back to article Australian regulator slams Google ‘misinformation’ in pay-for-news-fight

Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has slammed Google’s campaign against the nation’s imminent laws that would force it to pay local publishers for linking to their journalism. Google yesterday published an open letter that criticised the laws on grounds that they could see personal data flow to publishers …

  1. FF22

    Nope

    " doing so hurts publishers because the ads and search giant sends so much traffic their way. "

    Nope. Google merely redistributes the existing traffic. People will still get their news somewhere - it will just not be through Google News or through sites that rank high in Google News, but some other way and possibly at other outlets.

    And that's exactly the point here. News sites, as a whole, owe Google nothing, and do not depend on Google (again, as a whole, not a few particular site who got good at gaming Google's system or are ranked high for some other reasons). It's Google who's using news sites' content to make a profit off that and to extend its control over web publishers. And that's the reason why it should pay up.

    1. DS999

      Re: Nope

      Some news sites would be winners if Google was pushed out of Australia, others would be losers. But having Google pay them for something that web surfers get for free if they bypass Google doesn't seem likely to stand. I could see banning Google from indexing any more than the headline, requiring people to click on the link if they want to see the story.

      I suppose their problem with that is that for some stories you learn all you need to learn from the headline and may not need to read the story (i.e. "Biden elected" would be all that many people would care to learn about the election, not concerned how big the margin was or what states went for each) But the people who would be content just seeing the headlines have never been newspaper subscribers anyway.

      1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

        Re: Nope

        There's no doubt that the traditional press (papers and websites) is having a hard time with local press particularly hard hit and virtually out of business in some parts of the UK. I don't believe that Google is the primary cause of this; sure, some of the advertising spend that would have gone to the papers now goes to Google, but I think the main problem, particularly for local press, is that many people now get all their "news" via social media. The town centre flooded the other day and the coverage on social media and YouTube was an hour earlier than the eventual article on the local rag's website - which didn't send a reporter, but just embedded Joe Public's videos and quoted Tweets/Faceboook from the shops that had been flooded. If I were a regular YouTube/Twitter/Facebook/etc. user with no shields I bet that 50% or more of the stuff in my local paper would appear in my social feeds anyway from the original creators with all the ad-money going to those networks.

        1. Adelio

          Re: Nope

          T.B.H i stop using "Social media" a few years ago.

          I found facebook an utter bore, I have never user twitter either,

          My main (General) new source is the BBC web site plus the various tech sites "el reg" etc.

          1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

            Re: Nope

            When local independent papers and news sites disappear in the UK the BBC will bear a big chunk of responsibility for it - probably more than Google.

            1. Martin an gof Silver badge

              Re: Nope

              Care to explain?

              1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

                Re: Nope

                They're a state-funded organization which competes directly with other news sites without having to rely on advertising revenue. In the 90s they made a massive push into the web and focused on local news, taking advantage of their existing TV and radio news organizations and networks to out-compete them. Just at a time when the web was growing and finding its feet the BBC made it very difficult for local websites to establish and grow an audience. They actively pushed their coverage through their other channels - free advertising for the BBC, effectively - in much the same way that every BBC podcast today has 5 minutes of ads for "BBC Sounds" at either start, finish or both. The BBC's aggressive tactics nipped local internet sites in the bud and left them in a weakened position to deal with the next wave of problems like Google and social networks.

                Local news simply couldn't and can't compete with the BBC from a technical or resource perspective. I live in a town which has soccer, rugby, hockey and ice hockey teams in the national leagues. When I moved here in the 90s the local weekly rag had a pull-out sports section but now it hasn't got any sports coverage because it can't afford a sports reporter. The BBC sent 450 staff to cover the Rio Olympics in 2016 (1000+ for London 2012): that's bigger than some countries' teams. They send about 300 to cover Glastonbury whereas my local paper relies on venue owners and fans to send in reviews of gigs in the town because they can't afford a reporter. In the 2000s, when I played some of those sports and gigs, both the local and BBC sites covered some of them them. Today neither of them does; the BBC hasn't replaced the local site from a reporting PoV - it's moved on because today its focus is BBC sounds, not written reports.

                For readers outside the UK who might not understand the BBC's funding:

                If you use a television receiver or consume live video content in any form in the UK, whether by TV, satellite or streaming and whether or not it's BBC content, then you have to pay for a TV licence* - currently £157 per year rising with inflation for at least the next 5 years. If you never watch a BBC channel but, say, have Sky Sports for the footy then you need a TV licence and it's a criminal offence to watch TV or live streams without one. In the past the BBC has suggested switching from the TV licence to a broadband licence - i.e. everyone in the UK who uses the web would have to pay a licence fee to the BBC.

                *there are some exceptions for students, shared accommodation, etc. but they are pretty insignificant.

                1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                  Re: Nope

                  "both the local and BBC sites covered some of them them. Today neither of them does"

                  So the local paper doesn't have the Beeb as competition any more. If it wanted to invest in building up its local reporting it could do so.

                  I suspect the malaise of local press is more that it isn't local any more. Many of the local papers got bought up by national chains that had no local focus.

          2. TireIron
            Thumb Up

            Re: Nope

            Pretty much doing the same!

        2. tiggity Silver badge

          Re: Nope

          I don't use the "local" press websites because

          a) Staff cuts, very little really local coverage (more just covering the general far larger region, with really "local" news a tiny percentage)

          b) websites are an abomination of ads and unusable (unless various ad / script blockers used) - so either I avoid them with shields down or to make a visit bearable they get no cash as everything ad related blocked as I go in shields up

          Don't bother much with dead tree version of local paper these days for reason A above

        3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Nope

          "local press particularly hard hit and virtually out of business in some parts of the UK. I don't believe that Google is the primary cause of this"

          Quite.

          Taking "press" literally the problem is delivery networks. Our local newspaper shop can't get kids to deliver to us any more and I'm not trailing all that way every day just to get a paper.

          Online they totally disregarded GDPR with needing to provide 100+ opt-outs every time you went online, one of the many reasons why I have one browser set up in amnesiac mode.

          Since then things have got worse as, with so many in the group their domain is $OLD_TITLElive.co.uk and, amid the mess that's now its UI, persists in wanting to throw at me local stories from all over the place except here.

        4. Arthur Daily

          Re: Nope

          The main problem with Australian news and journalism is defamation(even if true) laws mean nothing saucy is printed, or Journalists arrested/searched by men-in-jackboots. Now market size is so small, even digging at advertisers/sponsors is off the table. we are like #45 in press freedom.

          The paywalls on local rags are too aggressive, so if its not on the free ABC site, I search wider on the new-starters, and the Indian English newspapers for sporting event coverage. Either way local advertisers miss my attention, unless they list in say Gumtree. The way to 100% loose my business is Facebook.

      2. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Nope

        Google could write those headlines itself. Even an AI will be enough.

        Just, it would become a "publisher", and that's what it fears most. It wants to make money from someone else's work without their disadvantages.

  2. big_D Silver badge

    The same old game...

    They did the same in Europe with the right to be forgotten, telling porkies about what it was all about and how it would impact people. It worked so well, especially outside of the EU, that people like Jeff Jarvis still spew the Google company line to this day, when they mention it.

  3. SundogUK Silver badge

    I despise Google and do not use any of their services but they are in the right here. This is simply another attempt by big government to take control of the internet. If these legacy media companies are making their web-pages free access, Google owe them nothing.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      If these legacy media companies are making their web-pages free access, Google owe them nothing.

      I think you are missing the point. Bearing in mind that I avoid Google wherever possible, have never even visited Australia and am basing this on a few news reports, I think that a part - possibly the main part - of the argument is where the advertising revenue goes.

      If a person looking for news goes directly to an outlet's website, that website benefits from the advertisements it shows, directly. It can also glean information about the visitor for "analytics" purposes which in itself might have some value. These adverts provide income to support the newsgathering and story writing.

      Leaving aside the fact that many websites use Google products to present the advertisements and perform the analytics - and remembering that other providers are available - if, instead, the person looking for news goes to the Google search page and can read the story on that page without visiting the news outlet's page because Google has scraped it and possibly summarised it, none of the advertising revenue goes to the originating site, and the analytics are all mucked up as well.

      How is that sustainable? How is it fair that one of the richest companies on the planet is allowed to profit from other people's work in this manner? If the story was about a newspaper and newspaper A wrote an article that was then lifted word-for-word and published in newspaper B, would that be ok?

      If television station C recorded an item off-air from television station D, re-did the voiceover and then broadcast the item on its own news programme, would that be ok?

      If I have understood things correctly, in most important respects, this is exactly what Google is doing.

      M.

      1. SundogUK Silver badge

        If people would rather go to Google for their news rather than bookmark their favourite local news supplier, that is not Googles problem.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          If people would rather go to Google for their news rather than bookmark their favourite local news supplier, that is not Googles problem.

          This is only true so long as all the media organisations whose work Google require in order to provide that content, don't go bust - because Google is hoovering up all the advertising revenue.

          This is actually an area where government does need to urgently step in, because you can't have a functioning democracy without a functioning news media - and they're all going bust. To some extent this has always been true - but it's a bigger crisis than ever before and at the route of that crisis is Google and Facebook. The old media's own incompetence by giving away their content away free on the web, rather than trying to charge for it - at the same time as trying to charge for it in print - is the icing on the cake of cock-up.

          One thing that can be relatively easily fixed is to align the payment with the work. So the people who generally still do the work are the journalists and editors of old media - and so if there are large amounts of advertising dollars out there - then most of those need to be funnelled towards them. Otherwise they'll stop doing it. And Google's various flailings with trying to automate news gathering suggest that they're very good at putting up evidence-free stories claiming a traumatised child survivor of a school shoooting was in fact a "crisis actor" and very bad at providing actual fucking news.

          Given that Google's business model outside website search appears to be copyright theft to gain advertising revenue - I think clipping their wings can only do good for the internet. And for content creators in general.

      2. sms123

        In terms of: "this is exactly what Google is doing." I beg to disagree. I regularly look at news.google.com.au (being in Australia and all) and it does not show any part of an article. It gives you sections containing only the headlines and clicking on any link takes you to the news web site.

        That may be diffferent on mobile and who knows what happens when AMP pages are being shown (the news on android usually takes you to an AMP version of the site). I would hope that the original web site gets the ad revenue for the AMP version. If not you may have a point but the desktop web browser version of google news doesn't at all show you any article text or attempt to pass off the original web sites content as having anything to do with google.

  4. tiggity Silver badge

    Charging is fine

    Google can make commercial decision to make the data available (or not)

    Trying to enforce Google make it available (and therefore pay) by legislation seems dubious.

    I know Google market share is so large that its essentially a monopoly on web search, but I would guess less so on news as lots of people get news in other ways than search engines be it social media, news aggregators, RSS feeds, TV, radio, dead tree papers, direct visits to particular special interest news sites (e.g this Reg visit) etc.

    Here in the UK, there are various new sources I avoid e.g. Daily Mail (I don't like their unabashed racism, nor its sidebar of shame that seems very misogynist though given its one of the most popular "news" websites plenty of others don't care) &I would be distinctly unhappy if similar legislation was introduced here so that the mail got cash from search companies.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google News

    Does anyone still use that?

    1. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: Google News

      Not sure if I should up or down vote.

      Answer: No, I don't use Google news.

      I listen to the radio & visit some news media web sites (not getting there via a search engine). Works well for me.

      What I would like is objective & impartial news media. I am increasingly fed up with the spin being put on news stories and media setting agenda rather than clearly telling the stories.

  6. Bubba Von Braun

    Yeah.. NAH..

    This from an organization that allows Copyright Trolls to claim Public Domain footage as their own, because they are too lazy to look at the detail and threaten you with exclusion if you have the temerity to raise the issue.

    Its time tech businesses are treated the same as other business in all respects not just were it suits them.

    Its time for some antitrust cases, too much power in any place corrupts, simply look at the orangutan in the Whitehouse.

    And Simon yes you should get paid, its great to see you back providing an APAC flavor for the Vulture, I for one missed it.

    BvB

  7. The Central Scrutinizer

    I got Google's bullshit warning today when I went to youtube. They tell blatant lies to feather their own nest.

    1: I don't give a shit what google wants me to believe. I can think for myself, thanks very much.

    2: The thought of anyone being forced to pay Murdoch for merely linking to his bile ridden "newspapers" makes me want to puke.

    Talk about feeling conflicted.

  8. vtcodger Silver badge

    Can someone help me out here

    I'm not that big a fan of Google although their search engine and maps are quite good. And "Don't be Evil" doesn't seem to have lasted all that long.

    But I'm a little puzzled, how one enforces an attempt to demand payment from an indexer of public domain information without all sorts of unfortunate side affects and collateral damage. Suppose I'm writing a research paper on Ediacarian fossils and my references include a link to a newspaper article in South Australia. Am I expected to send the newspaper a royalty payment?

    My impression is that Google News was deliberately designed not to transgress beyond the limits of "fair use" under US copyright law. There's lot's not to like about US "IP" law. A lot of it seems demented and/or dysfunctional. But "Fair Use" seems to me pretty reasonable.

    What am I missing here?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Can someone help me out here

      I think the problem here is the use of news snippets. If you searched for a particular news story and Google just linked to all the versions of that in popular sources - then you'd have to click onto their website and read their story and they would get the advertising. Also, once on their site, they have the chance to tempt you with other interesting stories - although sadly it's more likely to be some Outbrain shite about how UK doctors don't want you to know this one easy trick to remove bellyfat.

      It's not like the old media haven't spent the last 20 years shooting themselves in both feet - leaving their bullet riddled corpses for Google to loot...

      But if you go to Facebook or Google News and half the article is there, as well as the headline, then maybe you won't click onto the publisher's site. They still have to pay journalists to write this stuff - but now Google are taking their work and putting their own adverts against it and not giving anything back. They still have a link to the story I presume, so if you want the whole thing you can still click, but most people are probably only skim reading the news and don't - and so the publishers now have nothing to show for their work and are all slowly going bust.

      1. silent_count

        Re: Can someone help me out here

        It's not that I disagree with you, I ain't Spartacus, but here's the flip-side.

        The sites could put their articles behind a pay wall (a few do). The sites could make you login (even for free) to read their articles and the login would keep Google's bots out. The sites could just tell Google not to index their stuff.

        But they don't want to do that because they want the benefit of Google's audience... but not the drawbacks.

        Personally, I can't say I care either way but I do think this legislation is badly thought out.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Can someone help me out here

          silent_count,

          I think the mistake was made 20 years ago. When Google weren't a total monopoly and were probably a bit more likely to share, than just hoover up all the money. That was when the publishers needed to set the idea that you had to pay for news, in the same way you did in print.

          This is now a case of monopoly abuse in my book. Google are in a position of market dominance such that if only a few media groups withdraw then they will suffer massive punishment by loss of clicks. So Google have them by the balls. This is the reason we have monopoly laws, to stop the monopolist from destroying any business that tries to compete.

          Obviously if all the media got together and blocked Google at the same time, then Google would start to lose traffic, and might deal. But the media don't tend to get together like that, too many mavericks, it's like herding cats. And also, that would potentially be a cartel, and also an abuse of monopoly power.

          The thing that takes this out of the ordinary business pages is that democracy itself is at stake. Without a reasonably funded media independent media, your left with too few suppliers - and the ones that can get finance may well have an agenda to push. Which doesn't matter so much in a well functioning market, but does when all the competition go bust. Also without funding, all the stories end up being the cheapest to produce clickbait, because there's no money to investigate or check stuff.

          Hence I think we need government to step in, and administer a righteous kicking to Google. Personally I think monopolies regulators should have already done this, but it's becoming urgent as the media's ability to fulfill its role in society collapses due to lack of funds. In the UK we now have the Times and FT behind paywalls, the Independent basically a rounding error and the Telegraph and Guardian having retreated to screaming highly partisan abuse into the void and barely even bothering to report the actual news. That's a bit unfair on the Guardian - which still does have some quality output (and also some of their crapness is I think down to the editor), but they are also driven by financial need to print more of the stories that their hard-core readership will click and comment on - in order to keep the wolf from the door. Also opinion is cheaper than proper journalism.

          I suspect the tabloids have probably changed least, as they always spent most of their money on celeb, not political, reporting anyway. Though their websites have become a truly awful mess of advertising, pop-ups and horrible Outbrain style content. Not to mention the sidebars of shame...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Can someone help me out here

        Seems like Google copying the article, even if it's a bot-based summary, would be a clear violation of copyright laws. In fact, that's essentially the origin of copyright laws - one publisher purchased and published an original work, another one simply reprinted it themselves without paying the author anything. As this was pretty obviously unfair (more or less theft of the work in question) it was outlawed.

        Now, clearly, copyright law needs a lot of work. (Especially in the US, where black-and-white films are still covered by copyright!) But this is a case where it could do what was originally intended - protect the creator and owner of the work.

  9. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    How would newspapers and websits manage without Streetview when they need a picture of Backwater Street, Ballygobackwards when something happens there and they want to print the story they got from Twitter?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      To be fair, they'd be able to employ a few more journalists if Google didn't steal all their advertising revenue. I know a lot of their drop in sales has also been their fault, but the way the internet market has turned out isn't entirely down to them. I saw a study last year (heard actually on Radio 4's Media Show) that said Google and Facebook had taken 95% of the growth in the advertising market last year - and if we don't do something about that trend they'll strangle the life out of a load of businesses who used to be ad-supported.

      They've been making massive cuts in journalists for a decade now - and the effect on quality is seriously showing. But seeing as Google and Facebook aren't showing an interest in investing all the money they're getting in doing this, and we do need somebody to, we're stuck with a bunch of poor options in order to keep a news industry viable. As much as people criticise the mainstream media, I'll take their groupthink and known partisanship over Google and Facebook's fake news, incompetence at writing algorithms and denial any day.

  10. MrDamage

    Pot, meet Kettle

    "Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian has accused the company of interfering in local politics...."

  11. NinjasFTW

    Has anyone read the proposed draft?

    I see a lot of people wanting to lay the boot into google but i'm not sure people understand what is potentially being setup as precedent here.

    I recommend everyone read the proposal at https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/DPB%20--20Draft%20news%20media%20and%20digital%20platforms%20mandatory%20bargaining%20code%20Q%26As.pdf

    Some interesting bits being

    Section 5.5

    News media businesses would also

    have more control over user comments made against stories they post or publish to digital

    platform services, with digital platforms required to provide flexible moderation tools that

    allow:

    - removing or filtering user comments;

    - disabling user comments against individual news items; and

    - blocking user comments or accounts.

    So NewsCorp (and others but i'll just group them in together) would be able to get control over comments you post on other sites and have the ability to remove them or disable comments! I'm sure that articles pushing NewsCorps agenda won't be moderated at all.....

    Section 5.4

    The code’s minimum standards would simply require digital platforms to provide news

    media businesses with 28 days’ advance of algorithm changes that are likely to affect their

    business models.

    So Google need to give a months notice of any internal change that may affect NewsCorps business model. The scope creep potential for this is immense.

    And also this free advice doesn't apply to the smaller players so NewsCorp get a competitive advantage here....

    Section 5.5

    News media businesses would be able to ‘opt out’ of having their news content featured on individual digital platform services against their will

    So i'm guessing this will apply to individual articles rather than the site as a whole. So once again, if there is an article about something they want kept quiet they just 'opt out' that article.

    Section 4.5

    This mentions that Google Search is also included rather than just Google News. So once again massive scope creep potential.

    Section 6.1

    A decision by digital platforms to place more reliance on international news and lower the

    ranking of, or cease carrying, Australian news content on the basis of participation in the

    code would also be considered discrimination.

    Slippery slope here, if the Aus Govt starts restricting or manipulating stories (Current government is very much in bed with NewsCorp) and Google starts using international reporting then they fall foul of this.

    And for all of this, can someone explain why if Google is killing news and not providing any value, why the news sites can't delist themselves through robots.txt

    Google are pretty crap these days but this sets a lot of precedents that i'm concerned about.

    Also, if there ever was a company that would use this to push their own agenda i'm pretty sure its NewsCorp

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Has anyone read the proposed draft?

      Perhaps if Google seriously engaged with politicians to find an acceptable answer - we'd get better legislation. But because almost every time it's happened Google have first cried wolf about the end of the internet, then denied there's a problem and finally might offer an awful solution that makes the problem worse - we get law entirely written by people who don't fully understand the internet.

      See the various encounters between the European Commission and Google for details. Where their solution to being accused of exploiting their search monopoly against price comparison websites (for their own even worse one) was to "allow" the other sites to pay Google in order not to have their results disappeared from search. Well that was after refusing to negotiate for 2-3 years, before offering that "solution" that financially rewarded them for the law-breaking. That Commission then hit it's term limits and the new Competition Commissioner did them for monopoly abuse 3 times. With another investigation ongoing.

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