Hi all. It has probably become obvious to anyone that may have been following this Blog for some time that posts have become few and far between of late. I think I have more-or-less struggled over the years with times of poor health, but no more so than the current time. It is a many faceted problem and I won’t go into all of the details. Essentially, something needs to change (or a number of things really). Being still at work and clearly needing to continue to work in order to feed myself, etc, sadly it has beome time to change the way I do things around my many Blogs, etc. I have always enjoyed being online and keeping blogs and websites ticking over, but it has now become an almost impossible chore.
What will change is that this Blog will remain up as an archive, while also providing a gateway (via a link) to my Facebook Group (Informed Insight), where I hope to continue posting curated articles/links/videos, etc. It is so much quicker and easier to do that there than having to write code, etc, here. Essentially, the only real change will be the location of the information.
If you would like to continue the journey with me, please visit the Facebook Group linked to below – and thank you for visiting me here over the years.
But there’s another change that’s arguably less fun but much more significant for many users: the introduction of “app tracking transparency”.
This feature promises to usher in a new era of user-oriented privacy, and not everyone is happy — most notably Facebook, which relies on tracking web users’ browsing habits to sell targeted advertising. Some commentators have described it as the beginnings of a new privacy feud between the two tech behemoths.
So, what is app tracking transparency?
App tracking transparency is a continuation of Apple’s push to be recognised as the platform of privacy. The new feature allows apps to display a pop-up notification that explains what data the app wants to collect, and what it proposes to do with it.
There is nothing users need to do to gain access to the new feature, other than install the latest iOS update, which happens automatically on most devices. Once upgraded, apps that use tracking functions will display a request to opt in or out of this functionality.
How does it work?
As Apple has explained, the app tracking transparency feature is a new “application programming interface”, or API — a suite of programming commands used by developers to interact with the operating system.
The API gives software developers a few pre-canned functions that allow them to do things like “request tracking authorisation” or use the tracking manager to “check the authorisation status” of individual apps.
In more straightforward terms, this gives app developers a uniform way of requesting these tracking permissions from the device user. It also means the operating system has a centralised location for storing and checking what permissions have been granted to which apps.
What is missing from the fine print is that there is no physical mechanism to prevent the tracking of a user. The app tracking transparency framework is merely a pop-up box.
It is also interesting to note the specific wording of the pop-up: “ask app not to track”. If the application is using legitimate “device advertising identifiers”, answering no will result in this identifier being set to zero. This will reduce the tracking capabilities of apps that honour Apple’s tracking policies.
However, if an app is really determined to track you, there are many techniques that could allow them to make surreptitious user-specific identifiers, which may be difficult for Apple to detect or prevent.
For example, while an app might not use Apple’s “device advertising identifier”, it would be easy for the app to generate a little bit of “random data”. This data could then be passed between sites under the guise of normal operations such as retrieving an image with the data embedded in the filename. While this would contravene Apple’s developer rules, detecting this type of secret data could be very difficult.
Apple seems prepared to crack down hard on developers who don’t play by the rules. The most recent additions to Apple’s App Store guidelines explicitly tells developers:
You must receive explicit permission from users via the App Tracking Transparency APIs to track their activity.
It’s unlikely major app developers will want to fall foul of this policy — a ban from the App Store would be costly. But it’s hard to imagine Apple sanctioning a really big player like Facebook or TikTok without some serious behind-the-scenes negotiation.
Why is Facebook objecting?
Facebook is fuelled by web users’ data. Inevitably, anything that gets in the way of its gargantuan revenue-generating network is seen as a threat. In 2020, Facebook’s revenue from advertising exceeded US$84 billion – a 21% rise on 2019.
The issues are deep-rooted and reflect the two tech giants’ very different business models. Apple’s business model is the sale of laptops, computers, phones and watches – with a significant proportion of its income derived from the vast ecosystem of apps and in-app purchases used on these devices. Apple’s app revenue was reported at US$64 billion in 2020.
With a vested interest in ensuring its customers are loyal and happy with its devices, Apple is well positioned to deliver privacy without harming profits.
Should I use it?
Ultimately, it is a choice for the consumer. Many apps and services are offered ostensibly for free to users. App developers often cover their costs through subscription models, in-app purchases or in-app advertising. If enough users decide to embrace privacy controls, developers will either change their funding model (perhaps moving to paid apps) or attempt to find other ways to track users to maintain advertising-derived revenue.
If you don’t want your data to be collected (and potentially sold to unnamed third parties), this feature offers one way to restrict the amount of your data that is trafficked in this way.
But it’s also important to note that tracking of users and devices is a valuable tool for advertising optimisation by building a comprehensive picture of each individual. This increases the relevance of each advert while also reducing advertising costs (by only targeting users who are likely to be interested). Users also arguably benefit, as they see more (relevant) adverts that are contextualised for their interests.
It may slow down the rate at which we receive personalised ads in apps and websites, but this change won’t be an end to intrusive digital advertising. In essence, this is the price we pay for “free” access to these services.
After almost a year of heated discussion about the News Media Bargaining Code, there will shortly be a new law of the land – one that’s unlikely to be applied to the platforms it was intended to reign in. But that’s not to say it hasn’t done its job.
With some final tweaks expected to the draft legislation, Facebook on Tuesday announced it would restore news for Australian users and strike up commercial agreements with local publishers. It signed its first deal with Seven West media yesterday.
Meanwhile, Facebook threatened to stop providing Australians access to news — and did (while also blocking domestic violence helplines, children’s cancer charities and the Royal Australian College of Physicians).
In return, the federal government said it would stop all advertising campaigns on the platform. Interestingly, it’s this move which most likely “assisted” the recent negotiated outcome with Facebook.
The changes made to the code — other than the opportunity to sell advertising to the Commonwealth again — were small, but important. It’s worth remembering the code’s aim was to balance out the bargaining imbalance between big tech platforms and news media businesses.
Essentially, it provides a mechanism to force a deal when a commercial outcome can’t be reached voluntarily. The code is mandatory, since the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took the view the platforms would not otherwise get to a commercial offer, let alone a commercial settlement.
As set out by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, there were four changes made that have met Facebook’s needs:
before a digital platform is made subject to the code by being “designated”, the minister must first take into account whether it has reached commercial agreements with news media businesses
the government must give at least one month’s notice of designation to any platform it intends to make subject to the code
the non-discrimination provisions (crafted as an anti-avoidance mechanism) will not be triggered in respect to remuneration amounts or commercial outcomes that arise in the course of usual business practice
final offer arbitration will be a last resort and should be preceded by good faith mediation, provided this lasts no longer than two months.
The above amendments made by the government are not major, in terms of changing the scope of the News Media Bargaining Code. However, they do include some important clarifications regarding how the code will operate.
Both Google and Facebook were very concerned the approach of “final offer arbitration” would adversely affect them. In this, if a deal couldn’t be struck, both the platform and media business would have to present their offers and defer to an arbitrator to choose one.
Google and Facebook initially argued for “commercial arbitration”, where the arbitrator acts with more discretion. Commercial arbitration tends to favour the party with the most information or bargaining power.
The compromise of requiring good faith mediation before any compulsory arbitration (whether commercial or final offer arbitration) is a classic dispute resolution approach.
Win some, lose some
The News Media Bargaining Code has changed in a way that is a compromise, but hasn’t lost its original intention. The process of negotiating changes to the code has revealed the private values of Facebook, Google and any similar parties that could be impacted by the code.
The exposure draft, the introduction of the Bill, the Senate committee and Facebook’s petulant actions: all have acted to identify a financial outcome for each of Google, Facebook and the Australian news publishers.
The process has been a classic, but painful, exchange of information that would otherwise have been held close to the players’ respective chests.
For Google, it has shown Google Search must remain untouched, even if this means forking out millions in a matter of days. For Facebook, it has demonstrated that rapidly changing social media offerings (such as trying to remove news in Australia) can’t be done without major complications.
It may be too soon to judge whether Facebook’s approach of taking its lobbying to the brink worked in its favour, or to its detriment. The platform’s first interactions with the new UK Digital Markets Unit (a regulatory regime targeted at big tech firms) will likely shed some light.
And finally, the ACCC can claim it was right in its initial recommendation; after a long drought, there will soon be money flowing to public interest journalism.
The code is meant to help alleviate the revenue crisis facing news publishers. Over the past two decades they have made deep cuts to newsrooms. Scores of local print papers have become “digital only” or been shut down completely.
If legislated, the code will require the platforms to negotiate payments to news publishers, as well as disclose changes in algorithms affecting traffic to news sites.
But the code is unlikely to do much to fix the crisis faced by journalism in the internet age. It isn’t even a band-aid on the problem.
The traditional commercial news business model is broken beyond repair. If the government wants to save the social benefit of public-interest journalism, it must look elsewhere.
Newspapers didn’t sell news, but readers
To understand why the commercial news model is so broken, we first need to recognise what the primary business of commercial news media has been: attracting an audience that can be sold to advertisers.
Newspapers attracted readers with news and feature journalism that provided public value, but also information of interest such as weather forecasts, sports scores, stock prices, TV and radio guides and comics. Readers even sought out papers for their advertisements – in particular the “classifieds” for jobs, cars and real estate.
Before the internet the newspaper was the only place to access much of this information. This broad bundle of content attracted a wide range of readers, which the economics of newspapers – particularly the cost of producing the journalism – required.
Why the business model is broken
Internet technologies introduced two changes that have dismantled the newspaper business model.
They offered new and better ways to connect buyers and sellers, pulling advertiser spending away from newspapers. More than 70% of revenue for a typical daily newspaper came from advertising. Before 2000 print media attracted nearly 60% of Australian advertiser dollars, according to an analysis for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry. By 2017 it was just 12%.
Australian advertising expenditure by media format and digital platform
Internet technologies also provided better ways to access the non-journalism information that had made the bundled paper valuable to a mass of readers.
Readers also now access news in many other places, through news apps, aggregators and social media feeds such as Twitter, Reddit, Apple News, Flipboard and many others, including Facebook and Google. Research by the University of Canberra’s News and Media Research Centre published in 2019 found just 30% of Australian news consumers accessed online news directly from news publishers’ websites.
The bargaining code doesn’t solve the main problem
If Google and Facebook are “to blame” for news publishers’ malaise, it is not in the way the bargaining code suggests. Separate from their linking to, or featuring, these publishers’ content, the digital platforms are just more effective vehicles for advertisers seeking to buy consumers’ attention. They serve ads based on consumer interests or in relation to a specific search.
The simple fact is news publishers’ core content is not that important to the platforms’ profitability.
Research by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism during the 2019 UK general election – tracking 1,711 people aged 18-65 across mobile and desktop devices for six weeks – found news took up just 3% of their time online (about 16 minutes and 22 visits to news sites a week).
So if stories from Australian news outlets disappeared from Facebook or Google search results, it would barely make a scratch on their appeal to advertisers.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry has rightly noted the revenue crisis has crippled commercial provision of public-interest journalism “that performs a critical role in the effective functioning of democracy at all levels of government”.
But the core of the problem is that funding such journalism through advertising is no longer viable. Other solutions are needed – locally and nationally – to ensure its survival.
Commercial news organisations no longer offer value to advertisers. Instead of searching for ways to make an obsolete business solvent, efforts should focus on alternative ways to fund public-interest journalism.
More funding for independent public broadcasters is one solution, and incentives for philanthropic funding and non-profit journalism organisations are proving successful in other countries.
It’s a global problem. To solve the crisis in Australia will require focusing on the core problem and thinking bigger than a bargaining code.
For transparency, please note The Conversation has also made a submission to the Senate inquiry regarding the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code.
The Australian government’s push to make Google pay news organisations for linking to their content has seen the search giant threaten to pull out of Australia.
Google Australia’s managing director Mel Silva said if the government’s proposal goes ahead, “we would have no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison pushed back saying he won’t respond to “threats”. Even the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia says Google needs “strong and stringent” regulation because of its monopoly on searching the web.
What if Google pulls out?
Google’s proposal to make Google Search unavailable in Australia means we would need to search the web using other systems and tools. If this really happens, we could no longer go to google.com and google.com.au to search the web.
It is important to note that Google is not just web search. Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc also runs key web portals such as YouTube, and productivity tools such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Maps (which actually started in Australia). Those services are not going to be removed from the Australian market, even if web search does get pulled out.
Online advertising is another sector in which Google is the market leader and where it makes money. Pulling Google web search out from Australia does not mean businesses would no longer be able to advertise using Google’s services.
But with no Google Search here, those adverts would no longer appear ahead of any other search results and be visited by Australian users.
Businesses would still be able to put their adverts on other Australian websites that use the Google Ads service.
The issue with this scenario is that Google’s key competitive advantage is the ability to access data from people using its search services. Pulling web search out from the Australian market would mean Google missing out on that data from people in Australia.
That said, it is also unfair for a search engine to make money using content that others have created.
It is also true that most of Google’s revenue already comes from asking others to pay for links on the web. This is how Google’s online advertising works: Google Ads makes advertisers pay for every impression users get or click users make to navigate to the advertised web page.
If users end up buying the advertised product, Google gets an even higher payment.
More likely than Google pulling out of the Australian market, the government and the search giant should diplomatically find a compromise in which Google still provides its web search product in Australia and there will be a return to news organisations for Google making use of their content.
The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has raised concerns that Australia’s proposed News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code could fundamentally break the internet as we know it.
His concerns are valid. However, they could be addressed through minor changes to the proposed code.
How could the code break the web?
The news media bargaining code aims to level the playing field between media companies and online giants. It would do this by forcing Facebook and Google to pay Australian news businesses for content linked to, or featured, on their platforms.
In a submission to the Senate inquiry about the code, Berners-Lee wrote:
Specifically, I am concerned that the Code risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online. […] 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.
Currently, one of the most basic underlying principles of the web is there is no cost involved in creating a hypertext link (or simply a “link”) to any other page or object online.
When Berners-Lee first devised the World Wide Web in 1989, he effectively gave away the idea and associated software for free, to ensure nobody would or could charge for using its protocols.
He argues the news media bargaining code could set a legal precedent allowing someone to charge for linking, which would let the genie out of the bottle — and plenty more attempts to charge for linking to content would appear.
If the precedent were set that people could be charged for simply linking to content online, it’s possible the underlying principle of linking would be disrupted.
As a result, there would likely be many attempts by both legitimate companies and scammers to charge users for what is currently free.
While supporting the “right of publishers and content creators to be properly rewarded for their work”, Berners-Lee asks the code be amended to maintain the principle of allowing free linking between content.
Part of the issue here is Google and Facebook don’t just collect a list of interesting links to news content. Rather the way they find, sort, curate and present news content adds value for their users.
They don’t just link to news content, they reframe it. It is often in that reframing that advertisements appear, and this is where these platforms make money.
For example, this link will take you to the original 1989 proposal for the World Wide Web. Right now, anyone can create such a link to any other page or object on the web, without having to pay anyone else.
But what Facebook and Google do in curating news content is fundamentally different. They create compelling previews, usually by offering the headline of a news article, sometimes the first few lines, and often the first image extracted.
For instance, here is a preview Google generates when someone searches for Tim Berners-Lee’s Web proposal:
Evidently, what Google returns is more of a media-rich, detailed preview than a simple link. For Google’s users, this is a much more meaningful preview of the content and better enables them to decide whether they’ll click through to see more.
Another huge challenge for media businesses is that increasing numbers of users are taking headlines and previews at face value, without necessarily reading the article.
This can obviously decrease revenue for news providers, as well as perpetuate misinformation. Indeed, it’s one of the reasons Twitter began asking users to actually read content before retweeting it.
A fairly compelling argument, then, is that Google and Facebook add value for consumers via the reframing, curating and previewing of content — not just by linking to it.
Can the code be fixed?
Currently in the code, the section concerning how platforms are “Making content available” lists three ways content is shared:
content is reproduced on the service
content is linked to
an extract or preview is made available.
Similar terms are used to detail how users might interact with content.
If we accept most of the additional value platforms provide to their users is in curating and providing previews of content, then deleting the second element (which just specifies linking to content) would fix Berners-Lee’s concerns.
It would ensure the use of links alone can’t be monetised, as has always been true on the web. Platforms would still need to pay when they present users with extracts or previews of articles, but not when they only link to it.
Since basic links are not the bread and butter of big platforms, this change wouldn’t fundamentally alter the purpose or principle of creating a more level playing field for news businesses and platforms.
In its current form, the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code could put the underlying principles of the world wide web in jeopardy. Tim Berners-Lee is right to raise this point.
But a relatively small tweak to the code would prevent this, It would allow us to focus more on where big platforms actually provide value for users, and where the clearest justification lies in asking them to pay for news content.
For transparency, it should be noted The Conversation has also made a submission to the Senate inquiry regarding the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code.
Executives from Google and Facebook have told a Senate committee they are prepared to take drastic action if Australia’s news media bargaining code, which would force the internet giants to pay news publishers for linking to their sites, comes into force.
Google would have “no real choice” but to cut Australian users off entirely from its flagship search engine, the company’s Australian managing director Mel Silva told the committee. Facebook representatives in turn said they would remove links to news articles from the newsfeed of Australian users if the code came into effect as it currently stands.
In response, the Australian government shows no sign of backing down, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg bothsaying they won’t respond to threats.
So what’s going on here? Are Google and Facebook really prepared to pull services from their Australian users rather than hand over some money to publishers under the bargaining code?
Is news valuable to Facebook and Google?
Facebook claims news is of little real value to its business. It doesn’t make money from news directly, and claims that for an average Australian user less than 5% of their newsfeed is made up of links to Australian news.
But this is hard to square with other information. In 2020, the University of Canberra’s Digital News Report found some 52% of Australians get news via social media, and the number is growing. Facebook also boasts of its investments in news via deals with publishers and new products such as Facebook News.
Google likewise says it makes little money from news, while at the same time investing heavily in news products like News Showcase.
So while links to news may not be direct advertising money-spinners for Facebook or Google, both see the presence of news as an important aspect of audience engagement with their products.
On their own terms
While both companies are prepared to give some money to news publishers, they want to make deals on their own terms. But Google and Facebook are two of the largest and most profitable companies in history – and each holds far more bargaining power than any news publisher. The news media bargaining code sets out to undo this imbalance.
What’s more, Google and Facebook don’t appear to want to accept the unique social role of news, and public interest journalism in particular. Nor do they recognise they might be involved somehow in the decline of the news business over the past decade or two, instead pointing the finger at impersonal shifts in advertising technology.
The media bargaining code being introduced is far too systematic for them to want to accept it. They would rather pick and choose commercial agreements with “genuine commercial consideration”, and not be bound by a one-size-fits-all set of arbitration rules.
Google and Facebook dominate web search and social media, respectively, in ways that echo the great US monopolies of the past: rail in the 19th century, then oil and later telecommunications in the 20th. All these industries became fundamental forms of capitalist infrastructure for economic and social development. And all these monopolies required legislation to break them up in the public interest.
It’s unsurprising that the giant ad-tech media platforms don’t want to follow the rules, but they must acknowledge that their great wealth and power come with a moral responsibility to society. Making them face up to that responsibility will require government intervention.
Online pioneers Vint Cerf (now VP and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google) and Tim Berners-Lee (“inventor of the World Wide Web”) have also made submissions to the Senate committee advocating on behalf of the corporations. They made high-minded claims that the code will break the “free and open” internet.
But today’s internet is hardly free and open: for most users “the internet” is huge corporate platforms like Google and Facebook. And those corporations don’t want Australian senators interfering with their business model.
Independent senator Rex Patrick hit the nail on the head when he asked why Google wouldn’t admit the fundamental issue was about revenue, rather than technical detail or questions of principle.
How seriously should we take threats to leave the Australian market?
Google and Facebook are prepared to go along with the Senate committee’s processes, so long as they can modify the arrangement. The don’t want to be seen as uncooperative.
The threat to leave (or as Facebook’s Simon Milner put it, the “explanation” of why they would be forced to do so) is their worst-case scenario. It seems likely they would risk losing significant numbers of users if they did so, or at least having them much less engaged – and hence producing less advertising revenue.
Google has already run small-scale experiments to test removing Australian news from search. This may be a demonstration that the threat to withdraw from Australia is serious, or at least, serious brinkmanship.
People know news is important, that it shapes their interactions with the world – and provides meaning and helps them navigate their lives. So who would Australians blame if Google and Facebook really do follow through? The government or the friendly tech giants they see every day? That’s harder to know.
For transparency, please note The Conversation has also made a submission to the Senate inquiry regarding the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code.
First, the revised code will now abide by an added “two-way value exchange” principle. This allows the monetary worth of traffic sent to news providers to be taken into account when determining the financial value of a particular news business’s content to the platforms.
How this will be calculated, however, will likely be an ongoing bone of contention for both parties.
A second major concession will see Facebook’s Instagram and Google’s YouTube exempted from the application of the new law. But the Treasurer will be able to add these (and other platforms) at a later date, should he deem it justified at the time.
A third concession is the halving of the 28-day notice period for the platforms to warn news websites of major changes to their ranking algorithms. These directly impact how news articles are displayed on Facebook’s Newsfeed and Google Search.
It seems the basic idea to “level the playing field” between platforms and news providers remains baked into the revised code, but only time will tell whether it works in practice.
A related objective — to implement a process that sustains public interest journalism — remains equally tricky and may hinge on the revised code’s success.
But many will be pleased the public broadcasters ABC and SBS now fall within the code’s scope, too. Both will be financially compensated for news content along with their commercial rivals.
This may seem like a win, and it may be eventually, but for now it’s unclear how this will actually play out in terms of the government’s ongoing funding of these broadcasters.
Although conjecture at this stage, it may emerge in a forum such as Senate estimates that any compensation payments should be factored into overall funding calculations for the public broadcasters.
The arbitration model
One pivotal feature of the new legislation is it will address the entrenched power of the platforms by introducing a “final offer arbitration” model for price negotiations.
This process, overseen by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, will be mandatory when parties are unable to independently reach an agreement. It will likely be central to the new code’s success, or lack thereof.
Curiously, the revised code’s framework encourages deals to be struck outside of it. In these situations, key elements of commercial negotiations between the parties can be “turned off” with mutual agreement.
This appears to be a pragmatic recognition by the ACCC the code will never be able to control the realities of commercial media deal-making, which continue to be struck despite the code’s new bargaining marketplace.
However, where negotiations break down, news media businesses will be able to trigger the code’s provisions for meeting minimum standards.
This will cover advance notice of algorithmic changes and the requirement to engage in good faith bargaining for up to three months, before participating in the mandatory arbitration process.
Smaller news publishers will be able to bargain collectively, or accept “standard” offers from the platforms.
When one party fails to engage
The code has reasonably strong enforcement provisions in cases where there is a failure to negotiate in good faith, comply with an arbitration decision, avoid participation or engage in “retaliatory action against news media companies”.
The maximum penalty for a breach by Google or Facebook is the greater of either 10% of the platform’s annual Australian turnover, A$10 million, or three times the benefit obtained as a result of hosting the specific news business’s content.
Facebook and Google have put their previousthreats to switch off local news content on hold until they see the final version of the code. For now, they appear to be engaging with the ACCC.
As we await the final version of the code, the irony is not lost on those of us also waiting eagerly for events to unfold before another Senate committee on media pluralism.
The committee was set up in response to a petition started by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Amassing more than 500,000 signatures, Rudd’s petition has called for a royal commission into the negative influence of News Corp’s power in Australia’s highly concentrated media landscape.
A rich history of Australia’s parliamentary inquiries into the media indicates we can expect delays, power plays and ongoing lobbying in both these committees. And clearly there will be winners and losers in both.
The Morrison government will introduce on Wednesday its legislation forcing Google and Facebook to face arbitration if they fail to come to commercial deals with traditional media on payment for content.
The government resorted to the mandatory bargaining code after it was clear agreement wouldn’t be reached for voluntary arrangements on content payment. A voluntary model had been recommended by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a news conference Tuesday the government wanted the parties to reach deals outside the code. Where agreement could not be reached, the arbitration would kick in.
The ABC and SBS are among the media that will benefit from revenue under the legislation, which won’t be dealt with by parliament until next year.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the ABC had indicated it would devote the revenue it receives to regional journalism. He told Tuesday’s news conference the government would not seek to offset such revenue in its funding for the ABC.
The legislation will set minimum standards for digital platforms including requiring a fortnight’s advance notice of deliberate algorithm changes that have an impact on news media businesses.
The negotiations for payment will need to incorporate the value to providers of the additional eyeballs brought by having their content on the tech platforms.
This provision was put in following consultations on the code with the tech companies. But Frydenberg stressed the money flow was only one way – from the tech companies to the traditional media.
Frydenberg said it was the government’s intention “to ensure that the rules of the digital world mirror the rules of the physical world and ultimately to sustain our media landscape here in Australia”. He described the outcome as fair and balanced.
He said “we live in the age of digital disruption – and nowhere is this more apparent than in our media landscape.” Dollars spent on print advertising had fallen by 75% since 2005; in that time, dollars spent on online advertising increased eightfold.
The application of the code can be extended beyond Facebook NewsFeed and Google Search to other digital platform services if they “give rise to a bargaining power imbalance”. The treasurer has the power to add new services.
Frydenberg said “the word coming back to us is that there are deals that may be struck very soon between the parties”.
He described the scheme as a “world first– and the world is watching what happens here in Australia”.
The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology said the legislation was a “globally significant response to the growing power of Big Tech”.
The centre’s director, Peter Lewis, said the move “would give media organisations a fighting chance at building a viable business model, in the face of the market domination of Google and Facebook”.
Lewis called for cross party support for the legislation.
If Facebook prevented Australian news from being shared on its platform, could the ABC start its own social media service to compensate? While this proposal from the Australia Institute is a worthy one, it’s an impossible ask in the current political climate.
The report canvasses what the Australian government should do if Facebook and Google withdraw their news-related services from Australia, in reaction to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s draft news media bargaining code.
Tech-xit rightly notes the ABC is capable of building social media that doesn’t harvest Australians’ personal data. However, it overlooks the costs and challenges of running a social media service — factors raised in debate over the new code.
Platforms react (badly) to the code
The ACCC’s code is a result of years of research into the effects of platform power on Australian media.
It requires Facebook and Google to negotiate with Australian news businesses about licensing payments for hosting news excerpts, providing access to news user data and information on pending news feed algorithm changes.
Predictably, the tech companies are not happy. They argue they make far less from news than the ACCC estimates, have greater costs and return more benefit to the media.
If the code becomes law, Facebook has threatened to stop Australian users from sharing local or international news. Google notified Australians its free services would become “at risk”, although it later said it would negotiate if the draft law was changed in its favour.
Facebook’s withdrawal, which the Tech-xit report sees as being likely if the law passes, would reduce Australians’ capacity to share vital news about their communities, activities and businesses.
Cue the ABC then, says Jordan Guiao, the report’s author. Guiao is the former head of social media for both the ABC and SBS, and now works at the institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.
He argues that, if given the funding, ABC Online could reinvent itself to become a “national social platform connecting everyday Australians”. He says all the service would have to do is add
distinct user profiles, user publishing and content features, group connection features, chat, commenting and interactive discussion capabilities.
As a trusted information source, he proposes the ABC could enable “genuine exchange and influence on decision making” and “provide real value to local communities starved of civic engagement”.
Financial reality check
It’s a bold move to suggest the ABC could start yet another major network when it has just had to cut A$84 million from its budget and lose more than 200 staff.
The institute’s idea is very likely an effort to persuade the Morrison government it should redirect some of that funding back to Aunty, which has a history of digital innovation with ABC Online, iView, Q&A and the like.
The ABC doesn’t even have access to start-up venture capital the way most social media companies do. According to Crunchbase, Twitter and Reddit — the two most popular news-sharing platforms after Facebook — have raised roughly US$1.5 billion and US$550 million respectively in investment rounds, allowing them to constantly innovate in service delivery.
In contrast, over the past decade, ABC Online has had to reduce many of the “social” services it once offered. This is largely due to the cost of moderating online communities and managing user participation.