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The ACCC's Digital Platforms report is due next week - you need to brace

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

17 June 2019 3min read

Paul McIntyre - Mi3 Executive Editor

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

17 June 2019 3min read

Put it in your diary. If the rumblings here and abroad are right, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman, Rod Sims, has some feisty proposals to put to the federal government by June 30 and it will likely mess with the marketing supply chain. Or "surveillance marketing" as industry critics call it. Still boring? Too bad. It's real. 

By next Sunday, June 30, the federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg will have the final recommendations land on his desk from ACCC chairman Rod Sim's Digital Platforms Inquiry. It's unlikely to be made public immediately.

But what we can expect, if the anecdotes flying around the market here, and the US, are accurate, is that at least parts of the report will have teeth.

Certainly adtech and the advertising supply chain will be in the spotlight. Equally, there will likely be a strong theme around more user privacy and data disclosure.

These are policy proposals that, although terribly boring to marketers, agencies and media operatives, could directly impact how the entire sector does business.

Sims has been in the US meeting with his regulatory peers and the timing is interesting. In recent weeks both the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission have launched early antitrust investigations into Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon. That has suddenly captured the attention of the US market and Sims is known to have privately signalled on his US trip that the ACCC won't be passive in its recommendations to government.

He has already been vocal about his frustration about a lack of engagement from the marketing community in this inquiry. Some comments he made to me in March in the Australian Financial Review after a regulatory forum put on by the Australian Association of National Advertisers and ThinkTV, are telling.

Increasing appetites by regulators in Europe and the US around consumer privacy meant "we may all end up in a similar position at the same time", he said. 

"The privacy laws, which the Privacy Commissioner looks after today, were set up in a different world where the [Privacy] Act probably doesn't cover what they need to," Sims said after the AANA forum. "The Privacy Commissioner needs more resources because they are not big enough to do what they need to do. What we do will enhance the powers of the Privacy Commissioner and hence the resources." 

I'm not sure how much stronger a carefully-spoken competition regulator can state intent but it sounds like Europe's GDPR cousin is coming to Australia. It's why the marketing industry needs to be on alert. Anyone tapping user data will need to be across this.

Granted, it will be the federal government which will need to act on the ACCC recommendations but the regulatory dynamics across Europe and the US are shifting quite dramatically. Little wonder Google and Facebook are pouring record resources into their government lobbying efforts in Washington.

Policy is hardly sexy for the marketing industry, more attracted to shiny new marketing bits than hard graft. But there's a shift on that may force the industry to reassess its new fundamentals geared around data, personalisation and tracking - what the critics call "surveillance marketing".

Next week we'll talk to some government observers and regulatory heavies about what we could expect. Stay tuned.  

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By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

17 June 2019 3min read