ACCC's digital platforms branch kicks off adtech services inquiry

Fresh inquiry into online advertising services comes following the ACCC's Digital Platforms Inquiry

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has officially embarked on an inquiry into digital advertising services as part of its newly granted powers regulating competitions across the country’s online advertising landscape.

Announced by Australian Government treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, the new digital advertising services specialist inquiry, called Competition and Consumer (Price inquiry – Digital Advertising Services ) Direction 2020, will not only investigate competitiveness and efficiency across adtech services platforms, but also digital advertising agencies and the services they provide.

The scope of the inquiry includes availability and transparency of information across markets around such services, the concentration of power across the market, auction and bidding processes, merger and acquisitions activity, supplier behaviour and more. The adtech inquiry’s interim report is due out by December 2020, with the final report expected to be tabled in August 2021.

The inquiry is the first specialist initiative to be conducted by the ACCC’s digital platforms branch, which was established off the back of the regulator’s final Digital Platforms Inquiry report released in July 2019.

That report, focused largely on the power of digital giants such as Google and Facebook on digital advertising and media competition in Australia, found wide-sweeping issues and concerns with the current marketplace set-up. The report made 23 recommendations in response, from changing competition and merger laws and new industry codes to new powers for ACMA to monitor digital platforms, local journalism grants and notification protocols.

As part of the report, the ACCC also recommended a specialist digital platforms branch with standing information-gathering powers that could proactively monitor potentially anti-competitive conduct by digital platforms and undertake market studies. Its first task was to be an inquiry into the supply of adtech services and online advertising services, an inquiry that’s now officially been launched.

In response, the Government has agreed the ACCC should be allowed to continue to inquiry into digital platforms until 31 March 2025. Via this new digital platforms branch, it’s expected to play an ongoing role in monitor the ecosystem, with rolling inquiries and six-monthly reports the key focus. The first report is due in September 2020.

The scope of work covers Internet search engines, social media, media referral services, online private messaging, digital content aggregation services, electronic marketplaces and adtech services.

“Digital technologies are going to be an increasingly important part of our economic and social landscape. Our reforms will ensure we get the balance right and position Australia as a leading digital economy,” the statement by Frydenberg read.  

“The Government is delivering a regulatory framework that is fit for purpose and better protects and informs Australian consumers, addresses bargaining power imbalances between digital platforms and media companies, and ensures privacy settings remain appropriate in the digital age.”

CMO understands the branch is being manned by staff who participated in the original Digital Platforms Inquiry work as well as other ACCC employees.

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