Australia: Google Accused Of ‘Misinformation’ Over Code

Google is facing a growing backlash over its response to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s draft news media bargaining code which is designed to address acute bargaining power imbalances between news businesses and the platforms.

In response to an open letter published by Google,  the ACCC accused the platform of publishing “misinformation” about the code “which the ACCC would like to address.”

“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 said. “Google will not be required to share any additional user data with Australian news businesses unless it chooses to do so.

“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.

“A healthy news media sector is essential to a well-functioning democracy.”

The News Media Association supports the draft code and is calling on the UK Government to follow Australia’s lead by taking swift and robust action against the platforms.  

The Competition and Markets Authority’s recent report into the digital advertising marketplace laid bare the harm to consumers and publishers caused by the platforms’ exploitation of news media content.

It said: “These issues matter to consumers. Weak competition in search and social media leads to reduced innovation and choice and to consumers giving up more data than they would like.

“Weak competition in digital advertising increases the prices of goods and services across the economy and undermines the ability of newspapers and others to produce valuable content, to the detriment of broader society.”

Press Gazette reported this morning that 33 local news media titles have closed since the start of 2019. Loss of advertising revenue during the pandemic has exacerbated the problems for news publishers caused by tech platform dominance of the digital advertising marketplace over the past decade.

Other media organsiations spoke out against Google’s response to the code. The Guardian’s Australia managing director Dan Stinton said: “Google’s open letter is misleading – nothing in the draft code will force Google to hand over consumer data to publishers as is falsely suggested, or provide a ‘dramatically worse’ Google Search as falsely claimed, let alone YouTube that is not even covered by the code. 

“What the draft code does do, however, is correct the imbalance in bargaining power that currently exists between publishers and platforms so that we can negotiate fair payment for the substantial benefit the platforms receive from our journalism.”

In a statement, Australian television network Nine said: “It is disappointing that the global digital platforms are highlighting selected elements of the draft Code and presenting them in a way which does not accurately reflect the framework in which the draft Code will operate.

“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 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. We look forward to working with the ACCC on finalising the Code and then negotiating a fair outcome for our business with the digital platforms who will be subject to the Code.”

The chief executive of Free TV Australia, Bridget Fair said: “Google has shown once again how important free, strong independent news media industry is in Australia so that they can hold Google to account for pushing such deliberately inaccurate information to its users. 

“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.”

In an open letter to Google, Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology said:  “You are using your power as one of the largest companies on earth to threaten us. When we ask you to consider paying a fair amount for the journalism from which you benefit, you threaten to charge us for your search engine.

“And in supporting your interests you are prepared to push misinformation. It’s as if you’ve taken every clause of the code and exaggerated it out of context and then attempted to create a smokescreen to scare and distract people. Countering these claims is actually why we need an independent media – which is the whole point of the code.”