EU could follow Australia in addressing Big Tech’s “acute bargaining power imbalances”

European policymakers, such as Digital Services Act rapporteur MEP Alex Agius Saliba, are monitoring the situation in Australia which has seen Facebook suspend access to domestic news publishers.
Source: PA Images

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

19 Feb 2021

Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba has backed Australia in calling on major tech platforms like Facebook and Google to pay to display news articles. The dispute is over a planned law, unveiled in July last year, that would force tech giants such as Facebook and Google to pay for news content.

On Thursday, Facebook pages of all local and global news sites were unavailable in Australia. People outside the country are also unable to read or access any Australian news publications on the platform.

According to the Financial Times, the EU looks set to make similar demands of the tech giants, a move that would be supported by Saliba, who sits on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee.

Saliba said the Australian government's approach had addressed the "acute bargaining power imbalances" between tech platforms and news publishers.

"With their dominant market position in search, social media and advertising, large digital platforms create power imbalances and benefit significantly from news content… I think it is only fair that they pay back a fair amount." Alex Agius Saliba (MT, S&D)

"With their dominant market position in search, social media and advertising, large digital platforms create power imbalances and benefit significantly from news content," said the Socialist member, adding, "I think it is only fair that they pay back a fair amount."

The EU has championed new data and tech regulation in recent years, bringing in the GDPR legislation and proposals to clamp down on digital giants.

Among the accounts now blocked by Facebook is Access Now, a non-profit founded in 2009 that defends and extends the digital rights of people around the world. The social media platform called on Facebook to “rectify this immediately.”

On Friday, Melody Patry, Advocacy Director at Access Now, said, “Facebook blocking Access Now and other organisations in Australia is not a reaction to a bad draft law, but a flex: Facebook wants to control the narrative, and they want world leaders and users to take note.”

“When Big Tech’s gatekeeper power is unchecked or a handful of dominant publishers can influence legislation, we get caught in a battle where users always lose.” Patry said Access Now had called on Facebook to fully reinstate all NGO, civil society, and news pages in Australia.

“Content moderation decisions by platforms - such as choosing not to display news content - that are disproportionate and lack notice, transparency, and remedy are incompatible with human rights law and constitutional principles.”

“Facebook blocking Access Now and other organisations in Australia is not a reaction to a bad draft law, but a flex: Facebook wants to control the narrative, and they want world leaders and users to take note.” Melody Patry, Advocacy Director at Access Now

“They endanger rights such as freedom of expression and access to information, and right to privacy, among others. As civic space shrinks offline, we must fight to preserve our online homes and freedom to associate digitally.”

Further comment comes from Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia-Pacific Policy Director at Access Now, who said, “These types of social media bans affect different populations in diverse ways.”

“Laws that are tailor-made for Big Tech and force deals with major publishers risk entrenching the dominance of a few players in the information ecosystem, to the detriment of much-needed independent and local journalism and tech developments — and, in the case of Australia, NGOs and other organisations as well.”

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