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ACCC Chair Rod Sims. Source: Joel Carrett/AAP Image via AP
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  • Australia’s competition watchdog is looking to rein in Google’s use of internet data to sell targeted ad
  • The ACCC said Google dominates the market to the point of harming publishers, advertisers and consumers
  • As a result, existing laws are being considered to be insufficient to curb any anti-competitive behaviour
  • The ACCC wants special powers to address the imbalance of advertiser access to consumer data
  • Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says the government will consider the report’s findings and recommendations

Australia’s competition watchdog is looking to rein in Google’s use of internet data to sell targeted ads, claiming the Big Tech firm dominates the market to the point of harming publishers, advertisers and consumers.

A report published on Tuesday by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) set up another potential showdown between Australia and Google, just months after the search engine platform vowed to retract core services from the country over a new content licensing law.

The report could also add weight to an anti-monopoly lawsuit reportedly being prepared by the US Justice Department, which accuses Google of using its market power to batter advertising rivals.

In its inquiry into the advertising technology (or ‘ad tech’) sector, which is yet to be assessed by the federal government, the ACCC said Google’s dominance of online advertising was so entrenched that existing laws are insufficient to curb any anticompetitive behaviour.

Such entrenchment, the ACCC added, came partly from key acquisitions by Google, including YouTube in 2006, DoubleClick in 2007 and AdMob in 2009.

As a result, more than 90 per cent of clicks on advertisements that passed through Australia’s ad tech supply chain went through at least one Google-owned service last year.

“Google has used its vertically integrated position to operate its ad tech services in a way that has, over time, led to a less competitive ad tech industry,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“This conduct has helped Google to establish and entrench its dominant position in the ad tech supply chain. We recommend rules be considered to manage conflicts of interest, prevent anti-competitive self-preferencing, and ensure rival ad tech providers can compete on their merits.”

In a blog post published just before the ACCC’s findings, Google said its advertising technology supported more than 15,000 Australian jobs and adds $2.45 billion to the country’s economy each year.

The ACCC, however, said the US company benefitted from significant amounts of internet user data garnered from its search engine, mapping and YouTube services, and must be more transparent about the way it uses this information to sell advertisements.

The regulator is therefore seeking special powers to address the imbalance of advertiser access to consumer data, such as rules that prevent a company from using data collected by one service to sell targeted advertisements without a competitor enjoying the same benefit.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who commissioned the report, said the government would consider the report’s findings and recommendations.

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