Facebook Comes Out Swinging on News in Australia and Personalized Ads

Person using Facebook on iPhone.

Under pressure on multiple fronts, Facebook came out fighting this week. It reinstated the ability to share news links in Australia after a row with the country’s government and media producers. The company then also doubled-down on its support for personalized ads – something that sits at the heart of its row with Apple.

First, The News

On Tuesday, Facebook reinstated the ability to share new links in Australia. A few days earlier it had somewhat abruptly removed this in response to an incoming law in the country that would have required the social media giant to pay media companies for links shared. Explaining the decision, Facebook’s Vice President of Global Affairs Sir Nick Clegg wrote that the law was “like forcing car makers to fund radio stations because people might listen to them in the car — and letting the stations set the price.”

Interestingly, Facebook was joined in opposition by Sir Tim Berners Lee. In a submission, the inventor of the World Wide Web told lawmakers that he was “concerned that the Code risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online.”

Ultimately, Australia passed its law on Thursday. William Easton, Managing Director, Facebook Australia & New Zealand had already said his firm and the government had “been able to reach an agreement.”

Whatever merit one thinks Facebook’s argument holds – I can certainly see the philosophical problems Sir Tim highlighted but am not convinced at all by Sir Nick’s analogy with cars and radio – the idea that a key information source could turn off the taps to information is somewhat frightening.

As discussed on this week’s Media+ podcast, Apple is also in the news business. However, it has a different approach to Facebook (and is also a far less significant driver of traffic than Facebook).

Facebook Highlights Benefits of Personalized Ads Amidst Apple Tracking Row

Tensions have been ramping up between Apple and Facebook for weeks over incoming privacy updates in iOS 14. No surprise, but Mark Zuckerberg (who wants to “inflict pain” on Apple,) are sticking to their stance. Facebook launched a new initiative called Good Ideas Deserve to be Found that aims to highlight how personalized ads help people discover small businesses. The company said it was investing “continued investment in products and resources that can help small businesses navigate the road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

No doubt Facebook’s approach to both news and privacy will continue to be in the spotlight in the weeks and months ahead, as the clashes with Apple.

4 thoughts on “Facebook Comes Out Swinging on News in Australia and Personalized Ads

  • Charlotte:
    Your scepticism regarding Sir Nick’s analogy is warranted. In order for it to apply, it should be symmetrical; meaning that car manufacturers should be able to block, post automobile purchase, certain radio stations’ access to your car’s radio, in protest to having to pay them a fee. They cannot. Indeed, for stations that are fee for service, you, the consumer have to pay the subscription in order to receive the service. If anything, the analogy is closer to that of an author or publisher acknowledging an original source of a citation, without a fee per se, but at pain of penalty (plagiarism) for failure to acknowledge the source, hence the fee is implicit; an analogy uncomfortably apt for FB, as their platform is closer in model and function to that of a publisher than it is to either a manufacturer or a utility. 
    Sir Tim’s support notwithstanding, FB is not the victim here, but an exploiter to the extent of abuse of an under-regulated industry – an absolutist miner of a precious digital resource – user/consumer data. Sir Tim might be right in principle, but wrong on both fact and merit. 
    And speaking of being wrong, FB have blocked the accounts of the military and their supporters in Myanmar on account of their having overthrown a democratically elected government – a good thing, mind you. However, it is tacit acknowledgement of their previous wrongful policy of permitting their platform to host venal incitement, as well as tactical coordination, by ethnic bigots and that same military in order to organise and then execute a pogrom against the ethnic Rohingya in that same country a few short years ago – a policy of ethnic cleansing still underway and unabated by any intervention from FB. 
    FB’s attempt to conceal their lust for profit behind the fig leaf, if not the human shield, of standing up for small businesses is both self-serving and contemptible. 

      1. @geoduck:
        Not even Rip Van Winkle could sleep on that question and come up with an answer other than ‘Never’.

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