SYDNEY, Australia – During a major escalation, on Friday, Google threatened that its search engine would not be available in Australia if the government approved a law that forced tech companies to pay the press. are shared on their platform.
Facebook, which appeared alongside Google at an Australian Senate hearing, reaffirmed its threat and vowed to block users in Australia from posting or sharing links to news if they attended. Law passed.
In both cases, catastrophic warnings – which one senator calls blackmail – show the apparent willingness of Facebook and Google to hide or remove trusted information sources for millions of people. at a time when social media platforms were under attack for helping disinformation spread around the world.
Companies argued that they helped the media industry by sending traffic to it, and the bill would open them up “levels of unmanageable financial and operational risk”. Response by Google, which controls 95% of all queries in Australia in addition to owning YouTube, has become particularly positive: The company recently buried major Australian news sites in search results. search in the so-called “experiment”.
But the precedent for paying the press, by itself, doesn’t seem to matter.
Hours before Google threatened to take away its search engine in Australia, the company agreed to pay for news publications in France under a deal likely to lead to more transactions across Europe.
The war in Australia revolves around power: who decides payments, what costs tech companies to pay, and when they have to reveal changes in their algorithms.
Australia’s assertive challenge to the social media giants has placed the country at the forefront of the movement to support the traditional news media ecosystem that tech companies have trillions of dollars. America is in danger of extinction. For Google and Facebook, their outrage has become central to their global effort to limit regulation, as governments around the world seek to restrain them.
Here is a rundown of the war.
Negotiation is fast versus long
Under Australia’s proposed law, if media companies and platforms like Google cannot agree on a price for news content, an independent arbitration body will resolve the dispute. It may be the first in the world.
The French agreement allows Google to negotiate with publishers using the criteria established by the company, such as contribution to the general discussion, number of publications and audience size. The dispute will most likely go to court, where they can be mired for years, delaying the payment.
The Australian bill would streamline the process and strengthen the weaker side – the media.
As Rod Sims, president of Australia’s consumer protection regulator, explains: “The purpose of the code is to address uneven bargaining between Australian media businesses and Big digital platforms who have clear market power. ”
The tech firms say it will give media companies an incentive to raise prices, sending the cases to a referee who will decide the final payment. They point to a government report estimating that 75% of negotiations could be concluded with arbitration.
Critics argue that Google and Facebook are simply trying to maintain their position as people who can determine which news is worthwhile.
Peter Lewis, director of the Responsible Technology Center at the Australian Institute, an independent research group, said: “It’s about the external process being imposed on them by the law, rather than they can just do it. show transactions as they see fit. . “It shifts the balance of power from their hands to a third party, and that’s something they can’t see.”
Links vs. Preview
The battle focuses on the debate about the nature of search results and the question of whether tech companies should pay for every article Australians see on their platforms.
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In a submission before the Australian Senate’s investigation of the proposal, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, wrote that “the code risks violating the fundamentals of the web by falling in love. payment for the link between some online content. “
“Free linking,” he added, “meaning there are no restrictions on the content of the linked page and no monetary fees, is fundamental to how the web works.”
Melanie Silva, CEO of Google Australia and New Zealand, made the same argument Friday in the Senate and in One video posted on Twitter, where she asked people to imagine recommending a few cafes to a friend – and then getting bills from the cafes to share that information.
“When you put the price on linking to certain information, you disrupt how search engines work,” she said. “And you don’t have a free and open website anymore.”
However, Google and Facebook (along with Twitter and others) are not just affiliated. They frame the work in preview, with title, summary, and photo, and then organize and deliver the content while in the ad.
Tama Leaver, a professor of internet studies at Curtin University in Perth, noted in a recent essay that this added value reduces the likelihood of someone clicking on articles, hurting media companies. while improving profits for technology companies.
“It’s often in the reorganization that the ads come out and this is where these platforms make money,” he wrote. He added that the code can be adjusted to charge companies only when they create the preview, not just the link.
But Mr. Sims, the main architect of the code, said Friday in the Senate that Google and Mr. Berners-Lee were simply wrong about the details.
“This code does not require Google and Facebook to pay for linking news content,” he said. “Indeed, discussions we have been told have focused on upfront one-time, not-per-click prepayments.”
More broadly, lawmakers and public policy experts argue that companies don’t just share information like a friend. They collect detailed information about their users to make what they share beneficial.
As Mr. Lewis at the Australian Institute said, they don’t just give you information about where to buy coffee – they follow you to the coffee shop, see what you order and where you go next, then sell ants. That recipe is for companies that want. to market you something else.
Senator Rex Patrick accused Google of pretending to be concerned about “technical priority”. In fact, he says, it’s all about “commercial priority” – money.
Google Australia collected around $ 3.3 billion from Australian advertisers in 2019 and paid around $ 77 million in taxes, with reported profits of around $ 637 million.
Secret vs. transparency algorithm
One potentially groundbreaking element of the proposed law concerns secret sauces by Facebook, Google, and subsidiaries like YouTube: algorithms that determine what people see when they search or Scroll through the platforms.
The initial draft of the bill would require tech companies to notify their media partners 28 days in advance before making any changes that affect how users interact with their content. .
Google and Facebook said it’s not possible because their algorithms are always changing in ways that might be hard to measure against a subset like news, so in the latest draft, lawmakers have range limit.
If the bill passes in one form or another, it appears that digital platforms will have to give the media 14 days’ notice of intentional algorithm changes that would have a significant effect on run their business. Even some critics say that is not enough for Big Tech.
Johan Lidberg, professor of communication at Monash University in Melbourne, said: “I think Google and Facebook are really worried that other countries will join the Australian effort. “This could ultimately cause significant global revenue losses and a severe loss of control, as evidenced by an algorithmic problem.”
However, he added, using threats to bully lawmakers would not be in their favor.
“Google’s overreaction perfectly illustrates why the code is needed,” he said, “and moreover, the urgent need of all governments around the globe, to join together in auditing efforts. control and limit the power of companies with no hands. “