Australian news war escalation

It looks like Australia is going forward with their ridiculous news law (“If Australia doesn’t get their act together, they may lose all news”, newsletter #44). It passed their House of Representatives this week, and looks set to pass the Senate. It’s perfectly reasonable to have a discussion around how to save news; and it’s perfectly reasonable to have a discussion around how to tax the Internet media giants; but this law prima facie ridiculous. I predicted in that initial article that if the law went forward Facebook would go forward with its plan to pull all news. Sure enough, that’s what’s happened: Facebook has blocked all Australian users and media companies from posting, sharing, or reading any links to any news or related content. Not only was this completely predictable, it’s extra embarrassing for Australia given that a much more reasonable proposal had been made (“Australia may not be quite as dumb as Europe”, newsletter #50). One really has to have a fundamental misunderstanding of either how the Internet works or how capitalism works to think that this makes any sense.

Many major news outlets are reporting that Facebook and Google are taking different tacks in how they approach the law (FortuneVoxThe New York Times), but that’s a fundamental misread of what Google is doing. Google is in fact negotiating directly with publishers, but that’s in the context of their new News Showcase platform. News Showcase “will pay publishers to create and curate high-quality content for a different kind of online news experience,” and that content will be in their news app on iOS and Android. This is obviously a very different thing than Google search, and in fact, Google has come out and said that if the law goes forward as currently written, they’ll have no choice but to pull all of Google search from Australia. In a bit of political brinksmanship, Microsoft has said that Bing is happy to comply with the new law, but this really is just grandstanding. The Australian search market is tiny for these global players, and Microsoft is currently unaffected by the law, so it’s easy for them to take this stance. I’m no longer a fan of Google the way I was a decade or two ago, but in this case they’re not wrong — this law both breaks the Internet as we currently understand it, and is a slippery slope.

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