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Friday, 26 July 2019 11:58

Govt reaction to digital platforms inquiry report predictable

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Govt reaction to digital platforms inquiry report predictable Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

Predictably, the Federal Government has kicked any decision on the digital platforms inquiry report down the road – to a point in time when it knows whatever it does will not irritate the US Government.

Else, there was no need for any hesitation on acting on a set of recommendations from the ACCC's digital platforms inquiry, which, to be true, are more milk and water than sulphuric acid.

The head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Rod Sims, is a bureaucrat at heart and this is reflected in his recommendations, which are all geared towards not upsetting anybody's applecart.

The analogy that comes to mind is that of someone who sits down to write a review of things after being fully aware that a daylight robbery is in progress.

The US has been playing the role of bad cop and good cop when it comes to bringing big tech to heel – Facebook was fined US$5 billion recently for privacy violations, an amount that amounts to a rounding error for a company of its size. It is a joke.

And the moment one country showed the necessary enterprise to impose fines on the tech companies — France passed a law for a 3% tax that would net it about €500 million — the US said it would consider imposing tariffs on Paris.

US trade representative Robert Lighthizer said at the time an inquiry would "determine whether it is discriminatory or unreasonable and burdens or restricts United States commerce".

A couple of days ago, the US said it would be undertaking an anti-trust inquiry into big tech – but then given past actions, one knows exactly what to expect.

Over many years, what has emerged is that the only person who has the cojones to take on the big technology companies is Margrethe Vestager, the European Union's competition commissioner.

Any Australian company that expects the government to act in a way that would make a serious difference is wasting its time. News Limited has been the most vociferous when it comes to criticising the digital giants, but then its criticisms are watered down by the fact that they are often done to further its own business interests.

But the fact of the matter is that journalism is on its last legs and if the authorities wait too long, then even oxygen would be of no use in resuscitating it.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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