Conference sparks call for better online protections

March 23 2023

ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb with Doron Ben-Meir, Monash University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Enterprise and Engagement)

ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb with Doron Ben-Meir, Monash University
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Enterprise and Engagement).

Experts have called for action to protect consumers from harm and address anti-competitive behaviour in the Australian digital market.

The concerns were raised during a two-day conference organised by Monash Business School’s new Digital Lab, which brought together international academic, industry, and government experts to explore the opportunities and challenges of the digital revolution.

In her keynote address, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said during its six-year analysis of digital platforms and services, the ACCC had uncovered concerning conduct that was anti-competitive, reduced innovation and harmed consumers.

“The scale and range of anti-competitive conduct occurring across digital platform services presents a real challenge for regulators,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.

Australia lags behind

Ms Cass-Gottlieb said current laws were not sufficient to deal with these issues and new, targeted measures were required to bring about a more competitive, innovative and consumer-centric digital economy.

“It’s essential that Australian law keeps pace with fast-paced digital markets and regulatory developments overseas,” she said.

Federal Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury Dr Andrew Leigh said big tech companies continued to dominate the Australian digital market.

“Last year, about 60 per cent of mobile phones were on Apple’s IOS system, Google has consistently provided between 93-95 per cent of search services over the past 10 years, and measured by time spent from 2018-2022 Meta’s Facebook and Instagram combined supplied 79 per cent of social media services in Australia,” he said.

“Powerful companies aren’t a new thing, nor are companies that dominate particular sectors of the economy, but the degree, scope and scale of market concentration means some digital companies enjoy an unprecedented lack of competition.”

Rising market concentration

New evidence had revealed a significant decline in market dynamism, he said.

“Over recent years, the new business start-up rate has declined, market concentration has risen, and the biggest companies in the Australian share market have barely changed for a generation,” he said.

“The bottom line is, we need more competition – not just in the digital space, but across the board.”

Dr Leigh argued that increased competition had the potential to boost dynamism and put Australia on a faster growth trajectory in decades to come.

“It drives businesses to innovate, it provides an incentive to take up new technologies, and it creates an economy where new businesses can start up, and workers can switch jobs,” he said.

Government action

He said the Australian Government was working to safeguard consumers and enhance competition, including establishing a national anti-scam centre and rolling out legislation to extend the coverage of unfair contract term protections.

“And we’ve already legislated increased penalties for breaches of the competition and consumer laws - fines should not be so modest that companies can treat them as a mere cost of doing business,” he said.

“Our belief is that regulation should be practical, targeted, and capable of evolving with the technologies themselves.”

Opportunities and Challenges of the Digital Revolution was Monash Business School’s first conference for 2023, and Digital Lab’s inaugural conference.

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