Google, Facebook, and the News media bargaining code March 01, 2021

Google, Facebook, and the News media bargaining code

Last Thursday, Parliament passed The Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021. The bill has caused quite a stir of late, mainly because as part of this news bargaining code, the Australian government is making tech giants Google and Facebook pay for local publisher's news (news that appears in their searches/in news feeds). In response to this Google initially threatened to stop making their search engine available in Australia before cutting deals with local publishers and more recently Facebook has banned news on their platform.

The Prime Minister has stated Parliament decides what rules businesses must follow in Australia and that "...we don't respond to threats", holding firm on their legislation.

A lot has transpired (and fast!) but amid these events, we asked our dedicated research community; how they felt about Facebook and Google paying for news and how the removal of Google's search engine would affect them directly. Then we followed up by asking respondents how they felt about Facebook banning Australians from accessing the news on their platform.

Just Google it... or not

Respondents stated that the Google search engine, along with other Google products are heavily integrated into their lives as well as being their go-to for desktop research, complete student assignments, and the like. Google is also seen as the most user-friendly option, with no good alternative. The move to remove the search engine is confusing and it’s unclear how removing the search engine would impact their other products.

"I study and rely on Google for all of my research. When I search for the same information on Bing I do not get anywhere near the number of answers as a google search."

"Although I know there are other sites I could use as an alternative, it would be hard as I have ingrained its use into my everyday life. Would that also make my google speakers obsolete? What about Gmail? Chrome browser? Google docs? I have become heavily reliant on google products."

Should news and Facebook be friends anyway?

Respondents also have the view that Facebook should not be people’s only news source and that the company’s history of corruption cannot be trusted. However, a small minority of members said they thought the government was misguided in their endeavour and think Facebook should pay correct taxes and the government could then pay news companies.

"Facebook is corrupt and incredibly biased on both sides of the political spectrum and social media platforms should not be the main place where you find news."

"I use Facebook to keep in touch with people and causes which interest me. News? I didn't see Facebook as a news source until this latest brouhaha. I still get news from radio, TV, and catch up and live stream TV. I sneak a peek at newspapers in coffee shops occasionally, but you wouldn't pay for them...."

It could have been handled better

There were also questions raised about how the media code was handled by both sides. Respondents noted national governments and global companies need to learn how to work together better with the aim of creating the best outcome for consumers and citizens. Whilst some believe the involvement of the Murdoch group has influenced the process too much, whilst Google’s use of search to share their YouTube video response to the code and Facebook’s ban on news in Australia has been met with criticism.

"Just shows how incompetent the government are that they would even push this. It won't result in Aussies seeking Aus-made news or back to papers, many of us just won't even bother.

"I honestly don’t know what the Australian Government is thinking here. Google presents links to news sites as a service that generates traffic to those news sites. It’s ludicrous. This won’t negatively impact Google at all but will negatively impact Australia."

But it’s time for BigTech to pay their fair share

Respondents say Google and Facebook have been profiting off data mining, advertising, and other products for years and it is time for them to pay their fair share of taxes in the countries they profit in. Plus the global company’s dominance in Australia is starting to concern members.

"If they (Facebook and Google) are profiting by publishing local news then they should pay the authors of the news. I would consider that content to be intellectual property (IP) and if they're using it for their financial benefit, they should appropriately compensate the owners of that IP."

"This is the age of subscription and you pay for pretty much everything. Almost nothing is free anymore as it is, so why do Google and Facebook believe they can access content for free if we can't?

"They have profited on data mining billions of people for years and should make a contribution to the countries taxes to those they benefit from by paying their fair share."

Taking the ‘news’ out of News Feed

On February 18, Facebook called the government’s bluff and banned all publishers and users from posting news links to its site. Some non-news sites including emergency services were caught up in the ban which has outraged Australians who rely on these pages for vital updates. Respondents were divided on where to send the blame with some saying the government has got it wrong and others are angry at the tech giant for taking such irresponsible measures.

"The news services are pretty much the top reason for me to stay on Facebook. So looks like I’ll be spending less time on Facebook and will be getting my life back and remaining ignorant to the world and local happenings. Short answer, not happy."

"This is terrible and the Australian Government needs to stop trying to make big companies pay for news content. If the Government cared enough about big companies such as Google/Facebook etc paying for news, then they should enforce the correct taxes and use some of the tax money to pay news companies."

So what does this mean?

Even though the bill has been heavily criticised, the news bargaining code caught the attention of the world’s governments as Australia stood firm on passing the law. Google has already started to pen deals with news publishers big and small in an effort to play ball whilst Facebook took a more aggressive line and disabled news for all Australians but has since flipped on the decision… we will wait to see if they follow through. 

One of the biggest takeaways for marketers from the past week’s events is how quickly consumer’s perceptions can change. Consumers are more aware than ever of the power big tech companies like Google and Facebook wield as they become more in tune with how decisions made by governments and global companies affect them in a very direct way. 

It also highlights how vulnerable media companies and brands are if their communications platforms are taken out from under their feet. How quickly could brands react if there was no Google or Facebook? What are their contingencies? As governments slowly but surely catch up with internet regulations for global companies, this is an urgent question marketers need to have answers to.

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