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June 20, 2024

Message from Australia: New UK government facing battle with Google and Facebook

News Corp Australia boss says Digital Markets Act makes UK global leader on regulating big tech.

By Michael Miller

One of the first and most pressing choices facing the next UK government will be how Britain asserts its authority in a test of wills’ battle with the tech giants.

The UK has taken an international leadership position with its new Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act to tackle the power of big tech and oversee competition in the digital sector.

But the real test will come when the UK imposes this rule of law and the tech giants either paralyse it through legal warfare or simply defy the authority of a nation state by hiding behind the way they have set up their international operations.

One of the Digital Markets Acts’ powers is to require tech platforms pay for content. 

But what if they refuse, as Meta has done in Canada and in Australia as it walks away from deals to pay Australian publishers under the ground-breaking News Media Bargaining Code?

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This sets up the test of wills between the Silicon Valley Sovereigns and the UK Government. It’s a fight we know all too well in Australia.

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And that’s why I am calling on the Australian government to impose a Social Licence compelling tech companies to pay a licence fee to operate in Australia and comply with a package of laws and requirements if they want access to its consumers.

Until now individuals and nations have both been rendered powerless to reign in the tech giants’ misbehaviour.

The protection the tech giants have been given by Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act combines with their international corporate structures to effectively place them above the law both at home and abroad.

It is time for nations to take on the Silicon Valley sovereigns and end their contempt for repeated requests to behave differently and their regard that huge fines are simply the cost of doing business.

As Australia’s Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said recently: “We are up against these giant companies, multinationals who have more power, money and global influence than some standalone nations.

“They have deep pockets. They are highly litigious.

“But that is no reason why they should not be subject to Australian law, and we should seek to enforce Australian law.”

In Australia the need for action is overwhelming.

Social harm caused by tech giants in a human rights issue

Two recent cases won by US tech giants have proven they have built legal shields to place themselves above domestic and international laws: A failed Australian government attempt to stop X broadcasting internationally a terror attack in a Sydney church and the failed bid by business billionaire Andrew Forrest to prevent Meta allowing use of his image in scam advertising.

The social harm being caused is a human rights issue. Australian parents – like those in Britain – are also getting nowhere with their pleas for social media to do something about bullying, the glorification of eating disorders, trolling and body shaming.

These harms are profoundly affecting the lives of millions and we all pay the price for that and for scammers stealing billions of dollars from the vulnerable when the NHS and welfare systems pick up the pieces to help people who have lost everything.

But we should never accept we are powerless. Countries impose rules on all other businesses: now’s the time to do so with tech giants.

A Social Licence is essentially the permission granted to companies to operate within a society – and the tech monoliths should pay for a licence. Under such a licence in Australia, the government would make the platforms liable for all content amplified, curated, and controlled by their algorithms or recommender engines.

The licence should require they have an effective consumer complaints handling system, including call centres contactable by telephone with staff in the country.

Other measures would include:

  • A framework overseen by the competition watchdog that addresses monopolised digital advertising markets
  • A financial contribution to programs tackling mental health problems
  • Tech platforms honouring Australia’s Media Bargaining Code deals to compensate larger publishers for content, and to contribute to a fund for small publishers.

Penalties should incorporate criminal sanctions for companies and their executives, and the power to ultimately block access to our country and our people.

This idea of a Social Licence is neither overreach, nor pie in the sky. All other businesses accessing Australian people play by similar rules.

Miners pay a royalty to access resources, banks and telcos meet complaint-handling standards, media accept responsibility for what’s published and advertising businesses can’t run fake ads with famous people.

It’s time to change things. Tech monopolies are really like miners, only they are mining our greatest resource – our lives.

And what if a nation imposes a Social Licence? The platforms could sign up or leave – their choice. And if Meta walked away, I’d say: “It’s not the end of the world.” We all know another digital innovator would quickly fill the void.

It’s time the tech giants played by society’s rules.

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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