In recent times ideas of regulation itself are being reassessed in the platform governance space. We can see this in a series of competition law investigations in the European Union in relation to first Google and then Facebook, along with high fines, which we interpret as clear evidence of these shifts. Prior to that, the European Commission imposed a 13-billion-euro fine on Apple Corporation. Appearances by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg before US Congressional hearings and the European Commission also underscore a new phase of regulation.
For Andrew Keen, in his book How to Fix the Future, these developments signal that ‘regulation is, indeed, innovation’. Keen argues that state regulation needs to look to the innovative trends and legislation in the European Union, which has demonstrated a clear desire to rein in what he sees as the hegemony of US corporations.
In Australia, the role of digital platforms in the supply of news is the subject of a two-year inquiry by the national competition regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). The inquiry was one of several by-products of a wave of legislative and policy change in 2017 which included the repeal of Australia’s remaining cross-media ownership laws. While there are still some sector-specific ownership and control rules, they are limited in number as well as in scope, applying only to legacy media of commercial television, commercial radio and associated (print) newspapers.
The review by the ACCC, and the possibility of a regulatory intervention using competition law, is great significance. In addition to considering aspects of market power in relation to advertising, the inquiry directly confronts the role of search engines, aggregators and social media platforms in the current news environment. The Issues Paper released in February 2018 noted that the inquiry would consider ‘the potential impact of big data technologies and the use of algorithms by key digital platforms on media diversity’.