In late 2017, the Australian Government put forward plans for a public inquiry into the impact digital platforms have in the media and advertising world. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is responsible for conducting this inquiry and yesterday released their preliminary findings in a report. In somewhat of a world first, the ACCC’s recommendations may potentially change the game all-together. In total the report includes 11 preliminary recommendations and focuses on 8 areas for further analysis. We’ll look at the recommendations that may affect you if the government decides to implement them.

Collection and Use of Personal Information

One of the key focus areas of this enquiry revolves around how these digital platforms use your personal information. The ACCC notes that the digital platforms have somewhat of a power imbalance over their consumers. Basically, we feel the pressure to use these platforms in order to stay relevant and communicate with our communities. As a result most of us will agree to the non-negotiable terms that clearly aim to benefit these platforms. Within these terms, the platforms will allow themselves to collect data that goes beyond what we provide to them. They can collect information about our browsing activity and locations which enables target advertising to occur. Like when you google your favourite clothing website and then find their ads appearing in your news feed on facebook.

The ACCC is proposing amendments to the Privacy Act which will provide us with greater control over our personal information.  If you run a business that collects consumer data, having a privacy policy will be more important than ever before. It will safeguard your business from breaching privacy laws and provide transparency to your customers. Some of the key consumer focused proposals in the report include the following:

  • Strengthen Notifications – Requires platforms to clearly and directly notify us when they collect our personal data.
  • Strengthen Consent – Changes the law to require opt in consent before a platform can collect our information. Data collection settings must be set to off as default and only changed by the consumer. 
  • Direct Right of Action – Provides us with the right to bring action for breach of privacy under the Act.

Media and Advertising

The ACCC emphasises the role Facebook and Google’s market power plays in all of the concerns they raise. Both platforms possess gigantic audiences which gives them the power to dictate what the majority of society consumers digitally. The lack of transparency with regards to their algorithms raises concerns as to whether these platforms are favouring content in which they have an interest in. In terms of advertising, Facebook and Google may be providing the majority of exposure to businesses they own or have a commercial relationship with. This concern also relates to the journalistic content these companies choose to spread, with traditional media outlets under threat from the growth of ‘fake news’.

The ACCC recommends a regulatory authority that monitors how the platforms rank the news and advertisements we see. The platforms would have to provide information that explains the decisions they make. Therefore providing us with transparency regarding the motives of these companies. Additionally, this has the potential to significantly change what we consume on digital platforms in the future.

As amendments to legislation appear likely to occur, the advice of a privacy lawyer may be helpful if you seek to bring action for a breach.

Have more questions? Contact a LawPath consultant on 1800 529 728 to learn more about customising legal documents and obtaining a fixed-fee quote from Australia’s largest legal marketplace.

Christopher Tsiknas

Chris is a member of the content team at LawPath. He is currently studying a Bachelor of Business and Bachelor of Laws at UTS. He is interested in how marketing communication strategies can influence the future of legal technology.