Opinion: Google’s open letter is insulting to Australian news media companies and readers alike

Google has penned an open letter informing the public that the way they experience Google and YouTube is about to drastically change. But what exactly is the truth? (Image Source:  What’s New In Publishing)

By Meika Bottrill |@meikabottrill

On August 17 2020, Google released an open letter to the public in response to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) News Media Bargaining Code. This newly developed code forces companies such as Google and Facebook to pay for news content they publish on their platforms.

The proposed News Media Bargaining Code comes as a welcome relief to news organisations as the COVID-19 pandemic has seen devastating impacts on the already suffering media industry.

However, Google’s response to this letter informs the Australian public that paying news media will drastically change the way they view Google and YouTube.

The letter continues to claim detail how paying for content provides an unfair advantage to smaller content creators, who don’t pay for their content to be showcased on YouTube or Google.

Currently Google are able to change their rankings in their algorithm without informing companies whose livelihoods depend on this website exposure.

The proposed code of conduct is designed to enforce tech giants to pay for content without being able to refuse to pay and simply downranking news media results on their search engines.

This new legislation requires Google to give a 28-day notice of algorithm changes to news media organisations, to prevent them from downranking their websites.

Belinda Barnet is the senior lecturer in media and communications at the Swinburne University of Technology.

In a The Conversationarticle, she writes that “Notifying a news company of its impending downranking would not give it an unfair advantage, as no other types of content providers would be targeted for demotion anyway.”

Google goes on to inform their publics that this new law forces Google to communicate to media businesses  ow they can access data about your use of products.”

The letter warns people that Google cannot be responsible for how your data will be protected or used by news media businesses.

This part of the letter attempts to utilise scare tactics in readers by proposing that their data is at risk in the hands of news media organisations.

Google conveniently don’t mention their own 2018 data breach scandal, where over hundreds of thousands of users’ data was leaked.

The letter attempts to encourage the Australian public that the News Media Bargaining Code is a risk to their access to free content. When really, it seems like the tech giant (who made 181.54 billion AUD in revenue in 2019) simply don’t want to pay for content.

So, is there a solution?

Paywalls are one solution. In the early 2000s, when my mother lived in Hong Kong for ten years, to read news from back home in Australia, she had to pay up to $7 for Australian newspapers.

But she did it. Because she had an invested interest in keeping up with her country. And also because she had no other option.

Now, we have other options. Currently, we live in the golden age of information. If you want to know something, you can get access to that information within seconds.  As a society, we are more educated on a vast range of topics and opinions and can readily access a ton of resources.

However, this means content creators, researchers and educators are providing the public with free information and resources.

And when the public can get their information for free on one platform, why would they pay for your information on another?

Aside from the public being unwilling to pay for their content, paywalls present further problems.

If users need to pay a subscription to news platforms, they will likely choose a platform that supports your own views and opinions.

Supporting news platforms that agree with you creates an echo chamber effect, where your own views and opinions are not challenged often.

If paywalls aren’t the answer, then the Federal Government’s proposed code of conduct requiring tech giants to pay to access the content they share, is probably heading in the right direction.

Well written, informative and objective news content comes at a cost.

If large tech companies like Google don’t want to pay for news, consumers are going to be the ones footing the bill.

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