On 4 December 2017, the then Treasurer, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, directed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (the ACCC) to hold an inquiry into the impact of online search engines, social media and digital content aggregators (digital platforms) on competition in the media and advertising services markets. The ACCC was directed to look at the implications of these impacts for media content creators, advertisers and consumers and, in particular, to consider the impact on news and journalistic content.

Digital platforms offer innovative and popular services to consumers that have, in many cases, revolutionised the way consumers communicate with each other, access news and information and interact with business. Many of the services offered by digital platforms provide significant benefits to both consumers and business; as demonstrated by their widespread and frequent use by many Australians and many Australian businesses.

The ACCC considers, however, that we are at a critical point in considering the impact of digital platforms on society. While the ACCC recognises their significant benefits to consumers and businesses, there are important questions to be asked about the role the global digital platforms play in the supply of news and journalism in Australia, what responsibility they should hold as gateways to information and business, and the extent to which they should be accountable for their influence.

In particular, this report identifies concerns with the ability and incentive of key digital platforms to favour their own business interests, through their market power and presence across multiple markets, the digital platforms’ impact on the ability of content creators to monetise their content, and the lack of transparency in digital platforms’ operations for advertisers, media businesses and consumers. Consumers’ awareness and understanding of the extensive amount of information about them collected by digital platforms, and their concerns regarding the privacy of their data, are also critical issues. 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.

Digital platforms are having a profound impact on Australian news media and advertising. The impact of digital platforms on the supply of news and journalism is particularly significant. News and journalism generate broad benefits for society through the production and dissemination of knowledge, the exposure of corruption, and holding governments and other decision makers to account.

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.

The ACCC’s research and analysis to date has provided a valuable understanding of the markets that are the subject of this Inquiry, including information that has not previously been available, and has identified a number of issues that could, or should, be addressed. Many of these issues are complex. The ACCC has decided that the best way to address these issues in the final report, due 3 June 2019, is to identify preliminary recommendations and areas for further analysis, and to engage with stakeholders on these potential proposals.

Such engagement may result in considerable change from the ACCC’s current views, as expressed in this report.

The ACCC’s preliminary recommendations are summarised on pages 9-14 and the specific matters for further analysis and assessment are summarised on pages 14–17.

The ACCC welcomes feedback, and will use the preliminary recommendations and areas for further analysis identified in this report as the basis for further engagement with businesses, consumers and other stakeholders that have an interest in these issues.

In carrying out the Inquiry, the ACCC has looked generally at the three categories of digital platforms identified in the Terms of Reference, namely, digital search engines, social media platforms and digital content aggregators. However, the influence, significance and size of Google and Facebook, has resulted in them being the principal focus of the Inquiry. Google and Facebook are the two largest digital platforms in Australia and are the most visited websites in Australia. This focus also reflects the submissions received from interested parties and consumers, almost all of which concerned Google and Facebook.

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