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Photo: Indranil Aditya/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Australian government's regulatory commission announced Wednesday it's launched legal proceedings against Facebook and two of its subsidiaries for allegedly engaging in "false, misleading or deceptive conduct" in regards to a mobile app.

Why it matters: Governments around the world are clamping down on tech giants. Australia's lawsuit is similar to one filed against Facebook last week by the Federal Trade Commission and most states, which alleges the firm illegally hurt competition by buying smaller rivals and "converting personal data into a cash cow."

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.
  • Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chair Rod Sims acknowledged during a briefing "there is a link to what the FTC is saying, but they're looking at a competition issue."
  • He added "we're looking at the consumer" in the Australian case against Facebook and subsidiaries Facebook Israel and Onavo Inc over the Onavo Protect VPN app, which is no longer available.

Driving the news: The ACCC alleges the defendants "misled Australian consumers" from February 2016 to October 2017 by "representing" that the app would "keep users' personal activity data private, protected and secret, and that the data would not be used for any purpose other than providing Onavo Protect's products," per an ACCC statement.

  • The app allegedly "collected, aggregated and used significant amounts of users' personal activity data for Facebook's commercial benefit."
  • "This included details about Onavo Protect users' internet and app activity, such as records of every app they accessed and the number of seconds each day they spent using those apps," the statement added.
  • "This data was used to support Facebook’s market research activities, including identifying potential future acquisition targets."

What they're saying: A Facebook spokesperson told Reuters the firm was "always clear about the information we collect and how it is used."

  • "We will review the recent filing by the ACCC and will continue to defend our position in response to this recent filing."

Of note: Facebook said in September it would block users in Australia from sharing news on Facebook and Instagram if parliament passed a law that would force tech giants to pay publishers to distribute portions of their content.

  • Facebook and rival Google "won a key concession" when the bill was introduced last week, with updated language that "recognizes the monetary value the platforms provide to news businesses by directing readers to their websites," Bloomberg notes.

Go deeper

Jan 28, 2021 - Technology

Facebook Oversight Board overturns 4 of its 5 first cases

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook's independent Oversight Board published its first set of decisions Thursday, overturning four of the five cases it chose to review out of 20,000 cases submitted.

Why it matters: The decision to go against Facebook's conclusions in four out of five instances gives legitimacy to the board, which is funded via a $130 million grant from Facebook.

Jan 29, 2021 - Technology

Facebook seeks a new head of U.S. public policy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook is looking externally for a new U.S. policy chief as it moves Kevin Martin, a Republican who now holds the job, to a different position, per a memo seen by Axios.

Between the lines: Facebook is moving on from the Trump era in which Republicans held most of the power in Washington and Facebook was particularly eager among tech companies to forge warm relations with GOP policymakers.

Jan 29, 2021 - Technology

Big Tech is outsourcing its hardest content moderation decisions

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Faced with the increasingly daunting task of consistent content moderation at scale, Big Tech companies are tossing their hardest decisions to outsiders, hoping to deflect some of the pressure they face for how they govern their platforms.

Why it matters: Every policy change, enforcement action or lack thereof prompts accusations that platforms like Facebook and Twitter are making politically motivated decisions to either be too lax or too harsh. Ceding responsibility to others outside the company may be the future of content moderation if it works.