Australia, Facebook, Google & the beginning of the end of the open internet

I am sorry, the idea of a link tax is simply stupid.

👋 Welcome to FWIW by David Tvrdon, your weekly tech, media & audio digest.

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In this edition

🦘 WTF is happening in Australia

⚔️ What is happening between Apple and Facebook

💬 Other tech, media, gaming, audio & podcasting news


📝 Programming note: This newsletter did not come out last week, there is nothing wrong with your inbox. I simply did not have the time. I appreciate everyone sticking around despite this hiatus of mine. Below I left some of the biggest news from last week as well. This is a long newsletter, so go easy.

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If Facebook is the one on the right side, you know you did something bad

📸 by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash

This was probably the biggest news of the week and I suppose you have read and heard about it a lot by now. This segment is aimed both at those who have, and also who haven’t.

What happened

Let me start by recommending this piece by Casey Newton a borrowing an opening quote:

Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code threatened to splinter the internet. On Wednesday morning, the splintering arrived: Google cut a deal with News Corp. that will ensure its services continue to be provided in Australia, and Facebook walked away from the bargaining table and began preventing people from sharing news links from Australian publishers around the world.

Why the law is bad

Back in August 2020, Ben Thompson wrote probably the best tear down of the proposed bill:

Just to be very clear, these are the terms offered by the two companies:

  • Google: content from your site shows up for free in Search and Google News. Google does not charge for any traffic it sends you.

  • Facebook: your users may choose to share your content with their friends and family. Facebook does not charge for any traffic it sends you.

Do you see the absolute absurdity here? This language suggests that Google and Facebook are using their gatekeeping power to gouge news media businesses for sending traffic their way, when in fact they send traffic for free. As I noted in May, if anyone should be getting paid in this relationship it is Google and Facebook (although, to be clear, I am not saying Google and Facebook should actually be paid).

If you are interested, I encourage you to read the whole blog post, Thompson explains how the law brings benefits mainly to big publishers and doesn’t really care for journalism.

Why are we talking about the end of the open internet?

This was best put by Mike Masnick in his column over at Techdirt:

We can argue about whether or not Facebook is "compatible with democracy" but the simple facts of the situation are that Australia -- pushed heavily by Rupert Murdoch -- has decided to put in place a plan to tax Google and Facebook for any links to news. The bill has all sorts of problems, but there are two huge ones that should concern basically anyone who supports a free and open internet.

First is the link tax. This is fundamentally against the principles of an open internet. The government saying that you can't link to a news site unless you pay a tax should be seen as inherently problematic for a long list of reasons. At a most basic level, it's demanding payment for traffic.

Is there a better solution? Yes!

As always, if you look hard enough, maybe in this case you do not have to look that hard, as it seems some of the “other suggestions” what to do instead are rather obvious and even make sense.

So what’s the alternative? asks Will Oremus over at OneZero:

One idea that has been gaining traction involves requiring the largest internet platforms to pay into a fund that would then subsidize journalism in some form. The goal is not to punish the platforms, or to level the playing field between platforms and the corporate media, but to address the decline of journalism through direct subsidies. 

The obvious questions include on what basis to tax the platforms, who should oversee the resulting funds, exactly what types of journalism they should subsidize, and how to decide who gets those subsidies.

Most critics of the proposed law would agree that because of the way Big Tech giants are taxed it benefits mainly the US, so some kind of “digital tax” would make sense. Europe has been discussing and some countries implementing it in various ways.

Let’s just say there are good options for the government to address the Big Tech vs. media issue, and then there is the Australian way.


If you are looking for an opposite opinion I recommend this piece by Matt Stoller.

In other news

TECH

⚔️ What is happening between Apple and Facebook? The two companies and their CEOs have been at it for years, to say they don’t like each other is an understatement. The current feud is around Apple’s soon-to-be-released privacy tool. But, as The Information noted in their podcast, the public clash might be just a manifestation of Zuckerberg not controlling the underlying hardware and operating system of smartphones. That’s why Facebook is leaning so heavily towards AR and VR. Apple is also working hard on its mixed reality wearable device. [Wall Street Journal]

📲 Apple under Tim Cook: How Apple’s CEO transformed Steve Jobs’ company. A big profile of Tim Cook. [Bloomberg]

Facebook is building a smartwatch, it should hit the market in 2022. One of its main functionalities will be messaging, but will also offer health and fitness features. It is a continuous effort by Mark Zuckerberg to lessen dependence on Apple and Google. [The Information]

👋 The Stanford Internet Observatory has confirmed that Agora, a Shanghai-based provider of real-time engagement software, supplies back-end infrastructure to the Clubhouse App. Apart from the fact that raw audio could have been accessed by a Chinese third party, for me, it is mindblowing that a billion-dollar startup does not own its underlying technology. [Stanford Internet Observatory]

  • RELATED: Why can’t Europe build a Clubhouse? That’s what asks Nicolas Colin, a European investor. [Sifted.eu]

The truth is that if European entrepreneurs try to deploy social media platforms by using the Silicon Valley playbook, they will likely fail. What works for Clubhouse does so precisely because Clubhouse is born and bred in Silicon Valley. But for European ventures, the context is different: they have to deal with fragmentation early on and they don’t have access to the same investors at an early stage.

🤑 There was some Twitter news: Twitter is building a subscription product and considers other monetization options. [Bloomberg] After Trump, Twitter’s growth did not slow down contrary to the myth floating around. [Variety]

👨‍💻 LinkedIn is developing a new service called Marketplaces. It would let its 740 million users find and book freelancers. Yep, a service just like Upwork and Fiverr. [The Information]

💸 Reddit valuation hits $6B. [Wall Street Journal]

🦾 Samsung filed the highest number of AI patents beating technology giants in the top 10 list, followed by Alphabet’s Google, Intel, IBM and Microsoft. The Korean company is expanding its research scope around AI technologies focused on improving lifestyles. [InfotechLead.com]

📼 Deepfake porn is ruining women’s lives. [MIT Technology Review]

📊 WordPress VIP is acquiring Parse.ly. WordPress VIP is the enterprise arm of WordPress.com, and Parse.ly is a content analytics platform that's used by digital publishers. [Axios]

🇳🇱 Amsterdam surpassed London as Europe’s trading hub. Shares worth roughly 9.2 billion euros were traded on Dutch markets last month, beating the €8.6 billion traded on London exchanges. That shift is a tangible sign of how financial markets are being remade after Brexit. [Financial Times]

🇪🇺 The European Union is considering building an advanced semiconductor factory in Europe. It signals in an attempt to avoid relying on the U.S. and Asia for technology at the heart of some of its major industries. Industry analysts are skeptical and say it will take years. [Bloomberg]

💰 Bitcoin trades above $50,000, more than doubling in value in less than two months. [Wall Street Journal]

🌐 The internet is splintering. Not only individual countries around the world but also various states in the US are considering special laws regulating tech giants. That’s not a great idea for the internet’s future. [NY Times]

💻 Chromebooks outsold Macs worldwide in 2020. New numbers show 2020 was the first year that Chromebooks outsold Macs, posting impressive market share gains at the expense of Windows. [GeekWire]

⚖️ Epic Games files antitrust complaint against Apple in the EU. Epic Games said the 30% cut that Apple takes on App Store purchases is anti-competitive. [CNBC]

📈 How did the about GameStop and the meme-stock mania go? Well, we learned a lot about the Robinhood app and not much else. [NY Times, The Verge]

🏛️ Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey will testify on March 25 in a Congressional hearing about disinformation on online platforms, according to a statement from the House Energy and Commerce Committee. [The Information]

MEDIA

🐭 Disney has almost 95 million paid subscribers to Disney+. ARPU is down, from $5.56 to $4.03. That’s because this number now includes subscribers to Disney+ Hotstar, which launched in India and Indonesia last year. The service has lower average monthly revenue per paid subscriber than traditional Disney+ in other markets, pulling down the overall average for the quarter. [CNBC]

🍿 HBO Max launches in June in Latin America and the Caribbean. Following this launch, the existing HBO-branded streaming services in Europe — the Nordics, Spain, Central Europe, and Portugal — are scheduled to be upgraded to HBO Max later this year. [Variety]

🧑🏻‍💼 LinkedIn is building a creator management team to help grow its community of content creators on the platform. [Axios]

🗞️ The anger inside the New York Times as a divided newsroom erupts in a debate over recent controversies. [CNN]

🧒 The New York Times is testing a digital subscription for kids. Dubbed as "NYT Kids" will build off of an existing NYT Kids print section, launched in 2017, that began appearing monthly in the regular print edition of The Sunday New York Times in 2018. Target group: kids ages 8-11, much of the content will feature "how-to" exercises, like how to make a paper airplane according to NASA or how to cope with grief. The product is only being tested in the U.S. for now. [Axios]

👤 A conversation with the soon-to-retire executive editor of the Washington Post. Marty Baron is probably the most editor-in-chief in the US in recent memory, he took WaPo over the Bezos transition and was portrayed in an Oscar-winning movie by Liev Schreiber. [New Yorker]

🇵🇱 What is happening in Polish media? Hint: Nothing good. [Politico.eu]

  • RELATED: Poland, Hungary, Belarus attacks on media freedom Different approaches by the illiberal trio, but all set to reduce press freedom. [The Fix]

📩 Case study: How Outride.rs developed a loyal audience by going ‘newsletter first’. [Membership Puzzle Project]

🎓 New MOOC coming: Newsletter Strategies for Journalists. Learn how to create, grow & monetize newsletters in this free online course. [Journalism courses]

🤔 #HowToTucson shows the power of a newsletter course. [News Revenue Hub]

“#HowToTucson is an eight-part newsletter course for newcomers to the Tucson area and anyone who wants to know our city better,” explained online producer Samantha Munsey. The series—written by #ThisIsTucson reporter Johanna Willett and illustrated by Arizona Daily Star graphic artist Chiara Bautista—is broken down into topics including weather; food; arts and culture; the economy; and schools and neighborhoods. Newsletter courses are limited-run, educationalseries, designed to provide more actionable advice for readers than traditional daily or weekly newsletters. 

💭 How the NYT Opinion section is being remade after the Tom Cotton piece and the resignation of James Bennet. Very good interview with new opinion editor, Kathleen Kingsbury. [NiemanLab]

📚 Audiobooks are the fastest-growing sector within the book publishing industry, according to The Association of American Publishers. [Axios]

AUDIO & PODCASTING

🎧 Mark Cuban is co-founding a podcast app where hosts can talk to fans live and monetize their conversations. Yep, this is one of those several Clubhouse-like apps coming soon. [The Verge]

  • Facebook is working on a Clubhouse competitor. [NY Times]

🎓 In Austria, the Forum for Journalism and Media and Podcastwelt have launched The Podcast Institute. From March 2021, the Podcast Institute will offer prospective and established podcasters a wide range of advanced training courses in the areas of podcast conception, production, and marketing in order to meet the needs of this fast-growing scene at all levels. [APA-OTS]

🔍 The third season of the Land of the Giants podcast tells the inside story of Google. The first season focused on Amazon, the second on Netflix. This is a great project. [Vox]

Buzzsprout allows you to add downloads to imported podcast episodes. If importing your show from another host, you can add the total number of downloads you had on each episode before moving to Buzzsprout. Honestly, I wish this was an industry standard.[Buzzsprout blog]

🎬 Acast acquires podcast tech startup RadioPublic. The Swedish podcast host is trying to build up its presence in the USA. Last year, Acast teamed up with Patreon to make it easier for podcasters to publish episodes that are only available to the patrons financially supporting them on Patreon. [Axios]

🎬 iHeartMedia acquired Triton Digital for its growing podcast ad tech stack. Triton has two lines of business that include a content delivery system that dynamically inserts ads into digital audio streams and podcasts, and a measurement service to track audiences and create rating reports. [Marketing Dive]

🐌 Where are podcasts migrating? Podnews introduced an interactive infographic of podcasts switching hosting companies which they’ll be updating. It shows where they came from, and where they've gone. [Podnews]

OTHER

😮 Wikipedia’s List of Cognitive Biases is the single most important page on the web, says venture capitalist Hunter Walk. [99% Humble, 1% Brag]

🕶️ Coke is launching a new bottle size for the first time in a decade. [CNN]

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