The ACCC has revealed it has five “well advanced” investigations into Facebook and Google, following the release of its digital platforms inquiry, which was critical of the two American multinationals.

Addressing the Melbourne Press Club this week, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said the consumer watchdog has “five investigations well advanced” against Google and Facebook and suggested legal action could be used.

“Taking the digital platforms to court here or overseas lays down rules within which they must work,” Sims told attendees, “These are more important than the level of penalties. 

“Once found to breach a law, it will be very difficult for a digital platform to continue with that behaviour in any effective way.”

He did not expand into detail on what the investigations were based on. 

The Digital Platform Inquiry was released last month making a number of recommendations saying Google and Facebook’s digital dominance must be addressed through comprehensive reform. 

It also called for new codes of practice, greater regulatory oversight, and reforms to Australian privacy law to bring it in line with current practice.

Sims said everyone should be concerned the existing regulatory frameworks for the collection and use of data have not held up well to the challenges of digitalisation.

“Nor have they appropriately responded to the incentives created by the supply of targeted advertising that relies on the monetisation of consumer data and attention.”

He said data issues can affect the growth in scams and identity theft, as well as targeting individuals to buy goods at times of perceived weakness or at inflated prices they know strained consumers will pay, or to provide sellers with information that can allow discrimination between buyers or the basis of income or health issues.

“The Cambridge Analytica revelations have shown how data, in combination with access to large numbers of citizens, can wield political influence and affect the electoral process.

“Citizens will, and should, demand that governments stay ahead of these issues.”

According to Sims the breadth of the ACCC inquiry allowed them to look at these issues in a holistic way, highlighting the intersection between privacy, competition, and consumer protection issues.

“We welcome the discussion our report has provoked. To date the dominant criticisms have either that we have not gone far enough, or that Australia can do nothing on its own.

“We remain convinced that our recommendations have got it right.

“Let’s address the problems we can identify now, but also let us put in place mechanisms to provide a continuing flow of information to deal with other problems as they inevitably arise.

“Not only is there no single silver bullet, but we are now starting a journey that has a long way to go.”

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