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Facebook, Google are not publishers, says US anti-trust expert

 |  April 29, 2019

By Yolanda Redrup

Renowned US competition lawyer Howard Shelanski has pushed back against moves by regulators to treat Facebook and Google as publishers, saying any laws dictating how the tech giants display content or refer users to news sites would be overreaching.

Mr Shelanski, who is in Melbourne this week for a Melbourne Law School conference on market competition laws, said some regulatory reform was necessary, particularly around data privacy and mergers and acquisitions, but he urged the competition regulator and the federal government to take a slowly-but-surely approach to any changes.

“It [the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] is treating the platforms, particularly Facebook, like a media outlet and refers to it having a news referral market … but that conclusion needs some careful thought because a lot of what Facebook does is let news sources reach an audience and let individuals share content they themselves have taken action to find,” he told The Australian Financial Review.

“A lot of news traffic Facebook has very little to do with – it’s just the locus of exchange for people on the edge of the platform. “We have to be very careful in saying that Facebook is taking action to affirmatively refer people to news sites. That needs a closer look.”

Mr Shelanski, who is a partner at law firm Davis Polk and former regulatory tsar under the Obama administration, advises Facebook on competition law.