A new media law that requires tech platforms to pay publishers has led to a crackling fight with Facebook this week in Australia. Through the platform, Australian users can no longer see news in their timeline and publishers can no longer share messages via Facebook.
Australia is furious and is getting more and more accredited from other countries. “Support from countries such as Great Britain, Canada and France says above all that there is support for a democratic government to walk the legislative path and that no one is served by the ‘middle finger’ behaviour of the tech giants,” says Marietje Schaake, Internet and privacy expert at the University of Stanford, Silicon Valley.
The power of facebook
The fight in Australia is about an impending new law whereby Facebook and Google have to pay for sharing messages from Australian media. According to the Australian government, there is now an “imbalance of power”. Appointments about fees for links in Facebook news overview and Google search results, for example, should restore that balance.
In fact, Facebook is already running ahead of the new Australian legislation with their action, says Schaake: “I think they hoped that the government will be pressured by their own people to keep it going. People are now very aware of the power that Facebook has at once.” Schaake compares it to Shell who would close his pumping station as a protest against new environmental measures.
In Brussels, MEPs are also interested in the way Australia handles the case. The EU is working on legislative packages to limit the power of large tech companies. MEP Paul Tang (PvdA) said: “Australia, tightening the thumb screws, is an example for Brussels and the rest of the world.”
In Australia, the new law gives the publisher more power over the tech companies. But the new EU legislation goes one step further. “Of every 100 euros of ads, 70 euros remain on the bow of Facebook and Google. If you want to change that, you need to overthrow the personalized advertising market and line through it,” says Tang.
Willem-Albert Bol of DPG media is the publisher of, among other things, a large number of daily newspapers. That Facebook and Google do not want to pay for news and content, he calls “just theft”. “Journalism is an expensive product. We employ 1,500 journalists, it costs money. Author and publishing rights are subject to a normal payment. For the time being, we do not see any real offer or movement in terms of payment,” says Bol.
For the publisher, it‘s all about whether pieces of text or image are covered by the entire content of a publisher. “Even if you link to that, to us, you create your own environment that competes with us, and that is inadmissible.” According to Facebook, offering news is “important for a democratic society”. Links to news media on Facebook accounted for 5 billion references last year.
There is even more to Brussels, and the EU does not want tech giants to follow users everywhere. Tang: “It’s as if consumers are being spied by a camera, that has to stop. This means that the power base of Google and Facebook is lost, because they use that personal data for advertising and that is where their power lies.”
Google decided to do business with publishers in Australia this week and closed a number of deals. “A difference in strategy,” says Schaake. “Because they first threatened with big words: we‘re just leaving Australia. Google threatened the hardest and ended up tack. It shows the whims of those companies. Despite their fine words about free speech, they are able to make tough choices. We may have been misled too much about their real intentions,” says Schaake.
MEP Tang sincerely hopes that the argument in Australia is the turning point. “That the big tech companies are overplaying their hand with this. That’s why this is an exciting time, when you see that big-tech is being curbed and we decide what the rules are for the Internet.”