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ACCC warns of ‘dark patterns’ used by tech giants to win over consumers

The top five tech giants may be using “dark patterns” to prevent consumers from adopting competitors’ online services, the ACCC warned as it asks for feedback on a new release examining the companies’ access to a wide range of markets.

In recent years, Amazon, Apple, Facebook parent company Meta, Microsoft and Google parent company Alphabet have dramatically expanded the scope of their services, from basic search, productivity and entertainment options to play in markets as diverse as AI, education, health and fitness, financial technology, media streaming, connected home devices, virtual reality and more.

While significant investment has accelerated the development of key new technologies, cross-promotion and bundling risk weakening competition and producing anti-consumer results, the ACCC warned if its issues paper is concerned that the companies are using anti-competitive strategies to jump between key markets.

“Australian consumers and businesses are increasingly relying on the products and services offered by digital platforms, so it is critical that we explore how these businesses are expanding their reach,” said ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb in launch the new investigation — the seventh phase in the agency’s long-running run Research on digital platform services.

Through April 5, consumers and businesses can submit entries to share their experiences using the “ecosystems” digital platform; their concerns about massive data collection and sharing; how digital giants’ expansion strategies have impacted the interoperability of products and services across ecosystems; and whether those practices have “increased consumer lock-in”.

The ACCC is concerned that tech giants are trapping consumers through bundling, self-preference, tying, and “dark patterns” — user interfaces designed to confuse users, manipulate them into taking certain actions, or make it difficult for them to to express themselves. their preferences or cancel subscriptions.

Dark patterns can exacerbate what the report calls “consumer inertia,” making it so difficult for users to switch providers or integrate services from different providers that they give in and buy more services from one provider.

Soaking up the world’s innovation

Tech giants’ intense rivalry and interest in leading-edge innovation have seen them boom in recent years, often diving into their deep pockets to suck up smaller innovators.

Apple, for one has come into possession of about 40 companies since the beginning of 2017 – giving its products access to innovative capabilities in areas such as computer vision, AI, automation, augmented reality, data analytics, voice technology, autonomous vehicles, virtual reality and more.

Microsoft bought more than 60 companies during the same period, including innovators in areas such as productivity, cybersecurity, IoT, 5G networks, AI, education and software development, as well as major investments such as $11 billion ($7.5 billion) purchase of software development platform GitHub, $30 billion ($US19.7 billion) acquisition from speech synthesis giant Nuance Communications, and $100 billion ($US68.7 billion) purchase from game giant Activision Blizzard.

This year, Microsoft’s $15 billion (US$10 billion) investment in generative AI pioneer OpenAI has renewed interest in its Bing search engine and reshaped the agenda of a software industry that has seen ChatGPT and similar generative AI tools embraced by companies like Sales team, limp, Pegaand others.

The reinforcing effect of tech giants’ investments will quickly propel industries to new heights: For example, GlobalData has predicted that computer vision, generative AI and robotic applications will increase global AI revenue by the end of the century.

But with even the smallest of the five tech giants raking in nearly double the annual sales of Australia’s largest company, BHP Group, the ACCC remains focused on ensuring industry consolidation doesn’t override consumer interests.

“These acquisitions have enabled digital platforms to expand into related markets, often accelerating their entry and expansion,” the publication said. notes, warning that while “new entrants may consider entering by initially offering a complementary or differentiated product…. major digital platform service providers can replicate the innovative features of their rivals by testing those features with an established user base.”

Increasing horizontal integration across tech giant ecosystems “can provide consumers with a seamless experience that simplifies everyday tasks,” explains Cass-Gottlieb, “but it is important that competition and consumers are not harmed as digital platforms invest in different sectors and technologies and expand their reach.”


Shreya has been with australiabusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider australiabusinessblog.com, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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