Australian competition regulator seeks Facebook and Google algorithms

In brief: Two of the world’s most valuable digital companies have been under the microscope once more as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission publishes its Digital Platforms Inquiry. The report scrutinizes how Google and Facebook in particular are affecting consumers’ day-to-day lives, and makes some bold recommendations.

A new truism seems to be emerging in the modern world: wherever a major tech company operates, a regulatory investigation is soon to follow. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is the latest national regulator to publish a report on the impacts major companies like Facebook and Google are having on civic life.

The Digital Platforms Inquiry, published this week, sets out the ACCC’s findings on a range of issues, “from alleged anti-competitive conduct to privacy concerns, and from disparity in media regulation to copyright issues.” The probe also looks into concerns around disinformation, harmful content and the scale of user-data collection.

The matters under scrutiny are nothing new, and have been subject to numerous investigations across the world, but the ACCC may be looking to go further than others have, by requiring Facebook and Google to hand over details of how their platforms’ algorithms actually work.

The competition watchdog has proposed the creation of a new branch under its own supervision, the Digital Platforms Branch, and this new department would have the power during public inquiries to request the closely-guarded secrets of how Facebook and Google work under the hood.

The ACCC also put forward other proposals, including reforms for Australia’s Privacy Act, changes to how mergers are handled, and even teaching digital media literacy in schools. It will ultimately be up to the Australian government to decide how far these recommendations are implemented.

For their part, Facebook and Google are being coy in their responses to the report. In a statement received by Business Insider, a Facebook representative said the company was “fully committed to engaging” with the report, and separately Google, too, has said it would “engage with the government on the recommendations.”

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