The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has launched a public consultation with the release of an Issues Paper on Market Dynamics and Consumer Choice Screens in Search Services and Web Browsers (Consultation). The Consultation forms part of the ACCC’s five-year inquiry into markets for the supply of digital platform services in Australia, which commenced in February 2020. The Consultation also follows recent overseas regulatory investigations into search services and choice screens, including those by the European Commission and the United States’ Department of Justice.

What is the purpose of the ACC Consultation?

The purpose of the Consultation is to assess potential competition and consumer issues relating to the provision of web browsers and general search services to Australian consumers. In particular, the ACCC is seeking views on the use of choice screens and about the supply of web browsers as a potential means to assess and address any identified competition and consumer concerns.

What are choice screens?

Most manufacturers generally usually devices such as desktops, tablets and mobiles with preinstalled operating systems and web browsers. Choice screens give users a choice of internet search services on mobiles and tablets, as opposed to a pre-selected search service.

Concerns

As stated by ACCC Chair, Rod Simms, the concern with pre-selected search services is that “...in general, setting a default option substantially increases the likelihood that consumers and businesses will stick with that option. This can have the effect of reducing competition and consumer choice in the supply of these services.

On that basis, the ACCC has welcomed consumer and industry views on the extent to which choice screens can facilitate competition and improve consumer choice overall and specifically in relation to desktops (desktop computers and laptops), mobile devices (smartphones and tablets), smart speakers and smart watches. In the Issues Paper, the ACCC has also said that is interested in the design of choice screens and how choice screens can best be utilised to achieve their purpose of enhancing consumer choice.

What’s next?

The ACCC will use the submissions to form a report that it intends to provide to the Treasurer by 30 September 2021 (Report). As set out in the Issues Paper, the key issues to be canvassed in the Report include but are not limited to the following:

  • the impact of pre-installation and default settings on consumer choice and competition, particularly in relation to online search and browsers”;
  • “supplier behaviour and trends in search services, browsers and operating systems, and device ecosystems, that may impact the supply of search and browsers to Australian consumers”;
  • “the extent to which existing consumer harm can arise from the design of defaults and other arrangements”;
  • the effectiveness of Google’s Android choice screen roll out in Europe and whether it is fit for purpose within Australia; and
  • “whether there are any proposals, other than choice screens, that may facilitate competition and improve consumer choice in the supply of general search services and browsers in Australia”.

For those who are interested in reading the Issues Paper, you can find it here.

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This article was originally published on OneTrust and is available here.