Google Warns Australians That The Government's Plan To Tax Google To Give Money To Newspapers Will Harm Search & YouTube
from the a-bad-deal dept
Earlier this year we noted that the Australian government was setting up a you’re-too-successful tax on Google and Facebook which it planned to hand over to media organizations. We should perhaps call it the “Welfare for Rupert Murdoch” tax, because that’s what it is. Murdoch, of course, owns a huge share of media operations in Australia and has been demanding handouts from Google for years (showing that his claimed belief in the free market was always hogwash).
In response, Google has now released an open letter to Australians pointing out that this plan to tax Google to funnel money to Murdoch will have massive unintended consequences. In particular, Google argues, under the law, Google would be required to give an unfair advantage to big media companies:
You?ve always relied on Google Search and YouTube to show you what?s most relevant and helpful to you. We could no longer guarantee that under this law. The law would force us to give an unfair advantage to one group of businesses – news media businesses – over everyone else who has a website, YouTube channel or small business. News media businesses alone would be given information that would help them artificially inflate their ranking over everyone else, even when someone else provides a better result. We?ve always treated all website owners fairly when it comes to information we share about ranking. The proposed changes are not fair and they mean that Google Search results and YouTube will be worse for you.
Even more to the point, in a cynical demand for “transparency” the law would actually create privacy problems for Australians by forcing Google to cough up info on its users to Australian media businesses:
You trust us with your data and our job is to keep it safe. Under this law, Google has to tell news media businesses ?how they can gain access? to data about your use of our products. There?s no way of knowing if any data handed over would be protected, or how it might be used by news media businesses.
Australia’s “competition watchdog” who was tasked with creating this legislation in the first place claimed that the letter was “misinformation.”
?Google will not be required to charge Australians for the use of its free services such as Google Search and YouTube, unless it chooses to do so.?
The ACCC also reiterated that Google will ?not be required to share any additional user data with Australian news business unless it chooses to do so?, as is outlined in the code.
?The draft code will allow Australian news businesses to negotiate for fair payment for their journalists? work that is included on Google services,? the watchdog added.
Of course, if you look at the details of the draft code, it’s actually the ACCC that is spreading misinformation here, and Google’s concerns seem entirely substantiated. First, it’s notable that the ACCC flat out says that the law is designed specifically just to impact Facebook and Google, though other companies could be added if bureaucrats in Austalia decided those companies got too big. This is astounding in its own way. In the US Congress isn’t supposed to create laws that explicitly are designed to deal with a single company, but Australia has no apparent problem with that. Similarly, this kind of law would violate the 1st Amendment. That’s because it’s set up to benefit news organizations — but only news organizations that the Australian government deems to “adhere to appropriate professional editorial standards.” In other words, if the government doesn’t like you, you might not qualify.
But the details in the draft also very much support Google’s publicly stated concerns. It would require Google (and Facebook) to give these specially privileged news organizations all sorts of information (some of it quite crazy):
- give news media businesses at least 28 days? notice of:
- algorithm changes likely to materially affect referral traffic to news;
- algorithm changes designed to affect ranking of news behind paywalls; and
- substantial changes to display and presentation of news, and advertising directly associated with news, on digital platform services;
- give news media businesses clear information about the nature and availability of user data collected through users? interactions with news on their services;
- publish proposals to appropriately recognise original news on their services;
- provide flexible user comment moderation tools for news media businesses; and
- allow news media businesses to prevent their news being included on any individual digital platform service
First off, the idea that Google would need to alert media orgs to any algorithmic change is crazy. At the very least, it gives those organizations the ability to game the system. As Google said, it gives an unfair advantage.
Second, giving news businesses “clear information about the nature and availability of user data” is an issue. While the draft proposal tries to suggest that this doesn’t violate privacy because it’s not giving the news orgs the actual underlying user data, just (effectively) the metadata of what is collected, that’s not at all accurate either. As we’ve discussed in the past regarding government surveillance, the metadata about the data can be just as, if not more, valuable.
I know it’s trendy to hate on Google, but this proposal in Australia is downright insane. It truly is welfare for Rupert Murdoch because he’s jealous of the success of Google and Facebook, and that’s just nuts.