Apple, Google, Amazon face Australian big tech influence probe

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in General Discussion

Apple will join Google and Amazon in submitting evidence to a probe into the influence of Big Tech companies in Australia, starting with a hearing set to happen with a senate committee on Tuesday.

Sydney Opera House [Pixabay/pattyjansen]
Sydney Opera House [Pixabay/pattyjansen]



The Australian Senate opened a probe into the "Influence of international digital platforms" in September 2022. The probe was in response to fears that big tech companies exerted considerable influence over Australian markets and the country's democracy.

Over a year later, Business News reports the three companies will be facing a parliamentary inquiry into the topic.

On Tuesday, Google will be facing the committee, submitting that digital platform holders have a responsibility to fight misinformation online. This is a difficult challenge to overcome, Google previously argued in a submission to the committee, and that there was no "silver bullet" to the issue.

Google engaged in a "delicate balance" in needing to address the issue, while also maintaining rights to freedom of expression. It had an "important responsibility" to its users "to curb the efforts of those who aim to propagate false information," the submission stated.

Governments need to make sure platforms have plans to counter disinformation, and that it should be regularly reported and re-evaluated as needed, the search giant continued.

Apple and Amazon



Both Apple and Amazon have offered their own submissions to the senate, with each likely to make an in-person appearance to the committee in the future.

Apple's submission offered its usual refrain of privacy being considered a fundamental human right, and that it designed products and services in a way that protects it.

"We intentionally design and build our products to the highest privacy and security standards in the market," Apple wrote.

Apple also asserted that it went beyond compliance with legal requirements for privacy, and that privacy principles should be a floor and not a ceiling for data protection. It also insisted that it collected less user data than other tech companies, and didn't rely on the monetization of user data, nor tracking or analysis of the information.

Amazon went down the route of outlining its economic contributions, including investments into logistics and fulfillment centers around the world. Prime Video productions in the country were also called out.

The Senate Economics References Committee is expected to report back to the senate by December 7, 2023 with its findings.

This is far from the first governmental probe into big tech firms, as the group have regularly faced scrutiny around the world due to their size and purported influence. This has included multiple probes by the U.S. government, the United Kingdom, and others over the years.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 2
    dewmedewme Posts: 5,476member
    The real problem I see with all of these “Big Tech” government probes is that we have governments going after private businesses as if these businesses are doing something illegal when the reality is that these businesses are legally operating exactly as businesses should operate for the benefit of their stakeholders. The real issue is that these governments and society were simply not prepared to deal with all of the consequences and far reaching effects that the technology and systems created by these businesses have had on society and the public interest, including competitiveness and consumer protection.

    Instead of setting up probes and attempting to force fit the application of existing anti-competitive and monopolistic laws into cases where they do not clearly apply, governments should work with private businesses to define a new set of rules and laws that take into account the novelty of what these emerging technologies and systems represent and come up with equitable remedies. For example, we already have laws in place around things like intellectual property protection and patents. These laws are intended to spur innovation by providing creators and owners of IP and patents exclusive use and licensing rights to what they’ve created. These rights and rewards are balanced against the needs of society and public interest by putting time limits on the period of exclusivity. 

    When you look at things like Apple’s App Store there are somewhat similar forces at play compared to IP and invention but they are not exactly the same. The App Store is not an invention, but it still represents a massive business investment by Apple and Apple has exerted exclusively over how the system they created for themselves and their business partners operates. Obviously, some of Apple’s competitors and even partners do not see themselves as being solely business partners of Apple, but they still want to reap the many benefits of Apple’s creation without being subservient to Apple, especially on the financial side of things.

    These competitors could create their own alternative to the App Store. But doing so is a massive undertaking and may not gain sufficient number of partners and customers to compete against Apple, especially when the App Store has become the de facto standard. These competitors and organizations like the government who are advocating for the public interest want a model in place to allow others besides Apple to benefit from the de facto standard. Unfortunately, as far as I know, there is no formal mechanism in place like there is for non patent holders, for example the makers of generic drugs, to benefit from someone else’s creation to enhance the public interest at some point in time.

    With no system in place to time-limit or scope-limit the exclusivity of systems like the App Store or Google Search, lawmakers are instead trying to paint the creators of these highly successful systems as being, effectively, criminals. In my mind this is horribly wrong and is punishing business success and innovation. If the current incentives, controls, and laws around the exclusivity of inventions don’t adequately address these new types of systems like the App Store and Google Search, fix the laws. But these new laws must maintain incentives for creators and innovators to seek to create these types of systems that provide new benefits to both their creators, i.e., businesses, and society as a whole, including competitors and consumers.

    Of course there will still be a need to balance just how much “reward” system creators can extract from their limited period/scope of exclusivity. But none of these things should provide incentive for businesses that fashion themselves as innovators, in name only, to sit back and lazily wait for someone else to solve their challenges for them so they can immediately reap the benefits without investing their own time and effort. The latter behavior is all too common today.
    FileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 2
    @Dewme: exceptionally well said.

    It's worth remembering that Australia (like most Commonwealth countries) inherited its legal system from the UK, and thus citizens have fundamentally different rights compared to the US. The basic philosophy is that every activity is forbidden unless explicitly stated as legal - as opposed to the US where it's assumed that everything is legal unless explicitly stated otherwise. There are far-reaching consequences to these distinctions, and the huge body of case law that exists is a serious impediment to updating the legal system to meet modern requirements - no matter what country is attempting it.
    dewmewatto_cobra
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