The Senate Standing Economic Committees Influence of international digital platforms research is tasked with examining the extent to which major multinational tech companies – Meta, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and others are implied but not explicitly mentioned – “exert power and influence over markets and public debate, to the detriment of Australian democracy and users”, says the committee frame of reference Remark.
This includes exploring their market share in the provision of hardware and software services; their use of vertical integration – linking multiple services, products, and hardware – as a means of limiting users’ ability to “make choices”; and how concentrated market power affects competition, macroeconomic performance and consumer outcomes.
The study will examine the transparency of proprietary algorithms used by the companies and the extent to which they “manipulate users and user responses and contribute to greater concentrations of market power” – with a view to how stricter regulation could lead to better results in the public interest”.
The broad study will also examine how big tech companies collect and process data from children for profiling, behavioral advertising or other uses, as well as evaluate the effectiveness of recent efforts to regulate international digital platforms.
The inventory of the market impact of big tech companies is “overdue,” said NSW Senator Andrew Bragg when the new research was announced, noting that “the big tech platforms have amassed more power than any other company in recent history. “
The big five Big Tech platforms, he added, “have more power than the railways and oil tycoons of the Gilded Age…. The Australian Parliament needs to form a stronger picture of what the massive concentration of power… means to our country. ”
“We must have the policies in place to protect users and ensure that Australians are not exploited by possibly the strongest companies in history,” he said, adding that Big Tech platforms “can and should be our partners in protecting Australians and our interests.”
The new research reflects growing global concerns that Big Tech companies have amassed too much power and, by interconnecting complementary services, have created entire ecosystems that capture, analyze and use consumer data at scale.
For example, the US Congress has evaluated: proposed legislation like the Digital Platform Commission Act of 2022which would establish a five-person federal body that would provide “reasonable oversight and regulation of digital platforms.”
Those platforms, lawmakers warned, “have taken advantage of the combination of economies of scale, network effects and unique features of the digital marketplace to gain massive power over the economy, society and democracy of the United States.”
“Digital platforms remain largely unregulated and left to write their own rules without meaningful democratic input or accountability.”
The Australian Parliament has also been scrutinizing Big Tech’s market power, with the continued DPI launched in 2020 to address areas such as social media, advertising services and other aspects of a top-heavy digital services market currently operated by a ‘dog breakfast‘ of regulations.
That research yielded his fifth interim report in September, and will continue through 2025 alongside the new Big Tech inquiry – which is currently accepting submissions and will issue its final report at the final parliamentary session of 2023.
Last year, another study focused on: online damage of social media, while earlier this year a series of Australian agencies joined forces to improve oversight of Big Tech companies amid claims that competition on social media is actually increasing.