Aussie Regulator Refuses To Back Down After Facebook News Warning

Australian officials have refused to back down after Facebook threatened to block news sharing down under if a proposed law is approved.

Earlier this month, Facebook had warned local politicians it would prevent Facebook users in Australia from sharing local and international news, if Australia presses ahead with new legislation.

Australia is proposing new laws that will require companies such as Facebook, to pay media outlets for the use of their news content.

Blunt warning

Facebook’s warning to Australian users had been made by Will Easton, MD of Facebook Australia & New Zealand in a hard hitting and blunt blog post.

Easton said that Australia was drafting a new regulation that “misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organisations the government is trying to protect.”

Easton accused the commission overseeing the process of ignoring important facts, and the law “defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector.”

Facebook’s Easton also said the proposed law was effectively bad legislation.

Google has also expressed its opposition to this Australia legislation and used its search web page in Australia to warn local users that it would harm their ability to search.

Blunt response

But Australian officials had an equally blunt response to Facebook’s managing director in Australia and New Zealand, telling Facebook “’it’s their call’ to block news content.

Reuters quoted Australia’s top antitrust regulator as saying on Thursday that Facebook will be “weakened” if it stops Australians from sharing news so the company can avoid paying for content.

“It would be a shame for Australian democracy (and) it would be a shame for Facebook users if they took that course of action,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims reportedly said in a speech delivered via Zoom.

“It would also weaken Facebook, so it’s their call,” he added. “If people can’t get their news from Facebook then they’ll go elsewhere to get their news.”

Sims said no model to solve this problem had been effective so far.

Sims reportedly said Australia’s plan was not a tax on Big Tech or a subsidy for other companies, saying it was “a question of addressing a market power imbalance and one that matters to the future of our society”.

“If you had a competitive market you wouldn’t need this,” he said.

If Facebook quit news sharing in Australia to avoid the law, the company “may get something worse” elsewhere, Sims reportedly added.

European battle

In April this year Google was instructed by the French competition authority to pay French publishers and news agencies for re-using content or news.

Google in September last year had stopped its users in France from being able to view news snippets from European publishers on search results.

That meant that French web users were only be able to see the headlines, and not the first few lines or a thumbnail image for news content, unless of course the publishers specifically gave permission for it to show previews.

That came after the European Union passed a controversial copyright law reform in March 2019.

After a long battle, the European Parliament had backed the copyright reforms that aim to close loopholes that had allowed big tech companies such as Google and Facebook to provide news from third-party sources without paying for it.

In Germany, meanwhile, Google opted to feature only content from those who agreed to provide it for free.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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