Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Australia vs. Facebook and Google

Timothy B. Lee:

Google says it would have “no real choice” but to shut down its search engine in Australia if Australia passes a new law requiring Google to pay news sites to link to their articles.


You might think that Google would simply stop linking to Australian news sites. But that won’t be allowed under the ACCC proposal. New non-discrimination rules require Google to treat sites the same whether or not it has to pay to link to them.

Adam Schrader and Henry Martin (via Hacker News):

Tim Berners-Lee, known for creating the web in 1989, told an Australian Senate committee that the News Media Bargaining Code would violate the fundamental principals the public internet was founded on.


However, Leaver argued that what Facebook and Google do are not simple links. Instead, the companies create ‘compelling previews’ for the articles by using content from within the articles like headlines.

Matt Stoller:

Facebook stopped allowing the sharing of news in Australia, after the government put forward a law requiring the firm to negotiate with news publishers over the terms of content distribution. The firm also stopped letting Australian publishers be shared anywhere in the world on Facebook. Facebook also did their usual ‘move fast and break things,’ accidentally censoring much of the South Pacific, but the result is that when you try to post Australian news, this is the message you get.

Joshua Benton (via Hacker News):

Even people outside Australia can no longer share stories from Australian publishers big and small, from the Sydney Morning Herald all the way to the Goondiwindi Argus.


From that point, daytime traffic looks like the dead of night. In the 6 p.m. hour on Wednesday, Facebook sent 201,000 pageviews to Australian publishers. Twenty-four hours later, it sent just 14,000 — a 93 percent drop.


The decline in Facebook traffic from overseas has a particularly big impact because a larger share of publishers’ international traffic flows through Facebook than does its domestic audience.

John Gruber:

Calling Australia’s bluff is exactly the right framing. What’s surprising is that Australian government officials (and others around the world, like David Cicilline, chairman of the U.S. House Antitrust Subcommittee), didn’t even see it as a bluff that could be called. The mindset behind this law seemed to be that Australia could demand whatever crazy stuff they wanted (like Facebook being required to pay major news organizations just for links to their articles — which the news organizations themselves would be free to post to their own Facebook accounts) and Facebook and Google would just say “OK, sure.”

Mike Masnick:

This is like saying that not only should NBC have to run an advertisement for Techdirt, but it should have to pay me for it. If that seems totally nonsensical, that’s because it is. The link tax makes no sense.


Indeed, the people who are saying that this move by Facebook is somehow an “attack” on news or an attack on Australian sovereignty seem to be admitting more than they’d really like: that they think Facebook must be a dominant source of news in the country.

I mean, if Facebook is really such a problem, shouldn’t they all be celebrating? This is Facebook saying “okay, okay, we’ll completely remove ourselves from the news business.” Since everyone was complaining that Facebook was too much of a presence in the news business… isn’t that… a victory?


And the most incredible thing is that no matter what Facebook did here it would have gotten yelled at. And the proof is not hard to find. Because just an hour or two before Facebook made this announcement, Google went the other way -- coming to an agreement to pay Rupert Murdoch for featuring Murdoch-owned news organizations content on Google. And people freaked out, complaining about Google helping fund Rupert Murdoch’s disinformation empire. Except… that’s the whole point of the law?

Nick Heer:

The results of this policy do not appear to encourage quality journalism. Instead, Google has helped further entrench Rupert Murdoch’s longtime dominance of Australian media, while Facebook users will only be able to link to websites not informational enough to be considered news.

Nick Heer:

Maybe this means that Australian Facebook users will become some of the best news consumers in the world because they will have to look elsewhere. They won’t rely on what Facebook thinks they want to see. It could be good for publishers, too, who will surely be happy to avoid Facebook’s algorithmic Jenga game.

But, if Facebook referrals are a significant amount of traffic to news websites, this law will have backfired in a quick and predictable way.

Alex Kantrowitz:

“We’re restoring news on Facebook in Australia in the coming days” says Facebook VP of global news partnerships @campbell_brown.

Nick Heer:

It appears that Facebook and the Australian government are resolving their differences. Facebook says that it will be restoring links to news on its platform; the government will make some adjustments to the law.

But while a country and a social media company were scuffling, the latter’s power became obvious to those in the South Pacific.


Watson is describing the practice of zero-rating and one reason why it is so pernicious. Zero-rating sounds great on its face. It means that popular services can strike deals with telecom providers so, at its best, some of the things most people do on the web are not counted against data quotas.


3 Comments RSS · Twitter

Grouchy Old Unix Geek

It sure would be nice if people learned that principle and principal are different words that mean different things.

Tony Collins

Hey Grumpy OUG - the problem is, there not going to do it til their bored of not using the proper words.

Its almost as if it's use of language is stationery.

Grouchy Old Unix Geek

@Tony Collins


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