News Corp’s global CEO predicts the world is on the cusp of a digital “reckoning” as politicians and regulators finally deal with the “potency of dominant algorithms and the anti-social potential of social media”.
In a wide-ranging speech in the UK, Robert Thomson slammed the “smugness” of Google and Facebook, saying the tech giants had a culture of “complaint compliance” that was “neither sincere nor a sustainable strategy”.
“At last we are discussing more seriously the fine lines between engagement and addiction, between repurposing and piracy and pillage, between belonging and bullying, between identity and insecurity, all of which are magnified digitally,” Mr Thomson told a media and telecoms conference in London.
His comments came after Google invoked a free-speech argument in railing against the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s proposal for a mandatory standard on digital platforms that would punish failures to take down copyright-infringing content with fines of up to $250,000 per offence.
Google said “individuals and organisations large and small use digital platforms to express themselves and to share content”.
“Mandatory standards with high fines for errors will make it too risky to attempt to protect the legitimate speech interests of ordinary Australians.
“Australia’s public dialogue and cultural life will only be diminished by such an approach and therefore it should be rejected.”
In the London speech Mr Thomson said “allowing rampant piracy, sometimes actually encouraging it … was core to the business model for some, not all”.
These companies outsourced responsibility while “insourcing money”, he said.
“It’s not a compliant culture — it’s a complaint culture.
“You complain about the most obvious, egregious, outrageous abuse and these companies may eventually be compliant. But complaint compliance is neither sincere nor a sustainable strategy.”
Mr Thomson said “the Facebook icon may appear to be an approving thumb — but to content creators it’s actually a contemptuous middle finger”.
The ACCC recommends the mandatory take-down standards be set by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. ACMA has embraced the proposal and warned of the pressing need for change.
“The increasing influence and market power of digital platforms mean that regulatory reform is now urgent,” ACMA said in its official response to the ACCC.
The mandatory standard was one of 11 proposals in the ACCC’s digital platforms inquiry preliminary report, which found Facebook and Google have “substantial market power”.
The report said Google did 94 per cent of online searches in Australia, while Facebook had at least nine times the share of the display advertising market of its nearest competitor.
In rejecting the suite of reforms that most other stakeholders support, Google and Facebook argued the ACCC didn’t understand their businesses.
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