New Australian Media Law Part Of Global Trend Of State Tech Regulation
Daniyal Sohail 1 month ago Tue 02nd March 2021 | 10:26 PM
The recently-passed Australian law aimed at making tech giants Google and Facebook pay media companies for their content is part of an overall global trend exhibited by governments to regulate their domestic sections of the world wide web, experts told Sputnik
MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 02nd March, 2021) The recently-passed Australian law aimed at making tech giants Google and Facebook pay media companies for their content is part of an overall global trend exhibited by governments to regulate their domestic sections of the world wide web, experts told Sputnik.
Known as the Media Bargaining Code, the new law came into action earlier in February following a period of "good faith" mediation between the country's authorities and tech giants Google and Facebook, with the sides agreeing to settle on an amended version of the initial law.
Coupled with the adoption of "sovereign internet" networks with varying degrees of government regulation in Russia and China, new attempts by governments to regulate the internet have led to widespread concerns over the possible fragmentation of the world wide web, as governments clash with global tech giants.
AUSTRALIAN LAW THE LATEST INSTALLMENT IN A GLOBAL TREND
While the first of its nature in Australia, the Media Bargaining Code is part of a global trend, with a similar law adopted in Spain as early as 2014, and with similar pieces of legislation proposed in Britain, Canada, and the EU.
"I think that there is a global mood to regulate Big tech. To a large extent this is a response to their inability to live up to their promise to self-regulate, their complicity in a data politics, the evidence of data breaches and their anti-competitive practices." Associate Prof. Pradip Thomas, Director of Teaching and Learning at the University of Queensland, told Sputnik.
While devised to support local media companies, the new Australian law has stirred controversy both domestically and globally, focusing public opinion on the proverbial elephant in the room; the interaction of governments and big tech corporations in an ever more interconnected world.
"I think that it is important that we see such laws as one among many directed towards regulating big tech. In the context of a rising data nationalism in different countries around the world, there will be attempts to support local search and social tech companies as alternatives to dominant Big tech." Prof Thomas added.
Seen as part of an overarching trend of "data nationalism," the phenomenon is widely perceived as an attempt by governments to capitalize off or otherwise regulate the flow of data across the internet, as the latter rapidly transformed into a multi-trillion Dollar industry.
"I believe it sets a firm precedent and other countries and trading blocs will be introducing similar legislation in the near future. This is part of a complex process of an evolutionary realignment of the internet with long-reaching consequences." Dr. Teodor Mitew, a senior lecturer at the University of Wollongong told Sputnik.
GOVERNMENTS STILL HAVE UPPER HAND IN SPITE OF BIG TECH PROMINENCE
Witnessing an exponential growth both financially and in terms of the influence exerted over their users throughout the course of the past decade, big tech companies appeared to have the edge, as governmental regulatory authorities struggled to keep up.
A number of big tech companies stirred controversy in November of last year, after Twitter permanently suspended US-president Donald Trump's account, while tech giant Amazon booted Parler, a social media app used by Trump supporters, off its web services platform, drawing a volley of criticism against what was deemed a de-facto act of censorship.
"After the spectacle of US social media giants coordinating to shut down and censor the voices of a sitting US president and his supporters in an election year, no sane government will stop to consider the ethics of legislating against these companies. Their time is up." Dr. Mitew added.
The Australian example, however, serves to indicate that irrespective of their influence over netizens and their ability to silence one of the world's most influential figures, big tech companies have proven to be relatively powerless when facing off against host governments, who continue to have the last say.
"While it is certainly true that Big Tech have the power to issue threats, if the Australian example is anything to go by, it really does show that Big Tech will in the end simply have to come to a negotiated settlement. Big Tech might win with smaller countries although not with the larger and more developed nations." Prof Thomas added.
"Tech giants are far more dependent on their users than their users are on them... The business model of social media giants is built around content delivery and advertising based on user behavioral preferences. When users start migrating to other platforms advertising revenue starts falling and the entire model is in crisis." Dr. Mitew added.
This weak link was demonstrated by Facebook in Australia, when in opposition to the then-proposed media bargaining code, the tech giant banned local news organizations from sharing their content via the social network.
"Facebook made an important mistake in closing news channels in the Australian market as this only managed to generate bad optics with the public and more support for the government to call Facebook's bluff. Which it did, and Facebook folded immediately." Dr. Mitew added.
With retaliatory measures proving ineffective, Facebook and Google brokered millions of Dollars worth of deals with Australian media companies as the law was passed, albeit with last-minute amendments that satisfied the tech giants.
"Fundamentally, the tech giants have no effective retaliatory measures against these types of legislation, short of lobbying against them with legislators." Dr. Mitew remarked.
MEDIA BARGAINING CODE FUELS FEARS OF INTERNET FRAGMENTATION
The successful adoption of the media bargaining code accentuated a long-term concern exhibited by internet users across the world, particularly with regards to a phenomenon dubbed the "fragmentation" of the internet along national and supranational boundaries.
"Media bargaining codes set a precedent for direct government interference in the revenue streams of internet and social media companies. From now on this interference will only intensify, with governments around the globe pushing the envelope on what is possible." Dr. Mitew added.
Further underlined by the adoption of regulations governing the activities of tech firms in other countries, concerns were voiced for the future of the world wide web as we know it, with many fearing the creation of a series of semi-connected or completely isolated "sovereign" Internets.
"The long-term effects of this process lead to the emergence of different sovereign internet clusters with their own legislative frameworks around content, and a highly filtered information flow between them. There would also probably emerge a fully distributed internet 2.0 which would act as a wild west periphery to the sovereign clusters." Dr. Mitew remarked.
However, while countries with large user bases may find it easier to create their sovereign sections of the internet, the same cannot be said for countries with much smaller populations, with Australia being a notable example.
"Other countries like India and China will, precisely because they can. They are ambitious in terms of their nationalist strategies. In India, they have levied their own version of the Google Tax, forced WhatsApp to withdraw their intent to share their user information with Facebook and have reined in the big e-commerce companies." Prof. Thomas added.
Despite the evident tendency for governments to exert tighter controls over their national cyberspace, the outlook may not be as bleak as many have come to believe; in the event that the current internet becomes less interconnected, prospects of the creation of a parallel, possibly decentralized internet remain viable.
"Information flow between clusters will still be possible, just like it is possible to access the open internet from within the great Chinese firewall by using a VPN. However, I think clusters will try to keep content within the cluster as much as possible. There would also probably emerge a fully distributed internet 2.0 which would act as a wild west periphery to the sovereign clusters." Dr. Mitew remarked.
While governments have managed to regulate the activities of big tech companies, regulating the online activities of their users has proven extremely difficult, with tools such as virtual private networks (VPN) giving users the ability to circumvent local restrictions at the click of a button.