Guest essay by Eric Worrall

The Australian Government is demanding more control of digital media content such as Google search rankings, and more renumeration for traditional mainstream media for use of content.

For example, the following clause demands that Google etc. provide advance notice of changes to search ranking algorithms, so establishment news services have time to prepare a means to game the new algorithm to ensure they retain a permanent prominent position on Google searches or Facebook feeds, regardless of whether what they publish is of interest to consumers;

52N Algorithmic ranking of covered news content

(1) Subsection (2) applies if:

(a) (b)

changes are planned to be made to an algorithm of the digital platform service; and the changes are likely to have a significant effect on the ranking of the registered news business’ covered news content made available by the digital platform service.

(2) The responsible digital platform corporation for the digital platform service must ensure that:

(a) (b) notice of the change is given to the registered news business corporation for the registered news business; and
the notice is given:

(i) unless subparagraph (ii) applies—at least 28 days before the change is made; or

(ii) ifthechangerelatestoamatterofurgentpublic interest—no later than 48 hours after the change is made; and

the notice describes the change, and the effect mentioned in paragraph (1)(b), in terms that are readily comprehensible; and
the notice describes how the registered news business can minimise negative effects of the change on the ranking of its covered news content made available by the digital platform service.

Source : Draft Legislation Document, ACCC

Google / YouTube have made it clear they believe this amounts to a demand for special treatment for establishment mainstream media. I agree with their assessment.

Open letter to Australians

We need to let you know about new Government regulation that will hurt how Australians use Google Search and YouTube. 

A proposed law, the News Media Bargaining Code, would force us to provide you with a dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube, could lead to your data being handed over to big news businesses, and would put the free services you use at risk in Australia. 

The way Aussies search every day on Google is at risk from new regulation 

You’ve always relied on Google Search and YouTube to show you what’s most relevant and helpful to you. We could no longer guarantee that under this law. The law would force us to give an unfair advantage to one group of businesses – news media businesses – over everyone else who has a website, YouTube channel or small business. News media businesses alone would be given information that would help them artificially inflate their ranking over everyone else, even when someone else provides a better result. We’ve always treated all website owners fairly when it comes to information we share about ranking. The proposed changes are not fair and they mean that Google Search results and YouTube will be worse for you.

Your Search data may be at risk

You trust us with your data and our job is to keep it safe. Under this law, Google has to tell news media businesses “how they can gain access” to data about your use of our products. There’s no way of knowing if any data handed over would be protected, or how it might be used by news media businesses.

Hurting the free services you use

We deeply believe in the importance of news to society. We partner closely with Australian news media businesses — we already pay them millions of dollars and send them billions of free clicks every year. We’ve offered to pay more to license content. But rather than encouraging these types of partnerships, the law is set up to give big media companies special treatment and to encourage them to make enormous and unreasonable demands that would put our free services at risk. 

This law wouldn’t just impact the way Google and YouTube work with news media businesses — it would impact all of our Australian users, so we wanted to let you know. We’re going to do everything we possibly can to get this proposal changed so we can protect how Search and YouTube work for you in Australia and continue to build constructive partnerships with news media businesses — not choose one over the other.

You’ll hear more from us in the coming days — stay tuned.

Thank you,
Mel Silva, Managing Director, on behalf of Google Australia 

Read more:

WUWT have our differences with Google and other digital media companies over allegations of political bias and secret black lists for Climate Skeptics, but we never sought an unfair advantage – all we want is a level playing field where everyone is treated equally, we want better compliance with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The intent of the “Mandatory news media bargaining code” does not appear to be level playing field. In my opinion mainstream media in Australia is asking the government for special privileges, to fend off legitimate competition from digital media companies.

Digital service providers like Google regularly tweak their algorithm to try to maximise value to consumers, by pushing content they think people will find interesting to the top of the search list. But the advance notice of changes to algorithm requirement would give establishment media plenty of time to figure out how to game the new algorithm, to ensure their tired content is always at the top of everyone’s search.

Eric Worrall / 30 mins ago August 21, 2020