Finally, the Indian authorities have moved on – the Competition Commission of India has ordered an investigation against Google for its ‘alleged’ abuse of dominant position in news aggregation. This follows, much later than it should have been, in the footsteps of action in Australia, which last year passed a law requiring tech platforms such as Google and Facebook to pay local media fairly for linking their content in news feeds or search results. France has implemented the EU’s updated copyright rules that require digital platforms to compensate news publishers for previews of news content. This forced Facebook to strike a deal last October with a French lobby group representing 300 French publishers.
The world’s second largest online marketplace and largest democracy needs equally vigorous action against tech giants. The health of Indian democracy depends on financially viable, independent news media. As online news consumption increases, the current system is becoming increasingly unfair to news publishers. Google and Facebook dominate internet traffic, taking away as much as 70-80% of the advertising revenue that comes from digital news consumption. This, in turn, makes mainstream news publishing, which involves gatekeepers and fact-checking and therefore having to hire trained professionals, increasingly unfeasible.
As this newspaper has always argued, without responsibly produced news we are left with the social media jungle of half-truths, lies, fake content, superstition, manipulation and hate speech. The world has already seen the chaos this can cause. Tech giants falsely claim that they bring a lot of traffic to news publishers. It works both ways. About 40% of trending searches on Google are news related, driving a lot of traffic to them. So tech giants basically get an almost free ride. It makes sense and fair that online platforms share online advertising revenue fairly with news publishers. Hopefully the action of CCI will soon lead to the necessary rules that ensure this.
This piece appeared as an editorial in the print edition of The Times of India.
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