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Australia to crack down on Google, Facebook, others

Alphabet Inc. unit Google LLC, Facebook Inc. and other digital companies are facing tougher regulation in Australia as part of government measures unveiled Dec. 12.

The government will create a unit to monitor and provide reports on the state of competition and consumer protection in digital platform markets. The unit, within the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, will receive A$26.9 million of funding. It will initially probe online advertising and ad-tech services.

The commission will develop and implement voluntary codes to address concerns about "bargaining power imbalances" between digital platforms and media companies. Such companies must agree to the codes by November 2020, or else they will be required to comply with a mandatory code of conduct.

Other measures include reviewing the country's Privacy Act as well as media law reforms to ensure a "platform-neutral regulatory framework." The reforms on media regulations will start in 2020 by examining whether Australian content quotas should be imposed on subscription video-on-demand services.

"I have a simple rule: the rules that exist in the real world need to exist in the digital world," said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The Australian government adapted the commission's key recommendations after an inquiry into digital platforms found "adverse effects" associated with the dominance of digital companies.

"The world is waking up to the very real harms that stem from the power the digital platforms hold in our society and for our economy," said commission Chair Rod Sims.

The antitrust regulator in October sued Google and its unit Google Australia Pty. Ltd. for allegedly misleading consumers on how it collected and used location data. Australia has also passed a law to clamp down on violent videos on online platforms, following the New Zealand shootings.

Google and Facebook said they will work closely with the commission, Reuters reported.