I recently explored thoughts on ‘should Facebook own the internet‘, and as I further explore, I thought that while much of what I posted also applies to Google, Google deserved their own post.
Both Google and Facebook earn their revenue as ‘persuaders’, so it comes as no surprise that Google and Facebook have both tried to persuade the public that the Australian government is just being mean to the poor, hardworking companies who always put their customers first by asking Google and Facebook to pay for news content. But what is fair? If Google and Facebook controlling the news we see is inevitable, does it matter?
- The Google Defence Case.
- Google Search: Provide The Answer, or Provide The Source?
- Google Customers vs Google Competitors.
- Why The Focus on News?
- Pay Competitors, or Acquire them?
- The Inevitable.
The Google Defence Case.
Google put their case by way of an analogy, which in a slight of hand, is about coffee, not information:
(on Aljera) “If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.”
(in PR video) “Let me try and say it another way, imagine your friend asks for a coffee shop recommendation, so you tell them about a few nearby, so they can go and choose one, and go and get a coffee. But then you get a bill, to pay all the coffee shops, simply because you mentioned a few of them.”Melanie Silva- Managing Director of Google Australia.
Now this should at least convince you that Google is good at spinning a story, even if it may raise doubts about their veracity.
Points for Public Relations.
In the analogy, Melanie casts ‘you’ as the equivalent to Google, and your role as providing suggestions to a friend. So Google is like a friend giving you advice? And this advice will lead to actual revenue for the coffee shop which will get to sell a coffee for a profit, and then send you a bill, when were just acting out of the goodness of your heart! If they analogy did fit with reality, then poor Google!
Demerits For Veracity.
- Coffee is ‘customer content’, while news is ‘competitor content’.
- Google is not quite like friend giving advice, as Google is in the business of providing search answers and other information in return for advertising revenue.
- The discussion was never about when Google provides information on coffee shops, but when Google provides information from other people who also provide information in return for advertising revenue.
- The suggestion is that when Google earns the advertising revenue, instead the people who did the research and paid reporters and photographers etc to the information together, Google pay some of that advertising revenue to the people who did the work.
Here is an attempt at a revised analogy, keeping it to information:
Let me try it another way, and this time I will keep it about information. Imagine friend asks if you have any information on coffee shops in your area and you “yes, I have been paid by some sponsors to put together a flyer which is a collage of all the information you need, extracted from publications which have done loads of lots of great research, please take one so can add you to my distribution count”. Then, the publications who did all that great research that you included in your flyer, send you a bill asking you to contribute to he cost of their research!My closer analogy?
Google Search: The Answer, or The Source?
Research indicates that more than 50% of Google searches end without a click to other content. One of the metrics of all web sites, Google included, is how long do you spend on the site before going elsewhere. Google developers have a goal to always increase ‘engagement’, or the amount of time you spend on Google, rather following a link to a different website.
Of course Google also has paid links, links that earn click revenue. Surely that means Google want people to link to other web sites? Isn’t this a contradiction.
Google Competitor, Or Potential Customer?
Google could easily divide other organisations into two groups:
- Organisations that compete for the the online advertising spend. (competitors)
- Organisations that may spend on online advertising. (potential customers)
News websites compete with Google for their online advertising customers. The online advertising marketplace, which Google and Facebook dominate, is also the source of revenue for online news organisations, and many other online content/information providers. If a person is searching for things to buy, Google can generate a number of links to businesses who provide suitable products and/or, but when person is seeking information, is is possible for Google to directly provide the information instead of just providing links.
So if you “ask Google” for a coffee, Google can’t provide the coffee, and instead will provide you with information those who can supply you with coffee. But if you “ask Google” Google for todays news, Google can directly tell you the news, or Google could instead direct you to News websites.
The coffee shop is a potential customer, as the provide something Google does not. The news website is a competitor as they compete for the online-advertising dollar and provide something Google can provide.
It is not only news companies who compete with Google by providing information to people in order to earn advertising revenue. Consider these ‘ask google’ questions:
- What is the time in Kazakhstan?
- Will it rain today?
- What is the exchange rate with the Thai Baht?
- How many inches in 3 meters?
Google will provide all these answers, and countless others, without the need to follow a link. Should you wish to follow a link, Google will also provide links, after already showing the information. All the links could be considered Google competitors and rarely would any of those links be a revenue click for google.
Yet, this is all about news, not any of those other services, even though there would be other cases where Google is using the work of others to provide the answer.
Why The Focus On News?
New services not only compete with the industry for advertising revenue, they also threaten online time and outrage by providing real news. All of the examples I could think of other than news where Google can provide an answer have an widely agreed and correct answer. There are no other cases for ‘fake’ information helping google, or other influence industry members, get traffic. There is no thing about creating fake weather, metric conversions or fake time of day. For most things, you either have the answer or not. The fact that news depends on perspective makes news special.
But there is a more significant reason news is more important than other services.
There is no advantage to controlling how people see these other information services. But note that:
- Kim Jung Ung
- Vladimir Putin
- Xi Jinping
are all very enthusiastic about manipulating who sees what news, and can see ‘real news’ as the enemy.
“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”—Thomas Jefferson (1786)American Bar Association Journal.
It has been stated that a free, independent press and balanced press is essential to democracy.
Pay Competitors, or Acquire them?
The rules being introduced in Australia require Google and Facebook to reach agreements with the providers of news and compensate for the use of news in extracts and news digests that can replace the need to visit the sites originally reporting the new and funding the journalists, reporters and camera people involved.
This seems an improvement, and may keep many in jobs in reporting real news. However, there seems to be a risk that as a result of these deals, over time the main ‘sponsors’ of the news organisations will not longer be advertisers, but Google and Facebook. If Google and Facebook are funding the news, won’t that make news operations globally beholden to what Google and Facebook want in the news? Will the end result be that news organisations are effectively subsidiaries of Google, or Facebook etc?
In the world today, there are people who believe in ‘pizzagate‘, people who believe the earth is flat despite the fact that you can fly around the planet and there are photos from space, and approximately half of Americans believe the 2020 election result was stolen through fraud despite their being no evidence, or logic to the claims.
All of these beliefs arose with relatively little funding. Imagine what you could get people to believe if trillions of dollars could be gained.
It seems inevitable if the current direction continues that the tech giants will be able to control the news. It may be a future where the price of the things people buy have been inflated to allow companies wish to sell anything to pay the required marketing fees to Google and co in order to persuade customers their products are the ones to buy. Billion of workers around the world who work extra hours to pay for the expensive products, and spend much of their leisure time on their phones checking social media and YouTube videos.
But it is very very likely that a Signiant number of people will be persuaded that it is just the best way for things to be, and nothing like the novel 1984.