ACCC to scrutinise impact of Facebook, Google on media, advertising

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Global internet platforms Google and Facebook will be coerced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to reveal all their commercial secrets.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) wants to know if internet companies are hurting the interests of consumers, content creators and advertisers.

Google and Facebook will be subject to an inquiry around the impact of digital platforms on news media in Australia. "We will also consider the impact of information asymmetry between digital platform providers and advertisers and consumers", Sims said.

The investigation was ordered by the government in Australia amid growing worries about job cuts in the media sectors, the rise of unreliable "fake news" stories and platforms, and the use of paid online advertising models to peddle misinformation and propaganda, particularly when it comes to polarising social and political issues.

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Facebook and Google face a year-long investigation to be carried out by the competition watchdog, amid predictions the internet giants could soon account for almost 85 per cent of the world's digital advertising spending.

Xenophon, who resigned to pursue a career in state politics in South Australia, has been a vocal critic of Google and Facebook deriving revenue from the journalism of media companies struggling with cutbacks amid dwindling revenue streams.

ACCC chairman, Rod Sims, stressed the watchdog was going into the inquiry with an "open mind" and an intention to study how digital platforms, such as Facebook and Google, operate to understand their influence in the Australian media market.

In the US, lawmakers grilled Facebook, Google and Twitter last month over how foreign nationals used social media platforms to spread misinformation during the 2016 presidential election.

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The inquiry is being held under Part VIIA of the Competition and Consumer Act (2010), giving the ACCC the ability to gather information on a compulsory basis, as well as hold hearings to assess the level of competition in a market.

The idea for an ACCC investigation was hatched during media reform negotiations in parliament earlier this year, which resulted in a relaxation of ownership laws to allow the country's big players to boost their market share to better compete against online disruptors.

The ACCC is expected to produce a preliminary report late next year. The government further reckoned that Google and Facebook were causing a "haemorrhaging" of local media companies and damaging the "integrity of news".

"We look forward to engaging with this process as relevant", A Google spokesperson said.

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