Assessing the Impact: Competition Commission’s Probe into Google, Facebook, and Apple
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Assessing the Impact: Competition Commission’s Probe into Google, Facebook, and Apple

The digital landscape, particularly in the realm of news distribution and advertising, is experiencing a profound transformation. These changes have led to a critical investigation by the Competition Commission, focusing on digital media disparities involving major platforms like Google, Facebook, and Apple. This examination is specifically pertinent to their dealings with South African media publishers. Our article dives deep into the intricacies of this investigation, highlighting the raised issues, their consequences for both digital platforms and publishers, and the overarching effects on the media industry.

Background: The Catalyst of the Investigation

The Competition Commission’s scrutiny of these digital giants stems from concerns about the disparities between them and South African media publishers. Initially, the Commission released a Statement of Issues (SOI), gathering responses from a diverse group of stakeholders including media, digital platforms, publishers, broadcasters, and associations. These responses have culminated in a Further Statement of Issues (FSOI), which aims to address the concerns raised.

Key Themes of the FSOI

The FSOI revolves around several pivotal themes:

  1. Constitutional Interpretation: How the inquiry incorporates constitutional perspectives.
  2. Misinformation and Disinformation: The impact of false information in the digital space.
  3. Radio and TV Broadcast News Media: Focusing on public broadcasters.
  4. News Measurement: Its benefits to search and social media platforms.
  5. Revenue Sharing: Arrangements between news media and digital platforms.
  6. Transparency in Platforms and Adtech Markets: The necessity of clear operations.

Icasa’s Involvement and Deadline

Icasa has set a deadline for further submissions by 17:00 on 22 January 2024, urging stakeholders to provide evidence-based submissions to strengthen their arguments.

Investigating Major Platforms: The Core Issues

The Competition Commission’s investigation is rooted in the evolving relationship between large digital platforms and traditional news media. These platforms, primarily funded through advertising revenues driven by user engagement and data collection, benefit significantly from content produced by news publications.

Impact on Traditional News Media

Digital platforms’ growth has notably affected traditional news organizations:

  • Decline in Advertising Revenue: A shift to digital consumption has led to a substantial decrease in traditional advertising revenues for publishers.
  • Increased Costs: Publishers now need to invest more in their digital presence, further straining their resources.

Market Imbalances

Key imbalances identified include:

  • High Costs for News Publications: Competing in the digital space against giants like Apple News, Facebook, and Google News is costly.
  • Barriers to Reader Access: These platforms have become intermediaries that control access to readers while monetizing user engagement.
  • Use of Copyrighted Content: Platforms use content from publications without adequate compensation.
  • Shift in News Consumption: Readers increasingly rely on summaries on these platforms, bypassing the original sources, thus affecting publishers’ revenue.

Algorithm Transparency Concerns

The lack of clarity regarding the algorithms used by these platforms, especially in news content display and referral links, poses a significant challenge to news businesses.

AI and Large Language Models: A New Frontier of Concern

The Commission has also raised concerns about AI and large language models like ChatGPT, which aggregate information from sources, including news publishers, without explicit permission. This aspect represents a new frontier in the digital content and copyright debate.

Implications for the Future

The Competition Commission’s investigation into these digital giants is not just about rectifying current disparities but also about shaping the future of digital news consumption and distribution. The outcomes of this investigation could lead to significant changes in how digital platforms operate and interact with news publishers, potentially altering the media landscape as we know it.

The Competition Commission’s investigation into Google, Facebook, and Apple reflects a critical juncture in the digital media landscape. It underscores the need for a balanced, fair, and transparent digital environment where both large platforms and traditional media can coexist and thrive. The implications of this investigation are far-reaching, potentially setting precedents for digital media operations worldwide. As the deadline for submissions approaches, all eyes are on the Competition Commission, awaiting its decision and its impact on the future of digital media.

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