from the the-nuclear-option dept
Earlier this year, regulators in Australia announced plans to tax Google and Facebook for sending traffic to news organizations, and then pay those news organization. The draft law literally names Google and Facebook and says that this law only impacts those two companies. The whole thing is bizarre. There are no pretenses here. It’s just that old line media companies (many owned by Rupert Murdoch) are jealous of the success of Google and Facebook online, and seem to think they’re magically owed money. And that’s what the tax would do. It would force Google and Facebook to pay money for the awful crime of sending traffic to news sites without paying them.
Nevermind that if they didn’t want this traffic they could use robots.txt to block it. Nevermind that companies (including many of these media companies) hire SEO and social media experts to try to get more traffic. These companies feel so entitled to money that they feel that Facebook and Google need to pay them for sending traffic, just because.
And Australian regulators seem to think this is a grand idea.
A few weeks back Google posted an open letter to Australians noting that this would do a lot more harm than good, and other parts of the draft law would damage the quality of Google’s search results (among other things, the law wouldn’t let Google make changes to its search algorithms without giving media companies a 4-week notice, which is insane, given that Google tweaks its algorithm multiple times a day).
Now Facebook has gone even further, and outright said that if this becomes law, it will no longer allow publishers to share news on its platform in Australia. This is the nuclear option — similar to what Google did in Spain six years ago when Spain passed a similar law. In that case, Google waited until after the law went into effect to make the announcement and pull the plug.
In this case, Facebook is firing a warning shot by saying that’s exactly what it will do if this draft bill becomes law:
Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram. This is not our first choice ? it is our last. But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia?s news and media sector.
We share the Australian Government?s goal of supporting struggling news organisations, particularly local newspapers, and have engaged extensively with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that has led the effort. But its solution is counterproductive to that goal. The proposed law is unprecedented in its reach and seeks to regulate every aspect of how tech companies do business with news publishers. Most perplexing, it would force Facebook to pay news organisations for content that the publishers voluntarily place on our platforms and at a price that ignores the financial value we bring publishers.
The ACCC presumes that Facebook benefits most in its relationship with publishers, when in fact the reverse is true. News represents a fraction of what people see in their News Feed and is not a significant source of revenue for us.
It’s not like people didn’t warn Australia how all of this would play out (just like people warned various European countries). I don’t know why each one expects a different result.