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Five Eyes sign new framework to tackle anti-competitive practices

Five eyes, USA, UK, New Zealand, Canada, Australia
Credit: Aditi Agrawal

The Five Eyes nations signed a multilateral framework to share intelligence, case theories, and investigative techniques to coordinate on investigations into anti-competitive practices across international borders. The framework, called the Multilateral Mutual Assistance and Cooperation Framework for Competition Authorities (MMAC), came into effect on September 2. The Register first reported this development. The Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance between USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand through which they share intelligence.

The framework will act as the basis of future, “enhanced” bilateral or multilateral agreements between the five nations that will allow them to share confidential information, execute search and seizures, and gather evidence across borders. To that end, the framework gives a template for a “Model Agreement”, which can be altered by the signing parties to suit their interests.

It was signed by:

This framework “will particularly benefit our existing and future investigations of digital platforms”, Rod Sims, the Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), said. All five Five Eye nations have had their run-ins with Big Tech in the last few years:

United States: In July, the US House subcommittee summoned CEOs of the four largest technology companies in the world — Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook — to question them over their respective companies’ alleged anti-competitive practices. The Department of Justice is planning to file antitrust charges against Google in the coming weeks, the New York Times reported on Thursday. Between September and October 2019, 47 state attorney generals announced that they were investigating Facebook for antitrust reasons. In July 2019, the DOJ had announced that it was opening a broad investigation of “market-leading” online platforms to review if they engage in practices that reduce competition, stifle innovation or harm consumers. In June 2019, the FTC reportedly launched an anti-trust investigation into Facebook.

United Kingdom: In July, UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) too had called for a new regime to respond more quickly to digital monopolies and roll back the dominance of Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market. The CMA also formed a new Digital Markets Taskforce to advise the British government on a new pro-competition approach for digital markets.

Australia: ACCC had recommended limiting the market dominance of Google and Facebook in July 2019. At the time, there were five different investigations of Google and Facebook underway. The country’s treasurer had instructed ACCC in April 2020 to develop a mandatory code of conduct to create a level playing field between digital platforms and news media businesses. Google and Facebook have both protested against this draft code, which asks the platforms to share ad revenue with news organisations, among other things. Facebook has gone as far as to say that it would not allow publishers and users in Australia to share news on Facebook and Instagram if this code, the News Media Bargaining Code, is passed.

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New Zealand: While New Zealand did not launch its own investigation, John Edwards, the country’s Privacy Commissioner, reportedly congratulated the ACCC on its July 2019 report and had said that they would follow the developments in Australia on the issue closely. And like Australia, New Zealand is also considering a mandatory code that forces platforms to pay for news content, a spokesperson for Commerce and Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi had reportedly said in April 2020.

Canada: The Competition Bureau had said in July 2019 that it was closely monitoring Big Tech firms to “ensure that they do not engage in anti-competitive conduct”. Through an investigation into Google, between 2013 and 2019, the Bureau concluded that Google used anti-competitive clauses in the terms and conditions of its AdWords API because of which Google had remove those clauses.

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