Canada Joins Australia in the fight for the future of the internet

Can’t share this

The fight for the future of the internet has gotten the heat turned up. Earlier this month, the conflict playing out in the Australian Parliament between Google and a proposed law that would make them and Facebook pay to link to news sources jumped to the public consciousness.

Google has since decided to get ahead of the legislation and began paying news outlets for their stories in their Google News Showcase program. This is a complete reversal after threatening to exit the country completely, should Australia go through with the legislation.

Facebook, on the other hand, went on the offensive. On Feb. 18, Facebook users in Australia were unable to see or share any news content. The ban was far-reaching, covering both domestic and international news outlets. The ban went so far as to remove some pages relating to government institutions. In regards to this issue, Australian Prime minister Scott Morrison said, “They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it.”

Facebook relented once they began striking deals a few days later on Feb. 23 after the code was amended.

Facebook claims that they are different in handling news than Google, namely that publishers choose to publish their articles on Facebook. Facebook claims that they give publishers “5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth an estimated AU$407 million.”

According to Axios, the number of visits to Australian news sites both domestic and international dropped during the few days the ban was in place. It remains to be seen how restoring sharing affects these sites or if the ban hurt Facebook usage in the country on a larger scale.

Enter Canada. The same day that news was removed from Facebook in Australia, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, who is in charge of similar legislation, doubled down on his commitment to the project. His proposed legislation is expected to hit Ottawa later in the spring, according to Reuters. Indications suggest the legislation will follow the Australian model rather than the French model, which differs in that publishers are paid to have their content used in a special content area called Google News Showcase, rather than charging for access to links. 

Pandora’s box has been opened, with Australia leading a charge that appears to only be snowballing from here.

Canada’s follow-up to Australia will likely be pivotal. Many popular outlets of Australian media are owned by a rather controversial company, News Corp., which contains The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, and Fox News, among others. News Corp. championed the legislation through their various channels, leading some to question the motive of the legislation and consider it “media blackmail,” such as Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Craig Newmark School of Journalism at the City University of New York.

Other companies such as Seven West Media have joined Google News Showcase in Australia.

Canada following the Australian model legitimizes it and establishes it as a standard, even though it’s not an actual law yet. 

As we spend more time online due to the continuing pandemic, the market dominance of Google and Facebook has come to the forefront. The Canadian Media Concentration Research Project clocked Google at 50 per cent market share in Canadian online advertising in 2019, and Facebook was nearing one-third, leaving only roughly one-fifth of the market.

It is unknown how this legislation will change those figures or anything as of yet since France is the only country to enact a law similar to this, and their model is not applicable.

So by the time you read this, you may not be able to share this. We are now in the waiting game to see what Canada’s heritage minister’s legislation brings to Canada, and how Facebook and Google react. If Australia is a model to go by, we may go a few days without sharing.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


Google vs. Australia: the first battle for the future of the internet

Google threatens to remove its search engine from Australia

It’s no secret that traditional news media has been having a hard time. The balance of power between news sites and aggregator sites is a fight as old as the internet. In this effort, the Australian government proposed a law last year that would require companies like Google and Facebook to pay to link to news stories.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the goal of the law is to “address bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms, specifically Google and Facebook.”

It includes a set of rules for the publishers and social sites to adhere to, including publishing “core news,” maintaining editorial standards, and being primarily Australian in origin and intended audience.

However, Google did not take this lying down. About a week ago, a yellow warning sign appeared under the search bar in Australia that linked to an open letter from Google Australia’s managing director, Mel Silvia. They are threatening to shut down Google search from the country if the proposed law takes effect.

Google argues in their statement that this “puts Google’s business in Australia — and the services we provide more than 19 million Australians — at enormous risks,” and this monumental shift to how the internet works would lead to unforeseen consequences.

Google representatives did not respond to The Concordian’s request for comment.

“Many countries are contemplating link taxes or other forms of revenue sharing,” according to Robert Fay, managing director of digital economy at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

“In France, for example, Alphabet [Google] has agreed to negotiate licenses to pay for content,” said Fay. That French example is an agreement between news publishers and the Alliance de la Presse d’Information Générale (APIG), where publishers make a deal with Google to showcase their articles in search results for a negotiated fee, rather than just exposure. A similar program called Google News Showcase is in place in Germany and Brazil already.

The Australian law would force Google to pay for links to news sites, not for the content of the articles. 

John Hinds, president of lobbying group News Media Canada, thinks that the Australian model may be the way to go, and stated that “it’s the most effective model because it also has a code of conduct that also deals with some of the advertising issues beyond simply the idea of paying for content.”

The click economy relies on big services such as Facebook and Google to get eyes on pages. It was a mutually beneficial partnership for years, as news sites relied on the coverage that Google and Facebook could give them. In return, pages like Google and Facebook benefitted from consumers using their platforms by both finding and sharing articles. Both publishers and social sites take in ad revenue from the consumer looking at their respective pages.

Delphine Halgand-Mishra, senior fellow at CIGI argued that, “knowing that this article has a production cost to bring reliable information, then it is only fair that the media get a portion of the ad-revenue the online service providers gained thanks to users reading the article and spending time on the platform.”

Fey added that “Google’s concern is likely that if it agrees to what Australia proposes other countries will follow. That boat has left the dock. Google’s ultimatum is not in its best interest since, in the end, it would only lose market share if it begins to pull out of countries.”

This fight comes at a pivotal point in the information age (or misinformation age).

Traditional reporting has been falling on hard times since the internet became commonplace, not just in terms of diminished readership but also in the loss of advertising revenue. Ever since 2000, revenue for newspapers in both advertising and circulation has been unstable and declining, ad revenue dropping 44 per cent between 2006 and 2009 alone. Confidence in the news continues to be low, and layoffs in newsrooms only serve to compound the troubles.

The need for reporting did not go away, however, and reliable information has only since gone up in importance. The internet removed barriers to accessing information, while not proposing a way to pay for said information.

The path forward is not entirely clear now. These rules appear to be in defiance of net neutrality, the idea that the internet is a level playing field. Many different sets of rules are likely to be rolled out across the globe, with Australia and France perhaps only early forerunners of a larger movement.

“New problems could always arise from new legislation,” argued Halgand-Mishra.

“The devil is always in the details. No legislation is ever perfect. I think this legislation will mostly change the way Google pays news providers. Google will not pay in its own terms anymore.”


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


The technology war has reached our bookstore, and Google won

Graphic by Sean Kershaw

Do you remember when companies stuck to what they did best? Google was a search engine, Amazon sold books and Apple sold computers.

Those days are over. All three companies have beefed up to offer a wide variety of services, and as a result, they encroach on each other’s territory every so often in an attempt to expand their customer base. Google, Apple and Amazon now offer music and storage services, as well as tablets.

This level of competition is advantageous to us, the consumers, because it drives prices down and offers a wider variety of choices.

This semester, Concordia’s bookstore started offering a decent range of e-books (textbooks, novels, etc.) through a partnership with Google and 22 other universities in Canada and the United States. “We are proud to sell Google eBooks because they offer students ultimate flexibility,” the website boasts. “They can be read on virtually any device, at any time.”

The key word is “virtually.” As a proud owner of an Amazon Kindle e-reader, which I bought for the sole purpose of reading, I was excited knowing that thousands of books, possibly some that I would need for class, would be made available for me.

Then I read this: “Google eBooks will work on the following devices: Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Computers, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo Reader.” It adds: “Google eBooks are not currently compatible with Amazon Kindle devices.”

After repeated attempts to get an explanation from the bookstore as to why it was exercising what seemed like e-reader discrimination, I got a reply from Ken Bissonnette, the operations and text manager at the bookstore. He started out by saying that the bookstore had sold roughly 450 copies of e-books that were required for courses in January, but “there are no plans to include the Kindle.” After demanding more precise explanations, he finally said: “At this time I don’t see Google using Kindle.”

This statement proves two things: firstly, that a partnership with Google clearly entails preference to Android-based tablet users, which is understandable, and secondly, that the bookstore itself is clearly unaware of student trends, and the advantages of making their e-books available to Kindle users.

While Apple clearly has a stranglehold on the tablet market share, the Kindle has the same kind of monopoly for e-readers. “During the last nine weeks of 2011, Kindle unit sales, including the Fire tablet, increased 177 per cent compared to the same period in 2010,” according to an official Amazon statement last month.

Kindle device sales in 2011 were nearly triple the 2010 total; this is due to its low starting prices and to Amazon’s “focus on an ecosystem and content for users, an approach closer to what Apple uses for the iPad, rather than focusing on hardware specs.,” according to Flurry Analytics.

The point is, the Kindle is prevalent among the student population and universities should opt to include the Kindle if they want to achieve substantial e-book sales. No one I know owns a Sony or Kobo eReader, and I certainly don’t know any students who want to strain their eyes by reading an 80-page document on an iPod or iPhone, let alone an iPad, which uses a reflective screen that simply won’t let you read in the sun.

Photo by Dean Sas via Flickr

In 2009, Princeton University carried out a pilot program (three members of faculty and 51 students) using e-readers in a classroom setting. One of their goals was to reduce the amount of printing and photocopying. “Most students surveyed in the Princeton pilot (94%) said they did use less paper, reducing by as much as 85% the printing they normally would have done in the pilot course,” according to the report.

Can you imagine if the Concordia bookstore sold the world’s most popular e-reader (which is already attractively priced) or at the very least made its e-books available to Kindle users? Not only would their e-book sales skyrocket, but the university would save an enormous amount of paper, which would certainly help Concordia’s efforts to become as sustainable as possible, and to be a model for other schools to follow.

More e-book sales would likely lead to more coursepacks and textbooks becoming available to the student body and subsequently, students wouldn’t be as turned off by the outlook of reading 80 electronic pages. So, will the bookstore bow down to Google, as so many others have done, or will it figure out a way to let us, the Kindle users, in on the fun?

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