Australian government’s shortsighted policy dictated by media overlord Rupert Murdoch and the likes to turn back digital transformation and implement a transfer of power [and money] from Google and Facebook to these media moguls (media is 98% owned by 3 individuals in Australia) has today at least partially reached its target.
Today Facebook blocked Australian users from sharing or viewing both local and international news content on the platform, and blocked Australian publishers from publishing their news on the platform both to domestic and international audience.
Both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who have spearheaded the unworkable media bargaining code written with the stone age logic to regulate today’s technology, rushed to blame and condemn “arrogant” and “wrong” Facebook.
Both Google and Facebook have said over the past months that the proposed law misunderstands how technology works and it essentially requires tech giants to pay to news companies to deliver them traffic, ad revenue and subscriptions.
The proposed law seeks “to penalise Facebook for content it didn’t take or ask for”, the company’s local managing director William Easton said.
“Independent experts and analysts around the world have consistently outlined problems with the proposed legislation. While the government has made some changes, the proposed law fundamentally fails to understand how our services work,” he added.
How about Google?
Speaking at a senate inquiry into the code in January, Google Australia managing director Mel Silva said the code breaks the fundamental principles of the web: unrestricted linking between websites.
“If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.
“Withdrawing our services from Australia is the last thing that I or Google want to have happen, especially when there is another way forward,” she said calling the proposed legislation “unworkable”
Web’s inventor against the Code
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, in a submission to a Senate inquiry, said that Australia’s proposed law risks “breaching a fundamental principle of the web”.
“The ability to link freely – meaning without limitations regarding the content of the linked site and without monetary fees – is fundamental to how the web operates, how it has flourished till present, and how it will continue to grow in decades to come,” Berners-Lee said.
“There is a right, and often a duty, to make references”, he added, pointing to the significance of journalists and academics linking back to prior work.
So compelling websites to pay up when they share a hyperlink to another site could “would undermine the fundamental principle of the ability to link freely on the web and is inconsistent with how the web has been able to operate over the past three decades”.
“If this precedent were followed elsewhere it could make the web unworkable around the world,” he said.
“I therefore respectfully urge the committee to remove this mechanism from the code,” he concluded.
Who supports the new code?
The mandatory code has been lobbied for by Rupert Murdoch’s Australian flagship media group News Corp.
Smaller publishers are not eligible for any payments under the proposed law, so large publishers owned by Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Stokes and Peter Costello (who own over 98% of Australian media) will be benefiting the most.
Interestingly, Microsoft also supports the law, because nobody in Australia uses its Bing search engine and therefore it is not subject to the proposed law.
What will Australians do?
At the moment, the best scenario is the Australian government will come into its senses to either water down or abandon the proposed law. Or maybe, it will not and we end up with state-controlled media if not a Murdoch-branded search engine and social media platform.
Any alternatives to Google?
There have recently been a lot of “expert opinions” listing Bing, Yahoo, Duckduckgo etc. as alternatives to Google.
If you spend 15 minutes using these “search engines”, you will be convinced that they are almost what Google was in the early 2000s if not in the late 1990s.
This shows why 95% of Australians use Google.
There have even been calls to the Australian government to establish its own search engine :). Well, last time we spent $70 millions to create a COVIDSafe app (actually, not from scratch, just from an existing Singaporean source code), which has yet to catch 70 COVID cases (The latest publicly available information is 17 contacts have so far been traced). Good luck with building a search engine!
Another way to understand the importance of Google in free flow of information and access to information is to look at countries where Google is either restricted or not operating or there exists such local search engines.
China: China has restrictions on Google, and three popular search engines there are: Baidu (~55%), Qihoo360 (~30%), and Sogou (~14%). How is the situation? Couldn’t be worse. Firstly, the quality of search is not any better than that of Bing and others you can find here. Second, all local search engines have their results heavily censored in favor of the government.
North Korea: No need for a search engine as the local population has no access to the global internet. There is a local internet called Kwangmyonga but the total number of websites is estimated to be under 40. There are mostly dedicated to what leader Kim Jong-un might be up to on any given day titled “Supreme Leader’s Activities”. Sounds interesting?
Russia: Russia is a rare example where Google is not the popular search engine. Yandex has been the leading search engine in Russia in the post decade, holding over 50% in the Russian-language search market share. In 2017, Ukraine closed Yandex offices and banned its services, accusing the search engine of illegally collecting Ukrainian users’ data and sending it to Russian security agencies.
Australia: Does Australia want to be next in the list?