Watchdog pack to tackle digital platforms

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Australia’s online, privacy, media, competition and consumer regulators have formed an alliance to share information and collaborate on how to best keep digital platform companies in check, amid growing government interventions.

Announced Friday under the banner the Digital Platform Regulators Forum (DP-REG), the group includes the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), and the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.

Leaders of the DR-REG forum (clockwise from top left), ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin, ACCC chair Rod Sims, eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant, and Information and Privacy commissioner Angelene Falk

The watchdogs aim to improve intervention and reduce duplication following increased regulatory initiatives since the landmark 2019 Digital Platforms Inquiry, which was led by the ACCC.

DP-REG will be led by a rotating Chair, starting with ACMA’s deputy chair Creina Chapman. It will meet every two months to discuss “cross-cutting issues” about digital platforms like competition, consumer protection, privacy, online safety and data. But the agencies will also use the new alliance to share staff via secondment and to collaborate on proposals and enforcement.

ACCC chair Rod Sims, who began a world-leading investigation of digital platforms five years ago, said the benefits consumers get from digital platforms like Facebook and Google come with challenges to competition and consumer protection.

“The forum will help to streamline our approach to the regulation of digital platforms in Australia. Since the ACCC began examining digital platform services in 2017, we have observed harms to competition, consumers, and business users in a range of areas dominated by large digital platforms,” Mr Sims said.

“Collaboration with other agencies who also have a role in regulating digital platforms is vital as we consider whether further regulatory reforms are needed to support competition and protect Australian consumers online.”

According to DP-REG’s terms of reference, the group will share a contact list of their relevant staff, share information like planned regulatory activities, research and submissions. Members have also agreed to enhance each other’s regulatory capabilities by sharing resources, including for compliance matters where appropriate.

Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said DP-REG would work to build a “ring of regulatory defence” for the intersection of privacy, competition, consumer protection, online safety, communications and data.

“This is a targeted and flexible regulatory response to address the opportunities and risks posed by the pace and expansion of the digital economy,” Ms Falk said.

“By sharing information and collaborating, we can better deliver regulatory activity that is smart, promoting innovation as well as preventing harms. The use of data, including personal and sensitive information, can be of great benefit to the economy and community but the right protections need to be in place.”

DP-REG’s terms of reference are expected to be reviewed annually or sooner if more members are added or new regulatory initiatives launch. Terms can also be changed at any time with each member consent.

The alliance comes as the ACCC prepares more regulation for digital platforms, while the OAIC braces for significant reforms to Australian privacy laws.

ACMA also has a new oversight role of the News Media Bargaining Code designed to improve bargaining between platform giants and news organisations. The eSafety Commissioner has also been handed significant new content takedown powers this year in an attempt to improve online safety.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

1 Comment
  1. David Havyatt 2 years ago

    Apart from the unfortunate name all one can say is ‘about time.’ The ACCC and the ACMA (and the ACA before it) made an artform of not taking action against misleading and deceptive conduct. The ACCC would argue that it was easier for the ACMA to act under code breaches and telco law, ACMA would argue only ACCC had access to penalties that matter.

    But on the flip side, action here is needed less in the regulatory space and more in the self-regulatory space. Scams, scams and more scams are the scourge of the digital economy. A failure to discriminate between porn and violent porn leaves public opinion divided. Before you can legislate for community standards, or expect industry to uphold community standards, you need a decent conversation about what those community standards actually are.

    Meanwhile not a jot of action has occurred on creating the torte of serious invasion of privacy.

    Just calling out the stuff I want to see us talk about, I really don’t want to see another microphone shoved in the face of someone leaving a courtroom – or entering one. I really don’t want to see the content of people’s social media sites in news stories about their unfortunate death or their criminal behaviour.

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