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New frontiers in competition and consumer law

 |  March 26, 2018
Posted by The University of Melbourne

New frontiers in competition and consumer law

By Serpil Senelmis

Tech giants like Google and Facebook are increasingly coming under scrutiny from competition authorities and governments around the world. From Europe to the US, there are investigations looking into the impact of digital platforms and the possible use and effects of market power. Australia has recently joined the international chorus, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) commencing an 18-month inquiry into digital platforms. So, what’s driving this review and why is it important?

The competition regulator will be studying whether and how high-tech companies are using their market power in Australia, whether they are disadvantaging traditional media players and whether the diversity and quality of news content are being affected. The inquiry was announced after the latest round of journalism job cuts in December 2017. There’s been massive disruption in the conventional media landscape with huge job losses at Fairfax, News Corp, and Huffington Post Australia. Bigger media players like Network 10 haven’t come out unscathed either – after haemorrhaging cash, the television network went into administration and was bought at a distressed price by CBS last year.

Professor Caron Beaton-Wells, Director of the Global Competition and Consumer Law program at the University of Melbourne, explains that unlike some other ACCC activity, this isn’t an investigation into a potential breach of the law, nor does it necessarily foreshadow enforcement action. According to Professor Beaton-Wells, this inquiry means “the ACCC can take a deep dive into a sector and really understand how it’s working.” She adds, the ACCC can “put the industry on notice – that it’s watching – and provide a framework for future action if that’s necessary.”

The inquiry into digital platforms “is important because of its subject matter,” says Professor Beaton-Wells. She states, “Digital platforms are playing an increasingly central role in every aspect of our social and economic life. Online platforms are obviously very beneficial in many ways, but they also raise some concerns and hence the need for an inquiry of this nature.” Further elaborating, “There are concerns on the competition side, but they’re not the only concerns of course. There are concerns for privacy, there are concerns for cybersecurity, and some even argue there are concerns for democracy.”

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