ACCC to Examine Internet Search Services for Five Year Inquiry

seo, search engine optimization, search engine-1970475.jpg

Original media release by and from the ACCC (18/03/2024).

The impact of overseas reforms and technological developments, as well as trends in search quality, are among the issues to be considered by the ACCC as it considers the state of competition in general internet search services in Australia.

The ACCC is today calling on consumers, businesses and industry participants to provide feedback about developments in general search services in Australia as part of its five-year digital platform services inquiry.

An issues paper, released today, seeks views about the level of competition in general search services and trends in search quality, including what consumers value in search services and the relationship between the level of competition in the market and search quality.

The impact of regulatory and industry developments, including the overseas introduction of choice screens and the emergence of generative AI, is also a focus.

“Significant changes have occurred since the ACCC last examined search services in 2021. We’ve seen new laws introduced overseas that place obligations on so-called gatekeeper search engines and the emergence of new technologies, like generative AI, that have changed the way consumers search for information online and may be impacting the quality of the service they are receiving,” ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said.

“The ACCC wants to understand the impact of these developments on general search services and ultimately, how they affect competition and consumers.”

The ACCC previously considered competition and consumer issues in general search and web browser services in its September 2021 and Digital Platforms Inquiry reports. Those reports found that Google’s search engine being pre-installed as a default search service on devices was contributing to it being the dominant search engine in Australia.

The ACCC’s September 2022 report included recommendations for new laws aimed at protecting and increasing competition in digital platform services, including a potential mandatory code for certain designated search services that could ensure more choice for consumers and lower barriers to expansion by rivals. The ACCC has welcomed the Government’s in-principle agreement to these recommendations.

The new report will also look at legislative reforms rolling out or being considered in the European Union, United Kingdom and other jurisdictions that place obligations on search engines to promote competition.

While the report will consider the emergence of AI-powered search engines and its potential impact on competition in the market for general search services, the ACCC’s consideration of generative AI will be limited to general search services. The report will not examine issues relating to generative AI more broadly, including privacy, online safety, or misinformation issues.

“We are eager to hear from businesses and consumers about their experiences with general search services to better understand how regulatory and industry developments are affecting the level of competition and consumers in the market for general search services.” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.

Consumers, businesses and interested parties are encouraged to make submissions to by 17 April 2024.

Regulatory reform recommendations

In the fifth report of the Digital Platforms Services Inquiry, the ACCC made a range of recommendations to bolster competition in the digital economy, level the playing field between big tech companies and Australian businesses, and reduce prices for consumers.

The recommendations include new service-specific mandatory codes of conduct for particular ‘designated digital platforms,’ based on principles set out in legislation.

This new regulatory regime would work alongside Australia’s existing competition laws to address anti-competitive conduct, unfair treatment of business users and barriers to entry and expansion by potential rivals.

The ACCC has alsoproposed new mandatory obligations on all digital platforms to address scams, harmful apps, fake reviews, including notice and action requirements and stronger verification of business users and reviews.

These proposed measures have been agreed to in principle by the Government.

More information on the inquiry can be found here and here on the ACCC’s website.