ACCC's Sweeping Recommendations Will Alter Digital Landscape Forever
(Image credit: KC Green, 'This Is Fine' meme.)
Last Friday, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) concluded its 18-month investigation into the effective digital duopoly which Google and Facebook enjoy.
Or, more formally put, its Digital Platform’s enquiry.
The final report includes 23 wide-reaching recommendations, the likes of which impact not only Google and Facebook, but also many other parts of the digital ecosystem.
The 600-page tome covers everything from competition law, consumer protection, media regulation, privacy law, fake news and more.
The report stops short of calling for the two advertising behemoths to be broken up, something which News Corp Australia executive chairman, Michael Miller, recently called for.
However, there’s enough in there to alter the local marketing landscape materially, even if Google and Facebook get off lightly, yet again.
Plus, there’s also enough to set perhaps a precedent that bigger fish, such as the European Union (EU), which is no fan of large American tech monopolies, may act upon.
To what extent the Australian federal government will activate the ACCC's recommendations is anyone’s guess.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he accepted the ACCC's overarching finding that there is a need for reform, but that the Federal Government would not provide its final response to the report until the end of the year, after a consultation period.
‘The Duopoly’ By The Numbers
Each month, about 19.2 million Australians use Google Search, 17.3 million access Facebook, 17.6 million watch YouTube (owned by Google) and 11.2 million access Instagram (owned by Facebook).
This ratio is comparative to New Zealand, along with other similar western markets.
For western web users, Google’s cut through is around 92%, while Facebook and YouTube are 80% ish and Instagram sits in 55 – 60% bracket.
However, people spend 2.5 times as much time on Facebook apps compared to Google apps each day. With social channels acting more as destinations where users spend time, versus Google’s stable of apps/websites which tend to be more transactional in nature.
Given this breadth and depth of attention, plus their superior marketing solutions, Google and Facebook account for 60 – 65% of digital investment. With Google getting the greater share.
WARC Data published earlier this year suggested Google and Facebook consume $1 in $4 of total marketing spend worldwide.
Lobbying & Special Interests Groups… En Garde!
Last week Facebook received a $5 billion fine in the US from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) due to its litany of poor business practices.
I would list them out, but I am going back to London for Christmas, so do not have the time to catalogue all.
However, despite $5 billion sounding like a decent chunk of change many in the industry have laughed off the amount, given the scope of Facebook’s wrongdoing.
If the US equivalent of the ACCC is unable to make a meaningful dent in these corporations, the probability of their antipodean cousins doing so is a big ask.
Big Tech’s lobbying spend is eye-watering and, with 2019 levels doubling on 2016 in the US alone, the big guns are unlikely to roll over.
That said, powerful local vested interests are pushing against Google and Facebook, most notably News Corporation, a highly vocal critic of both.
How much News Corporation, and Mr Murdoch in particular, is responsible for Scott Morrison sitting on Canberra’s Iron Throne is debatable. However, its clout locally is undeniable. Not only News, but almost all other local press are screaming for action, and that will be hard for the political establishment to ignore.
It will be fascinating to see how this plays out between now and the end of 2019.
Local Data Handling, Privacy & Transparency
The ACCC’s treatise is wide-reaching, and inevitably they’ve gone in hard and broad with a hope of getting some stuff through, but realistically knowing that most will fall flat.
Components not directly tied to regulating Google and Facebook’s businesses look most likely to see the light of day, if any.
The process of putting in place an independent body for overseeing search/social algorithmic oversight, and more, is a great idea, but fraught with difficulties. The legal quagmire that would open up could run ad infinitum.
Plus, there’s an unpredictable fellow sitting in the Oval Office who might not like the lack of ‘America First’ overtones of said Australian policies for these large US tech businesses.
Local data regulations and an expanded/updated Privacy Act seem like a good bet. As does a review of local copyright activity. All out of date and desperate for amendment.
Given the precedents set last year in the EU with the General Date Protection Regulation (GDPR), it would be wise to expect something similar locally. Moreover, perhaps preparing on that basis.
Marketers who sat on their hands with GDPR got seriously burned, losing up to 80% of their databases…
Therefore, it would be wise to get ahead of the curve and start:
- Building up databases now while it is easy
- Ensure consent is explicit and clear
- Assesing website tracking cookies/pixels
- Reviewing current marketing terms and conditions
- Analysing exising data handling and management practices
Suggestions around the opacity of online media buying and the use of ad tech in media supply chains also look like an easy win for Frydenberg. Something which some agencies might find painful.
All in all the ACCC’s recommendations are bold, mostly needed and likely to unleash a flurry of changes for marketers, to one level or another, as we head into 2020.