Australia to probe Facebook, Google over media disruption

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After the United States and Britain, Australia will now probe the impact of key digital platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter on media, journalism and advertising, including the spread of fake news, in the country.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will examine whether the pair, along with other internet giants, are misusing their market power to push traditional media outlets out of the advertising market, and cash in on the work of journalists without paying for the privilege.

The terms of reference issued by the treasurer include assessing the "extent to which platform service providers are exercising market power in commercial dealings with the creators of journalistic content and advertisers" and the impact of online services on the "level of choice and quality of news and digital content".

By 2017, analysis was showing that internet advertising, now at 52 per cent of total ad spend, was projected to increase to 65 per cent by 2021.

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"This inquiry will be important as it will expose the tactics search engines and social media platforms have employed to hoard advertising dollars, the conditions they have forced media organisations to accept and the part they have played in the gradual erosion of the media's bottom line", Senator Griff said.

Google, Facebook and Amazon also face pressure in Europe, where competition regulators are examining how they harvest and sell consumer data. In Britain, Facebook and Twitter have agreed to share details with authorities on Russia's interference in the Brexit referendum by using their platforms.

While global internet platforms have opened content-hungry Australians to an infinite choice of worldwide publications in text, video and audio, their success in taking a rapidly increasing slice of this country's $16 billion annual advertising spend, while producing negligible local content themselves, is the point of greatest contention.

The inquiry is a response to growing concerns that Facebook, Google and other digital platforms are affecting traditional media providers ability to invest and fund the development of content.

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The Australian probe will have power to demand information from businesses and hold hearings. The ACCC's preliminary report isn't due until early December in 2018, and a finished report will have to wait until June 2019.

"We look forward to engaging with this process as relevant", a Google spokesman told Reuters.

Media-buying agency GroupM expects Facebook and Google to consolidate their domination of online advertising, and control almost 85 per cent of all online advertising - outside China - this financial year.

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