Australia to "lift veil" on Facebook, Google algorithms to protect privacy

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia said it would establish the world's first dedicated office for the police Facebook Inc ( FB.O ) and Google ( GOOGL.O ) as part of the reforms designed to rein in the US technology giants and potentially set a precedent for global legislators.

FILE PHOTO: The Google logo is depicted at the entrance to the Google offices in London, United Kingdom, January 18, 2019. REUTERS / Hannah McKay / File Photo

The move sharpen the regulatory screws on the online platforms, which have governments from the United States to Europe as cramps to address concerns ranging from anti-trust issues to the spread of "false news" and hate speech.

The Australian cashier Josh Frydenberg said that the $ 5 billion fine that was hit on Facebook in the US this month for privacy breaches, the regulators now take such issues extremely seriously.

"These companies are among the most powerful and valuable in the world," Frydenberg told reporters in Sydney after the release of a long-awaited report on future regulation of the dominant digital platforms.

"They must be held accountable and their activities must be more transparent."

Canberra was to form a special branch of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the antitrust guard dog, to investigate how companies used algorithms to match ads with viewers, giving them a stronghold on the main revenue generator of media operators.

The new office was one of 23 recommendations in the ACCC report, including enhancing privacy laws, news media protection, and a code of conduct that requires regulatory approval to control how internet giants benefit from user content.

Frydenberg said the government intended to "lift the veil" on the carefully protected algorithms companies use to collect and monetize user data, and accepted the ACCC's "overall conclusion that reform is needed".

The proposals would be the subject of a 12-week public consultation process before the government is about the report, he added.

Google and Facebook have opposed tighter regulations while traditional media owners, including Rupert Murdoch's News Corp ( NWSA.O ), have supported the reform.

News Corps local executive chairman, Michael Miller, welcomed "strengthening the language and identification of the issues," saying that the publisher would work with the government to ensure "real change".

Facebook and Google said they wanted to work with the government during the consultation process, but had no comments on the specific recommendations.

Companies have previously rejected the need for tighter regulation and said that the ACCC had underestimated the level of competition on online advertising.

FIVE surveys in progress

Chairman of the ACCC Rod Sims chairman said the regulator had five surveys of the two companies underway and "I think more will follow".

He said he was shocked at the amount of personal information the companies collected, often without the users' knowledge.

"There must be much more transparency and oversight of Google and Facebook and their operations and practices," he said.

Among other recommendations in the report, the ACCC said it would have updated the Privacy Act to give people the right to delete personal information stored on the Web and customized Australia with some elements of the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of the Facebook logo in this illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic / Illustration / File Photo

“We cannot handle these issues of commercial units with considerable reach and market power. It's really up to the authorities and regulators to be up to date and stay up to date with all these issues, ”Sims said.

While the regulator didn't recommend breaking up the tech giants, Sims didn't rule it out either.

"If it turns out that … disposal is a better approach, it can always be recommended down the track," he said.

Reporting by Byron Kaye and Tom Westbrook; Editing by Stephen Coates

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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