You know the US tech giants have way too much power, unencumbered by their own government and their own country’s laws, when they think they can strong-arm another nation.
Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Friday it would block its search engine in Australia if the government proceeds with a new code that would force it and Facebook Inc to pay media companies for the right to use their content.
Fine, then piss off. If Australia wants to enact laws that you can’t operate with, because you’re used to getting your own way and don’t like sharing the US$40,000 million you’ve made each year off the backs of others’ hard work, then just go. I’ve always said people would find alternatives to Google services in less than 24 hours, and while I appreciate its index is larger and it handles search terms well, the spying and the monopolistic tactics are not a worthwhile trade-off.
I know Google supporters are saying that the Australian policy favours the Murdoch Press, and I agree that the bar that the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) has set for what qualifies as a media business (revenues of over A$150,000 per annum) is too high. So it isn’t perfect.
The fact Google has made a deal in France suggests it is possible, when the giant doesn’t whine so damned much.
Plus, Google and Facebook have been dangerous to democracy, and should have done more for years to address these issues. They’ve allowed a power imbalance for the sake of their own profits, so paying for news—effectively a licensing payment that the rest of us would have to fork out—at least puts a value on it, given how it benefits the two sites. No search? Fine, let’s have more ethical actors reap the rewards of fairer, “unbubbled” searches, because at least there would be a societal benefit from it, and since they aren’t cashing in on the media’s work, I’m happy for them to get a free licence to republish. Right now I don’t believe the likes of Duck Duck Go are dominant enough (far from it) to raise the attention of Australian regulators.
Facebook’s reaction has been similar: they would block Australians from sharing links to news. Again, not a bad idea; maybe people will stop using a platform used to incite hate and violence to get their bubbled news items. Facebook, please go ahead and carry out your threat. If it cuts down on people using your site—or, indeed, returns them to using it for the original purpose most of us signed up for, which was to keep in touch with friends—then we all win. (Not that I’d be back for anything but the limited set of activities I do today. Zuck’s rich enough.)
A statement provided to me and other members of the media from the Open Markets Institute’s executive director Barry Lynn reads:
Today Google and Facebook proved in dramatic fashion that they pose existential threats to the world’s democracies. The two corporations are exploiting their monopoly control over essential communications to extort, bully, and cow a free people. In doing so, Google and Facebook are acting similarly to China, which in recent months has used trade embargoes to punish Australians for standing up for democratic values and open fact-based debate. These autocratic actions show why Americans across the political spectrum must work together to break the power that Google, Facebook, and Amazon wield over our news and communications, and over our political debate. They show why citizens of all democracies must work together to build a communications infrastructure safe for all democracies in the 21st Century.
Considering Google had worked on a search engine that would comply with Communist Chinese censorship, and Facebook has been a tool to incite genocide, then the comparison to a non-democratic country is valid.
So, I say to these Big Tech players, pull out. This is the best tech “disruption” we can hope for. You’re both heading into irrelevance, and Australia has had the balls to do what your home country—from which you offshore a great deal of your money—cannot, for all the lobbyists you employ. You favour big firms over independents, and the once level playing field that existed on the internet has been worsened by you. The Silicon Valley spirit, of entrepreneurship, born of the counterculture, needs to return, and right now you’re both standing in the way: you are “the man”, suppressing entrepreneurial activity, reducing employment, and splitting people apart—just what dictatorial régimes do.
As an aside, the EU is also cracking down on Big Tech as it invites the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) to a February 1 hearing. They’ve bled people for long enough and it’s time for some pushback.