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.

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Filed Under: algorithms, australia, data, google tax, journalism, news, news aggregation, news industry, rupert murdoch, search
Companies: google


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 4:15am

    give news media businesses at least 28 days’ notice of:

    algorithm changes likely to materially affect referral traffic to news;

    Eh? Doesn't this mean that Google can't enact algorithm changes to take down/suppress speech (you know all that 'bad' speech that a lot of people are whining Google needs to do in side of like 1 h) any faster than 28 days? Of course this (probably) wouldn't effect specific instances of 'bad content', but it would mean they couldn't be innovative with search results in general very fast.

    It sounds kind of like it reads: "you (Google and Facebook) are now private servants of media, work for their benifit"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 19 Aug 2020 @ 5:49am

      Re:

      "Doesn't this mean that Google can't enact algorithm changes to take down/suppress speech"

      Google can't take speech down (unless it's hosted on Google Cloud). They can only stop pointing people to where it's located.

      Which is where they reveal their hand here. They know that newspapers depend on Google traffic to survive online, so they don't want to lose any of that - Google have already shown they have no problem cutting a country off completely if the media try and charge them for the traffic they send them. But, they also need to pretend they're the only reason they can no longer make money offline. Any honest organisation would already have their robots.txt file uploaded.

      "Of course this (probably) wouldn't effect specific instances of 'bad content', but it would mean they couldn't be innovative with search results in general very fast."

      It basically means that Google will be legally prohibited to reacting to attempts to game the SEO system and siphon traffic away from newspapers and toward scammers. They would be legally unable to deal with any scam for a full month. That should be fun to watch.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 6:07am

        Re: Re:

        I spoke poorly. I meant "google will be unable to take down/suppress search results linking to 'bad content' at an algorithmic level" (and where "bad content" is just someones, possibly unjustified, political issue).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 4:33am

    Australia: Passes law requiring Google to notify media companies with 28 days notice if algorithm changes might effect their rank because Rupert Murdoch bribed them to do so.

    Google: In 28 days, we will be permanently delisting any company considered "media" by Australian law, so we can change our algorithm without notifying them.

    Rupert Murdoch: Surprised Pikachu face

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 6:21am

      Re:

      Unfortunatly Australia learned from the various attempts to do this in the EU and also included a provision that states it's unlawful for Google/Facebook to demote or remove the qualifying Media Sites.

      In addition unlike with the EU attempts these rules also apply to General Google Searches and Youtube Videos so they would need to pull all of their services out of Australia.

      Of course when this does go through they'll be an even bigger fight even if Google give in and that is because the Media Companies seem to want a cut of all of Google's Australian Income which they claim is $6Bn a year, whilst Google state only $10m is linked to Australian News Content.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 19 Aug 2020 @ 6:55am

        Re: Re:

        "Unfortunatly Australia learned from the various attempts to do this in the EU"

        They really didn't, since the takeaway from that was that new organisations lost a lot of money when they didn't get free Google traffic. They think they learned that there's ways to have their cake and eat it by blocking Google from simply leaving, but I don't believe that's the case.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 19 Aug 2020 @ 7:53am

        Re: Re:

        Unfortunatly Australia learned from the various attempts to do this in the EU and also included a provision that states it's unlawful for Google/Facebook to demote or remove the qualifying Media Sites.

        Ah good old parasitic corporate welfare. 'You are not allowed to run your company as you see fit, you are required to give preferential treatment to these other companies'.

        In addition unlike with the EU attempts these rules also apply to General Google Searches and Youtube Videos so they would need to pull all of their services out of Australia.

        Something which in their shoes I would most certainly be considering strongly, as if the australian government thinks that they can impose rules this insane it's not 'will they roll out worse rules' but when.

        Of course when this does go through they'll be an even bigger fight even if Google give in and that is because the Media Companies seem to want a cut of all of Google's Australian Income which they claim is $6Bn a year, whilst Google state only $10m is linked to Australian News Content.

        Let's see, lose out on ten million or allow the precedent to be set that they are willing to cave to government demands to prop up failing industries, choices choices...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          ANANONANA, 20 Aug 2020 @ 7:40am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The issue here is that what Google might lose is not the ten million. The Australian Government are holding the six billion hostage to extract, say, one hundred million from Google to pass of to favored local interests.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Sheree, 20 Aug 2020 @ 4:59am

        Re: Re:

        "A provision that states it's unlawful for Google/Facebook to demote or remove the qualifying Media Sites."

        They don't need to remove sites. They will just stop crawling and indexing them.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2020 @ 8:33am

        Re: Re:

        Unfortunatly Australia learned from the various attempts to do this in the EU and also included a provision that states it's unlawful for Google/Facebook to demote or remove the qualifying Media Sites.

        That isn't new. Spain already tried it. All it got them was Google geoblocking the whole country from the news service.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 6:23am

      Re:

      Of course, they can't tell Australian media businesses what their new algorithms are going to be without telling the world.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 4:55am

    This is beyond stupid, at the level of Last time I read, Google was making ~80 algorithmic changes in search PER DAY: if each change spent a week in programming and testing, and half of the changes weren't actually made, that would be over 4000 changes potentially in play in any 28-day period. Of course, things have gotten more frentic sense then then--that was 10-20 years ago.

    I will, very very occasionally, miss Australian news in Google News search.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 5:26am

      Re:

      My first thought was that 80 changes a day sounds like a lot. After a few seconds, I thought of course they are busy working on it, the algorithm is an incredibly complicated piece of software that is the cornerstone of a company worth billions of dollars.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jeroen Hellingman (profile), 19 Aug 2020 @ 5:47am

      Re:

      Which will turn out to be such a flood of notices that those media companies will beg for another law to close those floodgates again.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 5:06am

    Just More Smoke Up Yer Ass

    Free Market? - LOL - what hypocrites!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 5:07am

    Just write a script to spam media companies with a note saying “We changed the algorithm” every five seconds,

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 6:18am

    Under this law, Google has to tell news media businesses “how they can gain access” to data about your use of our products.

    So here's a question... is Google actually required to provide said access, or just tell them how they can gain it?

    Murdock corp: Tell us how!

    Google: Become a wholly owned subsidiary of Alphabet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 19 Aug 2020 @ 6:46am

    Another day, another conservative protection act. For people who decry handouts to the poor, propping up organisations (usually state owned or unionised) that are struggling to deal with changing economic realities, hate money being taken by the state from the almighty corporations and government red tape interfering with businesses, they sure do seem keen on making laws to protect the businesses owned by their donors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bloof (profile), 19 Aug 2020 @ 7:09am

      Re:

      Rupert Murdoch has been faced with the reality that on the internet, anyone can create a right wing propaganda site without the need to mask it behind cute animal stories and sports or celebrity news, and he hates it. The do it yourself nature of the internet made his rags readerships drop like a rock, and most of the remaining audience are dying without being replaced, his influence is shrinking so he's trying to become a government agency in all but name, testing the water in Australia before pushing for it in America and the UK.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        sumgai (profile), 19 Aug 2020 @ 7:34am

        Re: Re:

        While Google seems to be the face of this action, it would be prudent to recall that Facebook is also on the firing line here. And for those who arrived late to the party: in 2005, Murdock's News Corp purchased MySpace for $580M. Just six years later, the "dead as a doornail" MySpace was unloaded for only $35M - a 94% loss. He's held a personal grudge against The Zuck ever since then, and is always on the lookout for ways to recoup his losses, aka "get even".

        I think adding Google into the mix is just a red herring to keep the spotlight away from this little tidbit. Thought admittedly, the money from that source as well would not be ignored. ;)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 19 Aug 2020 @ 8:04am

    We'll call it 'The Murdoch Welfare Bill' shall we?

    That is some seriously blatant corruption there, demanding that two companies in particular bend over backwards and give preferential treatment to another industry because the latter failed to adapt and they're too lazy to do work, instead demanding that others do it for them.

    I'd say that those involved should be ashamed for their rampant corruption but I'm guessing they got a great deal selling any sense of shame and integrity they might have had and only care about the money now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 7:19pm

      Re: We'll call it 'The Murdoch Welfare Bill' shall we?

      You can't call it "The Murdoch Welfare Bill". That would be confusing. At the very least, it would need to be "A Murdoch Welfare Bill" noting that this is the same Government that keeps defunding the public broadcaster, that gave a $30M <strike>bribe</strike> <strike>gift</strike> grant to the Murdoch-owned pay TV operator for.. umm... reasons (they claim it is to show Women's and niche sports, but that's kind of what the public broadcaster is there for), and then gave a further $10M for it out of the covid recovery funding.

      More accurate still would be the "Ensuring Murdoch's ongoing support for the Liberal Party at the taxpayer's expense BIll"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    charliebrown (profile), 19 Aug 2020 @ 10:16am

    Asleep At The Wheel

    Aha! I thought Techdirt would have covered this. It is news like this that I come here for. Obviously I missed it.

    Now that I am aware of what's going on, I'm going to find my local MP and start protesting to them. And find the opposition and protest to them as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 8:45pm

    Google needs to pull out of any country that tries to arbitrarily tax them like this. They do need to pay taxes to the countries they operate in but a tax to impact a single company and to benefit another private business is a bad use of government power and is little more than an extortion racket that doesnt do squat for the Australian people. Google should just block all media from Australia on their search engines and stop all its services on the country.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 9:02pm

      Re:

      An extortion racket that doesn't do squat for the Australian people is the best description of the current prime minister that I've seen.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 10:38pm

    The current AU government is notoriously inept with tech policies. The severity of their infection with the Murdoch plague is also far worse than other governments. Undoubtedly this policy is coming directly from News Corp.

    Still, don't ask me to choose which antichrist I prefer. At least the AU government may get better at some point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ANANONANA, 20 Aug 2020 @ 8:31am

    Now, I think this law, and many similar ones, are a load of crock. I am also fully on board with the idea that Google does not in fact make a lot of money on news searches.

    The only people who might be bidding on most news headline keywords would be news organisations themselves. If you were to search for a hot topic, an example applicable to today would be "DNC Updates", you most likely won't see any ads.

    That said, I would definitely be careful of rhetoric like "punishment for success" as that is generally used to lead into a whole slew of arguments against anti trust action. Any anti trust action will be tailored to target certain companies, because only a limited set of companies have monopoly power.

    There are legitimate concerns about the market power of Google Amazon etc and also the way they choose to recognise and book their revenue. The Australian action in this case is bullshit but not because the government to tackle giant monopolies which extract vast sums of money from many markets while denying that they are really making any money there.

    Likewise, Google's lack of transparency about its algorithm and some of its internal processes is a problem. Google's algorithm has immense power to shape business and politics around the globe. Changes to Google's algorithm can and has killed businesses. Currently if you challenge Google on whether they might put a finger on the scale to benefit themselves or use that power to promote or demote causes they favor or disfavor the response ultimately comes down to: "Trust us."

    Corporations overall generally will exploit their power to make an extra buck especially when there are no consequences for it. Without oversight there never will be consequences (and even with oversight there are often no consequences due to captured regulators yadas yadas but that is a different topic).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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