Australia Demands Fairness from Big Tech. Waves Expected Worldwide

April 7, 2021

After wrangling over the issue for weeks, Australian regulators and Facebook have come to an agreement. Regulators demanded the social media platform, as well as Google, start paying news publishers their fair share for content. Sounds reasonable, considering that out of every $100 spent on online advertising in that country, $53 goes to Google and $28 to Facebook. That is 81% going to just two companies.

Facebook responded by temporarily blocking all news to Australian users. (Google made a similar threat, but made deals with several Australian media groups instead.) Now that a compromise has been reached and the blackout ended, all that remains is for the adjusted media law to be passed. Yahoo News discusses “Why the World is Watching Australia’s Tussle with Big Tech.” Writer Andrew Beatty observes:

“Although the rules would only apply in Australia, regulators elsewhere are looking closely at whether the system works and can be applied in other countries. Microsoft — which could gain market share for its Bing search engine — has backed the proposals and explicitly called for other countries to follow Australia’s lead, arguing the tech sector needs to step up to revive independent journalism that ‘goes to the heart of our democratic freedoms’. European legislators have cited the Australian proposals favorably as they draft their own EU-wide digital market legislation. Facebook’s decision to roll back the news ban comes after it received widespread criticism for the initial blackout, which also impacted some emergency response pages used to alert the public to fires, floods and other disasters. The company quickly moved to amend that mistake, but the incident left questions about whether social media platforms should be able to unilaterally remove services that are part of crisis response and may even be considered critical infrastructure.”

Critical infrastructure—that is an interesting twist. Both Facebook and Google insist they don’t mind paying for content, something each has started to do in very limited ways. They just don’t want to be told how much to pay; Australian regulators would like independent arbiters to oversee deals to be sure they are fair. World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee warns the precedent of charging for links could “break the internet.” Are the extended consequences of holding these two companies to account really so dire?

Cynthia Murrell, April 07, 2021


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