Facebook, Google face tighter regulatory grip in Australia

The country's antitrust watchdog recommends setting up an office to the police the US tech giants.

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Facebook and Google should expect increased scrutiny from Australia's antitrust watchdog.

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Australia's antitrust watchdog wants to create a branch dedicated to investigating the impact on competition by Facebook and Google. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report follows an 18-month probe and comes just after the US Federal Trade Commission slapped Facebook with a $5 billion fine over privacy issues.

Australia's treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, told reporters that the fine revealed how seriously regulators are now taking issues created by tech giants' use of people's data, Reuters noted.

"These companies are among the most powerful and valuable in the world and they need to be held to account and their activities need to be more transparent," he said.

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The report pushes for the creation of a "specialist digital platforms branch within the ACCC" to keep a close watch on digital platforms like Facebook and Google. It also recommends those platforms be bound by codes of conduct so people can easily see how their data is used and so media businesses can access their services on "a fair, consistent and transparent basis."

The report also gave us a sense of how the advertising pie is sliced -- every AU$100 spent by Australian advertisers online sees AU$47 (US$32.57) go to Google, AU$24 to Facebook and AU$29 to other sites.

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Facebook acknowledged the importance of rules in digital news distribution for Australia's 16 million users and small businesses.

 "We are fully committed to engaging in the consultation process around this report, while continuing to deliver the benefits of technology to the millions of Australians who use our services," said Will Easton,managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, in an emailed statement.

Google echoed that sentiment via email, noting that it's "engaged closely with the ACCC throughout the process."

"We will continue to engage with the government on the recommendations put forward in this report," a spokesperson wrote.

First published at 4:31 a.m. PT.
Updated at 4:40 a.m. PT: Adds Google statement.