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Australia sets up a new antitrust branch to monitor Facebook and Google

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Australia’s two-pronged offensive in the digital sphere continues unabated: on the one hand, the country aims to step up policing of content that appears online, and on the other, contain tech giants when it comes to anti-competitive behavior and privacy violations around their advertising business.

The latter part of the effort is reiterated with a new recommendation of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to establish “a new specialist digital platforms branch.”

In the focus of the five-year inquiry will be tech giants, such as Facebook and Google, who have near-complete dominance of the Australian market. Google holds more than 98 percent of the mobile search market.

Treasurer of Australia Josh Frydenberg said, announcing the setting up of the body and the inquiry, that the country’s laws are currently not fit to regulate tech giant’s business and activities properly, as Google and Facebook specifically amass “commercially sensitive and personal data” to an unprecedented amount.

The new digital platforms office will be tasked with investigating how these companies use algorithms to serve ads in search results and news feeds – and the ACCC wants to find out if they are behaving anti-competitively and to the detriment of their consumers.

The Australian authority lumps together consumers, advertisers, “or other business users” who might be harmed by the policies, and behavior of the dominant tech giants.

Companies who think their business might have been harmed unlawfully by Google’s and Facebook’s algorithms will have the right to turn to the new ACCC branch with their grievances.

It’s not clear from the report what recourse will be available to regular citizens who think their privacy had been breached by the same algorithms.

The office will monitor a recommendation made earlier to give Australians “a choice of which browser they wish to conduct search engine functions on.”

Frydenberg also mentioned a recent settlement reached between the US The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Facebook, and the $5 billion fine imposed on the company – a somewhat controversial outcome. However, the Australian official said that it was “a reflection of how people’s personal data is being used, often without the knowledge.”

Frydenberg also promised that, going forward, the scope of the new branch’s activities would expand from Facebook and Google to other digital platforms.

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