Google says ACCC's work on ad tech regulation could be at odds with Privacy Act

Search giant asks the watchdog to consult with the Attorney-General's Department, the OAIC, and privacy advocacy groups for the remainder of its ad tech inquiry.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Google has offered the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) a number of suggestions on how best to move forward with regulation in the digital advertising space, saying a "collaborative" approach would provide the most benefit to consumers and Australian businesses.

"Google succeeds when our partners do -- so we have a strong incentive to ensure a healthy digital advertising ecosystem," a blog post penned by Google Australia's marketing director Barney Pierce said.

The competition watchdog is currently probing the advertising technology (ad tech) sector, focusing its efforts, again, on the search giant, with the ACCC concerned with "Google's industry-leading position".

In response to the ACCC kicking off the inquiry, Google argued ad tech is a competitive market with low barriers to entry, and that it's merely one of the many companies offering such a service.

The search engine giant said it creates AU$32 billion in benefits annually for businesses and content creators in Australia through its advertising platforms.  

In its 68-page submission [PDF] to the inquiry, Google said the ACCC's Interim Report presented an incomplete view of the digital advertising industry.

"Focussing only on web-based open display advertising results in a misleading view of industry dynamics," it said.

"Any regulatory intervention must not reduce the innovation and competition that has driven so many benefits".

Google said ad tech has been marked by constant innovation, driven by the evolving needs of advertisers, publishers, and consumers. This constant innovation, Google claimed, substantially changes the ad tech landscape every two to three years.

"The dynamism of the ad tech ecosystem combined with these differing interests means that it will be extremely difficult to predict all of the consequences of any intervention," it said. "In the face of these issues, regulation is likely to create unanticipated disadvantages and disruptions."

Google has asked the ACCC to also consider the implications for consumer privacy when designing proposals.

"Several of the ACCC's proposals will impact consumer privacy," it said. "This extends beyond data portability and interoperability measures (which the ACCC has recognised will depend on the underlying privacy regulatory framework currently under review)."

It also said the ACCC's proposals around data separation measures, such as through data silos or purpose limitation requirements, may overlap with the issues being considered in the Privacy Act Review. Similarly, Google said the watchdog's proposals to increase transparency and address issues of supply chain opacity may conflict with the privacy issues being considered in the review.

"We therefore think it is critical that the ACCC consult with the Attorney-General's Department, the OAIC, and other relevant stakeholders (including privacy advocacy groups such as the Australian Privacy Foundation) for the remainder of the Inquiry to consider the privacy implications of the ACCC's proposals," it said.

Google in its submission also provided comment on how the ACCC should consider measures for improving data portability and interoperability.

"We believe the ACCC's objectives are best achieved by data portability measures that are industry-led and industry-wide and where the user is in control," Google said. "To safeguard consumer privacy and promote participation and competition, such measures should only apply to data controlled by the user."

Data portability measures should not apply to data that the user does not control, Google said, providing examples such as data about a consumer's activity on a website where their ads are displayed.

Google added that data portability should not extend to data that a service provider creates by using a consumer's data -- inferred data -- such as a user profile created by analysis of the data collected.

On the issue of conflict of interest and self-preferences, Google said it believes the current Competition and Consumer Act 2010 provisions are sufficient for addressing potential competition concerns that may arise from vertical integration in the ad tech chain.

In addition, Google labelled the interim report as having a narrow focus, stating it omits key competition dynamics that constrain Google's ad tech business.


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