Rod Sims: Facebook, Google not the ‘benevolent’ companies they make out to be

By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 14 August 2019

The big tech players shouldn’t be confused as “benevolent” companies which they try to portray themselves as, says Australia Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims. 

Speaking at the Melbourne Press Club, Sims issues yet another warning that Facebook and Google need to be reined in, following the release of the Digital Platforms Inquiry last month.

Sims said that while Google and Facebook build an image of themselves as “benevolent enablers of human interaction”, regulators need to move to bring their power in check.

Each month about19.2 million Australians use Google Search and 17.3 million Australians access Facebook. A further 17.6 million Australians watch YouTube, owned by Google, every month, and 11.2 million Australians access Instagram, owned by Facebook.

“These are not community based, not for profit, companies, no matter how much they seek to portray themselves as benevolent enablers of human interaction and knowledge sharing,” Sims says.

“While they might provide a wide array of services to their customers, at zero monetary cost, like any other successful public company, their success is measured in shareholder returns.

“Digital platforms reliant on anticipated revenue growth from monetising consumer attention and data cannot be satisfied with anything other than a continued increase in user engagement and expansion into new markets.”

Sims said there’s no indication of their market power eroding in the near future, despite the on-going controversies surrounding both Facebook and Google.

The final report of the ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry made 23 recommendations to the government, which will take 12 weeks before making its final decision.

The report also found that local government and court reporting had reduced in recent years, with the closure of 106 local and regional newspapers across Australia from 2008-2018.

“This leaves 21 local government areas who were previously covered now without coverage from a single local newspaper, in either print or online formats,” Sims says.

“This type of reporting is more typically funded by advertising in Australia. There is not yet any indication of a business model that can effectively replace the advertiser model, which in turn affects the production of this kind of content.”

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