‘Fake News’ - ACCC, media industry respond to Google’s open letter

Mariam Cheik-Hussein
By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 18 August 2020

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has accused Google’s open letter of misinforming the Australian public about the draft news bargaining code.

The tech giant used its Google Search platform to promote a letter by local boss Mel Silva arguing that the code to force digital platforms to pay news publishers for their content, due to be legislated later this year, will make its free services “dramatically worse”.

The ACCC has responded, saying 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.

However, Google has responded to this, saying it doesn’t intend to charge users for its free services.

“What we did say is that Search and YouTube, both of which are free services, are at risk in Australia,” a Google spokesperson says.

“That’s because the Code as it is drafted is unworkable. For example, the Code requires us to give all news media businesses advance notice of algorithm changes and explain how they can minimise the effects. If we were to comply with this provision it would seriously damage our products and fundamentally alter the way ranking of search results works across Google Search and YouTube.”

The ACCC also took issue with Google trying to lead the public into believing their data was at risk, with Silva saying the draft code could put readers’ data in the hands of news businesses.

“Google will not be required to share any additional user data with Australian news businesses unless it chooses to do so,” the ACCC says.

“The draft code will allow Australian news businesses to negotiate for fair payment for their journalists’ work that is included on Google services.

“This will address a significant bargaining power imbalance between Australian news media businesses and Google and Facebook.”

However, in response Google says the code requires it to give news media businesses information about the data users share with the tech giant and “how the registered news business corporation can gain access to” that data.

Media organisations have also been quick to hit back at Google’s letter.

A Nine spokesperson said it was “disappointing” that the tech giant is misrepresenting the draft framework with its open letter.

“For example, the suggestion that news media businesses will get access to data not available to other content providers is not consistent with the draft code,” the spokesperson says.

“The implication that data provided to news media businesses will not be protected ignores the impact of privacy legislation on those news media businesses.”

“At Nine we maintain our position, which, at its core, means our premium journalism and content have a clear monetary value which these platforms should remunerate us for.”

Industry body Free TV Australia CEO Bridget Fair called Google’s open letter “deliberately misleading”.

“These are the statements and actions of a monopolist flexing its considerable muscle to try and divert attention from the real issue—paying a fair price for the news content that creates value for the platforms,” Fair says.

“Google’s letter is straight out of the monopoly 101 playbook trying to mislead and frighten Australians to protect their position as the gateway to the internet. We’ve seen this kind of tactic before from big businesses trying to stop regulators from evening up the playing field so that they can hold on to excessive profits. Hopefully they will not succeed.

“The ACCC Code is about ensuring a free and vibrant Australian news media sector into the future. This breathtakingly misleading letter is not about consumer safety, it’s about Google maintaining money, control and market power.

“The facts are that nothing in the draft Code would require the platforms to provide any personal information about any Australian to any media company.

“To suggest otherwise is fake news.”

Fair says the draft code requires Google and Facebook to be transparent about the value they currently extract from accessing Australian news content.

“It also requires that Google and Facebook tell registered media companies what types of data they collect from Australians who access news content but which they keep for themselves and do not pass on to the media companies,” Fair says.

“Any data that Google agrees to provide would have to be under existing Australian privacy laws.

“While it’s high time that the platforms woke up to the fact that Australians take privacy seriously, it’s cynical in the extreme to use this newfound concern to mislead Australians.”

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