Australia watchdog calls for curbs on Google's power to use data for targeted ads

Australia watchdog calls for curbs on Google’s power to use data for targeted ads

Australia’s antitrust watchdog has called for powers to curb Google’s use of internet data to sell targeted ads, joining other regulators in saying the firm dominates the market to the point of hurting publishers, advertisers and consumers.

The comments, in a report published on Tuesday, puts Australia alongside Europe and Britain where regulators want to stop the Alphabet Inc unit trouncing rival advertisers by using the data it collects from people’s online searches – including on maps and YouTube – to place marketing material.

The US justice department is meanwhile preparing an anti-monopoly lawsuit accusing Google of using its market muscle to hobble advertising rivals, according to media reports.

“The Europeans and the UK are consulting on such laws at the moment and we’re going to be trying to align with them over the next year,” said Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims. “I don’t think we’re far behind.”

Already this year Google said it was poised to withdraw core services from Australia over a law – also recommended by the ACCC – forcing it to pay media companies for content that drives traffic to its search engine. It ultimately signed deals with most major outlets.

A Google spokesman was not immediately available for comment about the advertising action. In a blog post published shortly before the ACCC report, Google said its advertising technology supported over 15,000 Australian jobs and contributed US$2.45 billion a year to Australia’s economy annually.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who commissioned the report, said the government would consider its findings and recommendations.

While the US justice department would likely use existing competition law against Google, the ACCC said in its 200-page report that Google’s dominance of Australian online advertising was so entrenched that existing laws were insufficient to rein in any anticompetitive behaviour.

More than 90 per cent of clicks on advertisements that passed through Australia’s “ad tech” supply chain went through at least one Google-owned service in 2020, the regulator said.

We just want to promote competition, reduce entry barriers, so that consumers get a better internet, better transparency about what’s going on

Rod Sims, ACCC chair

The ACCC said the US company benefited from vast amounts of internet user data from its search engine, mapping and YouTube video streaming services, and must be made to clarify publicly how it used that information to sell and display advertisements.

It also wants special powers to address the imbalance of advertiser access to consumer data, such as introducing a rule that would stop a company from using data collected by one part of its business to sell targeted advertisements via another part without a rival company getting the same benefit.

Sims said he expected the global push to increase regulation of Google’s advertising business would raise the chances of cooperation between the US internet giant and the regulator.

“I just think they can see what’s happening and it’s in their interests that these rules are aligned (between countries) and it’s in their interests that they’re really well thought through,” he said in the interview.

“We don’t want to stifle innovation, we don’t want to have any negative effects, we just want to promote competition, reduce entry barriers, so that consumers get a better internet, better transparency about what’s going on, and companies aren’t paying too much.”

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