State of Play: Digital platforms: what's happening in Australia?

30 Apr 2021

Regulators around the world are looking closely at the tech sector and Australia is no exception, says Competition partner Kirsten Webb. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission have commenced a series of inquiries into digital service areas, and the recommendations and potential reforms from the inquiry will likely have broad implications on various aspects of doing business in Australia.


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Regulators around the world are looking closely at the tech sector and Australia's certainly no exception.  Back in 2019, the ACCC published its mammoth digital platforms inquiry report which covered a whole range of issues concerning digital platforms and advertising and set out I suppose a bit of a roadmap for reform and areas to focus on in the coming years.  Of course, recent headlines around the world have picked up on the proposal that some platforms pay for news media content but that's certainly not the end of the Australian reforms or focus.  The Australian Government has directed the ACCC to conduct a series of rolling inquiries if you like in to digital markets up until 2025 and to provide six monthly reports to the Treasurer.  Those inquiries are broadly going to cover markets for the supply of digital platform services but are going to cover more specifically at least 8 particular topic areas which are these:

  1. Internet search engine services;
  2. social medial services;
  3. online private messaging services;
  4. digital content aggregation platform services;
  5. media referral services;
  6. electronic marketplace services;
  7. digital advertising services; and
  8. data practices.

So you can see that's a very broad area, broad range of topics with that potential application to pretty much any business with a connection with Australia.

The ACCC has published its first interim report which focussed on online private messaging services in Australia.  The second focussed on the marketplace for mobile apps.  The focus of the third interim report will be market dynamics and consumer choice screens in search services and web browsers.  The ACCC has just published an issues paper in respect of that aspect of its inquiry.

So, given the broad scope of the issues that I've just touched on I think that that means if your business has any connection with Australia, it would be a very good idea for you to keep a close eye on the developments in the tech sector in Australia and the reports and recommendations that follow the ACCC's ongoing review.

A really key thing to note is that this isn't just a competition review or a consumer protection review.  These reviews and the issues that they raise really show and draw together the convergence of privacy, data protection, consumer law, competition law and some broader policy issues and tie into some of the other reforms that are being considered in this area, including potentially the introduction of a broad prohibition on unfair contract, and of course the ACCC is a well-connected and highly regarded international regulator. 

So, I think what we can expect to see is that the ACCC's work will attract the attention of international regulators, the work of international regulators will attract the attention of the ACCC and of the Australian Government.  And what we can I think expect to see are recommendations and reform which could affect contracts, privacy practices, data collection and many other aspects of doing business in Australia.

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.