Charities and the Australian public were left in the cold yesterday as the stoush between the Australian Government and big tech just got bigger. Facebook turned off content on tens of thousands of vital pages yesterday such as rural fire services, the Bureau of Meteorology, and various state and territory government health sites –let alone struggling small businesses and community groups. Each of these groups use it as a vital channel to connect with their clients and the general public with around 49% of the population relying on it in times of crisis.
Facebook’s move was meant to show to the rest of the world that they dictate the rules – but all it did was annoy and galvanise the Australian population.
Who are the FAANGs or “Big Tech”?
Big Tech companies are traditionally considered the FAANGs; Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Alphabet (Google’s parent) plus Microsoft, Tencent/Alibaba and others. They dominate our lives as we all either use one of their devices, or parts of their technology every day, and multiple times a day.
What is the problem with Big Tech?
Big Tech are largely unregulated and have unprecedented knowledge about each and every one of us; knowing where we’ve been (check your Google profile!), where we shop (Apple Pay), what we like to watch (Netflix), what our opinions are (Facebook), our age, where we live, etc etc etc!
Most of this has been gleaned from engagement with aspects of their technology, which in turn is because they have used or enabled the sharing of news content generated by others. They don’t have a team of journalists like a typical media empire which are subject to codes of conduct and regulation; instead they can allow the live streaming of horrific events such as the NZ mosque shooting rampage which cynics would argue was just to generate traffic.
All this traffic keeps us coming back to their sites or technology, meaning they can sell advertising –really targeted advertising - to organisations large and small. Yet this revenue doesn’t stay in the Australian ecosystem via the tax system. Instead Australians miss out via a slight of hand and some creative invoicing. Revenue is not taxed, rather profits are. So if you have a lower taxed Singaporean or Irish office that happens to invoice the Australian operation for something significant like “Marketing expenses”, then profit numbers in Australia dwindle, and revenue has just moved to the lower tax regime.
Australians essentially give up their privacy for free, content is not paid for, and Australian organisations pay for the privilege to access this merry-go-round. This led the Australian Government to call “time” – demanding some kind of payment for news. But clearly BigTech don't want to give up this lucrative revenue stream.
Find out here whether Australia really matters to BigTech