The ACCC's Rod Sims says Facebook and Google are having a 'profound impact' on advertising

By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 14 June 2019
Rod Sims

Australia Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims has signaled a strong response from his investigation into digital platforms Facebook and Google, including "safeguards" from market dominance on media and advertising.

His final report of the digital platforms inquiry isn’t due to be handed to the federal government until 30 June but comments he made in The Digital News Report show his concern and indicate the direction of possible recommendations. 

The report out of The University of Canberra surveyed 72,242 news consumers, finding that the majority of Australians now rely on the internet for their news and all measures of trust in news has declined since last year.

“The fact that consumers are increasingly accessing news online, including via Facebook and Google, has presented a quandary for Australian media businesses, which need to use the platforms to reach audiences, but at the same time, are rivals for consumers’ attention,” Sims says a commentary section of the survey report.

According to the survey, those which access news by indirect methods, such as search engines, social media and aggregator apps, have less trust in the news compared to last year, down from 52% to 42%.

Distrust has also grown by those who access news directly through news websites, down from 59% last year to 55% this year.

Just 18% of people trust in news on social media, down from 24% in 2018, while 32% trust in news on search engines, down from 39%.

Meanwhile, those who rely on newspapers are the most likely to agree that journalism is holding the powerful to account, while social media users are the least likely to feel this way.

“There is no denying that digital platforms are having a profound impact on Australian news media and advertising,” Sims says.

“The effects of digital platforms on the supply of news and journalism is particularly significant.

“We believe it is important that governments and the public are aware of, and understand, the implications of the operation of these digital platforms, their business models and their market power.

“This conversation is happening around the world. Our final Digital Platforms Inquiry report will make recommendations to government about the role of digital platforms in our society, and what safeguards need to be put in place, to ensure that there is a level of responsibility and oversight commensurate with the power they hold and the impact they have on Australian news and journalism.”

Sims also raised the issue of Facebook’s algorithm which decides what news content users see on their feeds.

“There are also issues with the role of digital platforms in determining what news and information is accessed by Australians, how this information is provided, and its range and reliability,” Sims says.

Algorithms were the centre of one of the ACCC’s preliminary recommendations last year. It suggested a watchdog-like body to oversee algorithms to put more reliable, credible news in Feeds.

While Facebook slammed the proposal, it has also since moved away from its traditional News Feed format, recently revealing a redesign that puts friends and groups at the centre.

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