The editorial below is rather over the top. No matter how big it gets, a private company has little power over a sovereign state. And in this case the media companies' response to the threatened Australian legislation is mostly bluff. There are many alternatives to social media companies and the idea that anybody has to rely on Google <i>et al.</i> for their news is laughable. There are more news sites around the world than you could poke a stick at. Russian news site RT in particular delights in putting up stories that are little covered in the West.
And even search is far from a monopolized function. Bing, Duckduckgo and Yahoo are well established alternatives. Anybody who finds the offering of a major media company suddenly missing will quickly learn to log on to an alternative site.
And precisely that will cause Google <i>et al.</i> to back down. They would be very allergic to a loss of business to their competitors
The threats and bullyboy behaviour of Google and Facebook yesterday tore away any last facade hiding the tech titans’ true nature as virtual rogue states who consider themselves immune to fair law or regulation.
Both companies’ appalling tactics will be of deep concern to thinking Australians – who are the ultimate victims.
Over several years the several million Australians who use these platforms have become increasingly suspicious and disturbed at the way tech giants wield their power without any responsibility; from allowing the publication and distribution of extremist and harmful content and the proliferation of fake news, failing to cooperate with law enforcement authorities, and manipulating audiences at the end of their algorithms.
Yesterday both companies proved once and for all they believe they should not be answerable to the rule of law.
Before a Senate hearing examining a proposed code of conduct which will for the first time make the digital behemoths pay news organisations for the content which helps drive their superprofits, Google threatened to remove its search engine from Australia in retaliation.
It’s a crucial moment in time: Australia wants to apply a simple – and small – set of reins but both tech giants want to gallop away, unfettered by regulation or scrutiny.
The threat to withdraw Google Search follows on from Google’s decision a few weeks ago to hide some Australian news sites from its search results – a move interpreted in several quarters as another retaliation against an Australian government backing the payment proposal.
Google is now the third technology company behind Apple and Microsoft to exceed a value of One Trillion US dollars, putting it ahead of a few successful western countries when compared to their wealth as measured in GDP.
Independent Senator Rex Patrick has compared the company, which in a burst of idealism once incorporated into its mission statement the phrase, “don’t be evil,’’ to the oppressive leadership of China.
“Google’s behaviour is straight out of the Chinese Communist Party’s playbook, and it’s not appreciated,” Senator Patrick said.
Senator Patrick, who along with five other upper house colleagues was examining the merits of the proposed legislation, said he and his Senate colleagues took a dim view of Google’s threat to remove itself from the Australian market.
Senator Patrick, quite rightly, pointed out that Google was threatening to withdraw its service from the market place just as countries around the world were examining ways of sustaining public interest journalism.
Liberal senator Andrew Bragg, also a member of the Senate committee at yesterday’s hearing, warned of the dangers of big companies amassing the sort of global power which he compared to the oil companies of the last century.
“Their power and market reach is such that there needs to be intervention to redress the imbalance.’’
Google and fellow travellers in the tech world such as Facebook have grown enormously rich in the past two decades partly because they can harvest data valuable to the world of marketing.
But what began in 1996 as a Stanford University research project has become such a corporate juggernaut that it is beginning to become apparent that Google believes it can dictate terms, and decide the rules, of a game which it believes it controls totally.
Executive director for Reset Australia, Chris Cooper, gave a wonderfully illustrative quote on how the company’s corporate maturity may not have kept pace with its financial growth.
“Today’s egregious threats show Google has the body of a behemoth, but the brain of brat,’’ he said. “When a private corporation tries to use its monopoly power to threaten and bully a sovereign nation, it’s a sure-fire sign that regulation is long overdue.’’
While slightly more restrained, Prime Minister Scott Morrison had a blunt view of the latest development, clearly indicating he would not be intimidated by Google’s threat to limit the nation’s access to Google Search.
“Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia,” the Prime Minister said. “And people who want to work with that in Australia – you’re very welcome. But we don’t respond to threats.”
This case has implications that go far beyond our shores. It is a true test of whether these global tech titans can be brought to heal or whether they are above the law and unanswerable to the people of Australia.