​Facebook opposes ACCC's recommendation for Australian algorithm regulator

20 February 2019 00:00

Facebook has rejected calls by Australia’s competition regulator for a new watchdog to oversee how digital platforms use algorithms to select news content.

In a statement this week, the social-media company said the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, or ACCC, has no evidence proving the need for a regulator and that information on algorithm use won’t save Australia’s media industry.

“The ACCC has not made a case or provided any evidence for why they believe an algorithm regulator is a necessary, effective and proportionate response to the business model challenges facing news media,” Facebook's Simon Milner, Vice President of APAC Policy, said in a blog entry published over the weekend.

“People, not regulators, should decide what they see in their News Feeds,” Milner said.

Facebook said it agreed on the need for “greater transparency about the operation of algorithms in both the public and private sector,” but that increased information won’t “solve the problem of how to support sustainable journalism in Australia or other countries.”

The social-media company’s statement comes as pressure on digital platforms increases around the world, with suggestions that regulatory measures should be put in place to oversee how technology giants Facebook and Google set algorithms favoring certain content — including media content.

The UK parliament published a report this week on disinformation and fake news. In it, UK lawmakers say a public body should have access to tech companies’ security mechanisms and algorithms “to ensure they are operating responsibly,”.

Facebook’s response to the ACCC’s December interim report on the impact of global digital platforms on Australia’s publishing industry focuses on the watchdog’s recommendation calling for a new regulator to monitor algorithm use.

In that preliminary report, the ACCC said a regulatory authority could be “tasked with monitoring, investigating and reporting on the criteria, commercial arrangements or other factors used by relevant digital platforms […] with the aim of identifying the effects of algorithms or other policies on the production of news and journalistic content or competition in media markets.”

In its report, the ACCC justified its recommendation saying that this regulatory approach would assure businesses and consumers that algorithms aren’t being used to favor certain companies or news stories, or to the detriment of news production.

The ACCC added that a new regulator would be able to ensure governments would be able to more easily identify developments in the digital platform industry that could be harmful to consumers.

In May last year, News Corp. wrote to the ACCC calling for an algorithm regulator in part because it said digital platforms refuse “to supply publishers with information on how the algorithms work and which content [are] priorities,”.

News Corp. Australia publishes the country's largest newspapers, including Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Melbourne’s Herald Sun and Brisbane’s Courier-Mail. It also owns 50 percent of pay TV provider Foxtel and residential property website Realestate.com.au.

Australian-born Rupert Murdoch, News Corp.’s executive chairman, has long been a fierce critic of the impact of online platforms on the advertising revenue of traditional media companies, and News Corp.’s two submissions to the ACCC inquiry echo those concerns.

The ACCC was accepting further industry submissions on its digital-platform inquiry until Feb. 15, ahead of its final report, which is expected on June 3.

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