As Cats know the Australian legacy media have been conspiring with the Australian federal government (and it’s so-called ‘independent’ agency the ACCC) to impose a tax* on Facebook and Google.
Under the proposal Facebook and Google would have to pay the legacy media a fee when they directed users to an Australian media article. Now this is the exact opposite of how a finders fee would work. It seems to me that the legacy media should be paying Facebook and Google for directing custom to them. But Facebook and Google are not the dinosaurs in this story and like all endangered businesses they have run to Canberra for help.
Of course Facebook and Google have pushed back, including threatening to geo-block Australians from using their media search functions. I have to say business often makes threats along these lines but seldom seems to actually deliver. Although, to be fair, I’m not surprised that private investment in Australia is low – that is evidence that business is shunning our shores.
But anyway, yesterday this started coming through:
Well yes. The official story:
The company said in a statement that the move was part of a “short-term experiment”. It means that for some users, news stories from commercial media outlets, including The Australian, are being hidden by the company’s algorithms.
“Every year we conduct tens of thousands of experiments in Google Search. We’re currently running a few experiments that will each reach about 1 per cent of Google Search users in Australia to measure the impacts of news businesses and Google Search on each other,” a Google spokesman said.
Adam Creighton is not happy either:
The spectre of foreign tech giants’ permanently deleting news stories written by Australian journalists is a chilling demonstration of their immense market power and, more profoundly, their control of all digital information.
No. The stories have not been deleted. They remain in the hard copy that gets published and remain on the websites run by Australian media. They just cannot be found using Google’s search engine. They could be found by using the media’s own internal search functions – expect that the search function on the Australian’s own site is so useless that nobody uses them. Including, it seems, the Australian’s own employees.
Attempting to search for colleagues’ news stories on Tuesday on my laptop returned only references to them on sites other than those owned by News Corp and Nine. The same thing happened from my work desktop, although strangely not when I used my mobile phone.
Nice piece of moral hazard there: lobby government to force Google to pay you when anyone uses the google search engine to search for your own stories, then search for your own stories using Google.
Then to the conspiracy theories:
It’s also unusual timing, given fellow tech giant Twitter has purged millions of users, including the US President, underscoring their collective power.
The head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said he would shortly release a report on Google’s power over the local online advertising market that would “have a lot to say” and is likely to lead to more legal action, off the back of a landmark case against Google in the United States.
He expects the controversial media code for the tech giants to negotiate commercial deals for news content to be finalised across February and March.
What we are witnessing is a bare-knuckled fight between a corporation that can only deploy market forces against a government agency that can deploy coercion and violence.
Adam Creighton’s solution:
Users will have to use a different search engine. I resorted to Bing, owned by Microsoft, which did the job well enough, and I’ve now made Bing a favourite in case this happens again.
If you could search only for cat videos, Google search wouldn’t have many users, and even less advertising.
Time will resolve uncertainty – I suspect it’ll be easier and cheaper for Google to simply exclude uppity consumers than deal with them. In the meantime, I’m barracking for the people who want to earn a profit, over the people who have guns and threaten violence.
*Purists may argue that it isn’t really a tax. Strictly they are correct. Nonetheless the government will be forcing Google and Facebook into a ‘voluntary’ negotiation requiring them to pay money directly to Australian media companies. That is extortion.