The government has issued its response to the ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry, nearly five months after the report was submitted.

In late July, the ACCC handed down its final report – a 600-page tome examining the likes of Facebook and Google who together see the lion’s share of Australians’ online activity.

Twenty-three recommendations were included in the report.

The government today announced it would fully support seven of the recommendations, with 11 more being supported ‘in principle’.

A ‘mandatory ACMA take-down code’ and ‘tax settings to encourage philanthropic support for journalism’ will not be supported by the government.

The remaining recommendations, along with many of those supported ‘in principle’ will require further consultation and consideration.

Among the supported recommendations is reform of, and higher penalties for breaching, the Privacy Act with the government committing to review the Act so that it is more suitable for digital technologies.

The ACCC will receive $27 million over the next four years to create a Digital Platforms Branch which will “monitor and biannually report on digital platforms, take enforcement action as necessary, and conduct inquiries” – the first of which is an investigation into ad tech services.

It’s voluntary

The government’s response has a roadmap for regulation stretching into 2021 and includes developing a number of voluntary actions.

ACCC recommendations tackling the problem of disinformation and ‘fake news’ are being addressed by the development of ‘voluntary codes of conduct’ to be overseen by ACMA.

If those voluntary codes fail “to adequately mitigate the problems of disinformation or news quality online” by 2021, the government will consider taking further actions.

Another voluntary code will be developed to “address bargaining imbalances between digital platforms and news media businesses” with the government saying "the commercial relationships between these businesses are highly complex and there is a two-way value exchange at play".

That voluntary code is to be developed by November 2020 and will be considered binding for whoever choose to sign up. If it doesn't work, the government said it might "develop alternative options" like a mandatory code of practice.

The ACCC also wanted to see the government develop a protocol for the advance notice of acquisitions from tech giants. That protocol is going to be developed, but it will be voluntary.

Lacklustre response

Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young, was critical of the government's action plan, saying it did not do go far enough.

“Despite weeks of chest-thumping, the Morrison Government has buckled to the pressure of the tech giants in its lacklustre response to the review,” Hanson-Young said.

“The recommendations from the ACCC were modest at best. Yet, the Liberals could barely commit to implementing them.

"Instead, they’ve kicked the can down the road by announcing yet another review and yet more consultation.

“It is clear that decisive action must be taken now, and not over some ambiguous, non-committal work period, as outlined by the Liberals today."

A joint statement from Prime Minister, Scott Morrison; Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg; Attorney-General, Christian Porter; and Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher said the government's regulation roadmap will help keep existing laws relevant in the 21st century.

“Both the ACCC Inquiry and the feedback from the consultation process emphasised that there is a need for reform to better protect consumers, improve transparency, address power imbalances and ensure that substantial market power is not used to lessen competition in media and advertising services markets,” the statement said.

“Digital technologies are going to be an increasingly important part of our economic and social landscape.

“The government wants to get the right regulations in place so Australia can be a leading digital economy.

“That also means ensuring the protections that exist in the real world also exist in the digital world.”

Chair of the consumer watchdog, Rod Sims, said he was “delighted” that the government had formally recognised the Digital Platforms final report.

“We’re proud that Australia will now be one of the first countries in the world to develop such a comprehensive roadmap for broad reforms relating to digital platforms,” Sims said.

“Google and Facebook have grown to have almost unfettered market power with significant impacts on consumers that must be addressed.

“The impact of digitalisation and digital platforms on the Australian media and, in particular, vitally important local and regional news and journalism has been stark and extremely concerning.

“We are pleased that this is being addressed by the government, along with the regulatory imbalance between the platforms and media businesses.”