the Capitol riot, the domestic terrorism sponsored by the proliferation of the deranged QAnon theory and online message boards, and the incitement of religious and ethnic violence in Myanmar and Sri Lanka prompted by incendiary and false social media posts," she said.

"As we saw in the course of the pandemic, even basic facts about the virus and simple measures such as wearing masks became political and debated facts. Debunked cures such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin were promoted in the face of scientific evidence, and the wearing of simple cloth masks was called 'child abuse'.

"We cannot continue to let lies spread across the search and social media platforms."

Nevertheless, the ALP and Greens did not oppose the passage of the Code through the House of Representatives earlier this month


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