A tougher attitude to tech displayed down after Australia has announced the world’s first dedicated office that will be police firms such as Facebook and Google for privacy violations.

The new office are part of reforms designed to rein the power of big name tech firms. Australia it should be remembered last December passed a controversial encryption law that will require technology giants to give police access to encrypted data, in cases where it could be linked to criminal or militant activity.

The Australian decision to also set up a dedicated office to police big name firms could potentially set a precedent for other lawmakers around the world.

Tech police

According to Reuters, the Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the $5 billion fine slapped on Facebook in the United States this month for privacy breaches showed regulators were now taking such issues extremely seriously.

“These companies are among the most powerful and valuable in the world,” Frydenberg told reporters in Sydney after the release of a report on future regulation of the dominant digital platforms.

“They need to be held to account and their activities need to be more transparent.”

So what exactly are the Australian proposing?

Australia it seems is to form a special branch of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

This is that country’s antitrust watchdog, and the new division will scrutinize how the companies used algorithms to match advertisements with viewers, giving them a stronghold on the main income generator of media operators, Reuters reported.

The new tech policing office was one of 23 recommendations in the ACCC’s report, including strengthening privacy laws, protections for the news media and a code of conduct requiring regulatory approval to govern how internet giants profit from users’ content.

Unhappy firms?

Frydenberg reportedly said the government intended to “lift the veil” on the closely guarded algorithms the firms use to collect and monetise users’ data, when he accepted the ACCC’s “overriding conclusion that there is a need for reform”.

But before these proposals become law, there has to be a 12-week public consultation process before the government acts on the report.

Reuters reported that Facebook and Google said they would engage with the Australian government during the consultation process, but had no comment on the specific recommendations.

However, they are likely to be very unhappy at the proposals, as they have previously rejected the need for tighter regulation and said the ACCC had underestimated the level of competition for online advertising.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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