Digital Updates – All 2020

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2020 UPDATES

Bipartisan Group of Senators Call on USTR to Not Include Section 230 in U.S.-UK Agreement

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On December 18, a bipartisan group of Senators sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer, requesting that the administration not include broad online liability protections in the potential U.S.-UK trade agreement. The letter, signed by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), notes that both the United States Congress and the United Kingdom are currently engaged in extensive reviews of their online liability regulations and that including a safe harbor clause would be “inappropriate” and “frankly unhelpful.” Multiple members of Congress have recently proposed amendments to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that protects online platforms from liability for the third-party content they publish, thereby facilitating various online harms. The administration included language similar to Section 230 in the recently negotiated United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), in addition to the negotiating objectives for the U.S.-UK agreement.

Local News Included in Proposed Payroll Assistance

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On December 20, Congress expanded government loan forgiveness to local news outlets in the proposed COVID relief bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) released a joint statement praising these “key modifications to PPP” that expand eligibility for “local newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters.” Facing falling adverting revenues, many local news outlets are struggling. Their inclusion in the relief package is pivotal for preserving a diversity of voices in news and delivering high-quality information to citizens. Read more here.

38 States File Antitrust Lawsuit Against Google

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On December 17, a bipartisan coalition of 38 states filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging Google used its market power to thwart competition. The lawsuit alleges that Google leveraged its market power to favor its own webpages and products violating antitrust laws. This is the third lawsuit against Google, following the DOJ’s antitrust suit and the Texas-led lawsuit targeting Google’s advertising practices. The coalition filed the complaint with a motion to consolidate the case with the DOJ’s recently filed lawsuit against Google. Read more here.

10 States File Digital Advertising Lawsuit Against Google

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On December 16, 10 states filed a complaint in the District Court for the Eastern District of Texas Sherman division alleging that Google illegally monopolized products and services that publishers used to advertise. The complaint further alleges that Google’s anticompetitive practices kept publishers from properly monetizing their content. The lawsuit is led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Read more here.

FTC Sues Facebook for Anti-Competitive Behavior

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On December 9, the FTC announced that it will sue Facebook for violating antitrust law along with 46 states’ attorneys general. The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that “Facebook has engaged in a systematic strategy … to eliminate threats to its monopoly,” violating Section 2 of the Sherman Act. This strategy included buying out competitors like Instagram and WhatsApp. This lawsuit comes less than two months after DOJ filed its lawsuit against Google for engaging in illegal monopolistic behavior. Read more here.

Australian Government Introduces Legislation Establishing Mandatory Code of Conduct for Online Platforms

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On December 9, the Australian government published its proposed legislation to create an enforceable code to require online platforms to pay news publishers for their content. The law will codify the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) draft code released earlier this year, reportedly with some changes. The code requires Google and Facebook to negotiate with news publishers, individually or collectively, for compensation. If the parties are unable to find a compromise agreement, the code establishes an arbitration procedure, managed by an independent arbitrator. According to news reports, the code will initially only apply to Facebook News Feed and Google Search, although it may be expanded in the future. The legislation has now been sent to Parliament, which will have to approve it before it enters into force. Read more here.

Google Giving Access to Paywalled Content

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On December 2, Google announced that it would start giving consumers access to paywalled content. Google will pay participating publishers for Google News Showcase users’ access to paywalled content. Google News Showcase launched two months ago in limited countries and Google hopes to continue expanding to more countries. It is not yet live in the U.S. Read more here.

Facebook to Pay Some UK Publishers

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On November 30, Facebook announced it would pay some UK publishers for their content. Facebook will hire contractors to select the main stories of the day from mainstream outlets to appear in its News Tab. Facebook has not said how much they will be paying publishers. UK news publishers hope that the Facebook News Tab will be another step toward compensating news publishers for their content and bringing trustworthy journalism to Facebook users. Read more here.

House of Lords Calls on UK Government to Ensure a Sustainable Future for Journalism

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On November 27, the Select Committee on Communications and Digital of the House of Lords of the United Kingdom published a report titled “Breaking News? The Future of UK Journalism.” The comprehensive report outlines the UK news media landscape before making multiple recommendations, ranging from building media literacy to improving job prospects in journalism, and addressing the imbalance of power between news publishers and online platforms. Noting the “dysfunctional online advertising market,” the report urges the Government to establish a Digital Markets Unit and to include a mandatory bargaining code, modelled after Australia’s proposed code, in the Online Harms Bill. Read the full report here.

UK Government to Develop a Code of Conduct and Establish a Digital Markets Unit to Regulate Online Platforms

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On November 27, the UK Government released its responses to the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) study on online platforms and digital advertising, published in July 2020. In its response, the Government accepted the CMA’s findings and recommendations and committed itself to the introduction of an enforceable code of conduct for online platforms and to establishing a Digital Markets Unit (DMU) within the CMA. The code of conduct would be aimed at protecting competition online, with the Government’s response noting that the code should also include provisions governing the relationship between the online platforms and the news media, as recommended in the Cairncross Review. The DMU, to be established from April 2021, will introduce, maintain, and enforce the code. Meanwhile, the Government has commissioned the Digital Markets Taskforce to advise it on the development of the code. According to news reports, legislation is expected in 2022. Read the more here.

Google Compensating Some French Publishers

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On November 19, Google entered into a copyright agreement with six French publishers to compensate them for their content. The agreement comes after a court ordered Google to begin negotiations with French publishers to pay them for the use of publishers’ work product. This news comes as Google continues to attack Australia’s proposal requiring Google to fairly compensate Australian publishers through its News Media Bargaining Code. Read more here.

FCC Nominee Grilled on Section 230

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On November 10, Nathan Simington, Trump’s nominee to replace FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, was questioned by Senators at a nominations hearing. Nathan Simington is a Senior Adviser at the National Telecommunications and Information Association, which petitioned the FCC for rulemaking on clarifying Section 230. Senators questioned Simington about his role in the petition for rulemaking, which he said was only helping with editing and public relations. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) claimed that Simington “acted as an arm of the president.” Simington testified that he ceased involvement in the petition when he knew he was being considered for the Commissioner opening, but he did say that he believes Section 230 needs to be reformed. Simington testified that he would follow the FCC’s ethics counsel recommendations for recusing himself on a vote about the Section 230 rulemaking. Read more here.

Senator Cantwell Releases Report on Challenges to Local Journalism

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On October 27, Senator Maria Cantrell (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee, released a report on threats to local news in today’s digital landscape. It explains how Google and Facebook have created a crisis for local news, whose revenues have been swiftly decreasing because of the platforms’ abuse of their dominant positions in the market. This report cites to the Alliance’s White Paper for examples of such abuse at the expense of news publishers. The report also contains multiple recommendations for addressing this threat to the free press, including giving publishers the ability to collectively negotiate for better terms with the tech platforms. This bargaining power would be made possible by passing S. 1700, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. Read more here.

Canadian Publishers Call for Compensation

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On October 21, News Media Canada released a statement on behalf of Canada’s news publishers calling on Parliament to address Google and Facebook’s excessive market power. Because Google and Facebook control the majority of advertising revenue, news publishers’ bottom line is at the mercy of big tech. With this imbalance of power, an effective and independent press is being challenged by big tech’s monopolistic practices. These two platforms “cannot continue to be allowed to free-ride on the backs of Canadian news media publishers who produce news content, without fair compensation.” The statement offered Australia’s new bargaining code as a model for compensating news publishers. Read more here.

DOJ Files Lawsuit Against Google

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On October 20, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and 11 state Attorneys General filed a lawsuit against Google in the District Court for the District of Columbia for allegedly violating antitrust laws under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, in hopes of restoring competition in search and search advertising markets. The complaint alleges that Google has a “search monopoly” and has “foreclosed competition for internet search.” This means that any “competitors are denied vital distribution, scale, and product recognition — ensuring they have no real chance to challenge Google.” Attorney General William Barr said that the lawsuit “strikes at the heart of Google’s grip over the internet for millions of American consumers, advertisers, small businesses and entrepreneurs beholden to an unlawful monopolist.” Google released a statement calling the DOJ’s actions “a deeply flawed lawsuit that would do nothing to help consumers.” The Alliance’s statement on the lawsuit can be found here. Read more here.

FCC to Interpret Section 230

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On October 15, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released a statement saying that “the FCC has the legal authority to interpret Section 230” and the FCC will “move forward with a rulemaking to clarify its meaning.” President Trump issued an Executive Order in May asking the FCC to “expeditiously propose regulations to clarify” Section 230. In June, four GOP leaders asked the FCC to “clearly define the framework under which technology firms, including social media companies, receive protections under Section 230.” In July, the Commerce Department filed a petition for rulemaking to clarify Section 230. There is not yet a timeline for the rulemaking process. Read more here.

Justice Thomas Wants to Limit Section 230

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On October 13, the Supreme Court denied cert to a case implicating Section 230, but Justice Thomas released a statement stressing the importance of walking back the broad Section 230 immunity that lower courts have granted. Justice Thomas detailed how the courts eliminated both publisher and distributor liability, despite many indicators that such broad immunity was not a part of the statute. Instead of protecting a small and emerging internet, Section 230 now grants “sweeping immunity on some of the largest companies in the world.” Limiting this immunity “would not necessarily render defendants liable for online misconduct. It simply would give plaintiffs a chance to raise their claims in the first place.” Read more here.

Google Excludes Australia from News Showcase in Latest ACCC Retaliation

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Google is delaying Australia’s inclusion in its latest news resource, after the ACCC announced its mandatory news media bargaining code requiring Google to fairly compensate news publishers. Since then, Google has spread misinformation about the Code and released a statement condemning the code. The ACCC remains firm in its position that news publishers deserve to be compensated for their content, and the Code should take effect to correct Google’s use and abuse of that content. The Australian Parliament still needs to pass the final legislation before the Code will take effect. Read more here.

French Court Requires Google to Negotiate with News Publishers

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On October 8, a French appeals court ruled against Google, requiring them to negotiate with news publishers to pay them for their content. Prior to this ruling, reports indicate a deal was tentatively struck with a French news publishers association for 25 million Euro per year as a payment from Google to publishers. This holding affirms France’s competition regulator’s April decision, also directing Google to negotiate with news publishers. France is the latest country to take issue with Google’s disproportionate bargaining power and seek to correct it. Read more here.

House Antitrust Subcommittee Releases Report on Big Tech

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House Antitrust Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI) and the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law concluded their year-long, bipartisan investigation of big tech’s market power by releasing their comprehensive report. The report discusses the online platforms’ anticompetitive actions against news publishers and how that abuse harms publishers’ ability to produce quality journalism for the public. The report and multiple witnesses expressed support for H.R. 2054, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which would allow news publishers a limited window in which to negotiate collectively with the online platforms for fair compensation. Other recommendations to address anticompetitive practices include structural separations and prohibitions of certain dominant platforms from operating in adjacent lines of business and presumptive prohibition against future mergers and acquisitions by the dominant platforms. Both Google and Amazon have released statements suggesting that company break-ups would be bad for consumers. Read more here.

Final Big Tech Antitrust Hearing Calls for Regulation

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On October 1, the House Antitrust Subcommittee held the last of seven hearings to investigate Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple for possible antitrust violations. The witnesses clashed over what Congress should do, with some suggesting major overhauls of antitrust law and others saying antitrust laws do little to prevent anticompetitive practices. Committee Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI) said that each tech company served as a “gatekeeper” with significant market power, allowing for anticompetitive behavior. Rep. Cicilline will be releasing a report on the investigation as early as this week. Read more here.

Senate Subpoenas Big Tech CEOs

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On October 1, the Senate Commerce Committee voted to issue subpoenas to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai if they do not agree to testify voluntarily. The CEOs will testify about Section 230 and the potentially destructive immunity shield it gives big tech to take advantage of its market power with no accountability. The vote was unanimous, but the time of the meeting has yet to be announced. Read more here. 

DOJ Proposes Section 230 Changes to Congress

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On September 23, the DOJ submitted its proposed Section 230 changes to Congress. The legislation would make it more difficult for big tech to escape liability for content moderation, requiring an “objectively reasonable belief” that the content they remove falls into the new, explicitly-enumerated categories of allowable restrictions, replacing “otherwise objectionable” with “unlawful,” “promotes terrorism,” and “promotes self-harm.” The proposed changes would also allow platforms to remove content if its enforcement is in “good faith” and in compliance with its publicly available terms of service accompanied by a reasonable explanation. Additionally, the DOJ proposes carve-outs to incentivize platforms to address illicit content. This includes carve-outs for child abuse, terrorism, and cyber-stalking to allow victims to seek civil relief for their injuries. The DOJ also clarified that federal antitrust claims are not inhibited by Section 230. Read more here

Google Continues Attack on ACCC News Bargaining Code

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On September 13, Google released its latest statement about its grievances with Australia’s newest proposed regulation to compensate news publishers. While Google again claims that they “simply help people find what they’re looking for on the internet,” their use and abuse of news publishers’ content is well documented. Google claims the Australian code is unworkable because of its data-sharing requirements and mandatory arbitration that it would be unable to appeal. Instead, Google suggests a negotiation model that is more favorable to them, despite the many checks the ACCC’s code has in place to ensure no disparity in treatment. This is not Google’s first attack on the code, and it continues to fight Australia’s attempt to correct the power imbalance between news publishers and big tech. Read more here.

ACCC to Examine App Store Competition

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On September 8, the ACCC announced that it is opening an investigation into “the extent of competition between Google and Apple’s app stores.” They will be informed by Australian consumers, developers, suppliers, and others’ experiences with the app stores. Because apps have become essential for many businesses and activities, the ACCC wants to ensure there is adequate competition and fairness for all parties. This inquiry will inform the ACCC’s final report in March 2021. The ACCC is accepting submissions until October 2nd. Read more here.

Australian Treasurer Supports News, Condemns Facebook Threats

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Following Facebook’s recent retaliation against the ACCC’s news media bargaining code, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg refuses to back down, saying, “Australia makes laws that advance our national interest, and we won’t be responding to coercion or heavy-handed tactics, wherever they come from.” After the ACCC released its bargaining code, Facebook released a statement saying it would remove all news content from its platform if the code was signed into law. Google has also retaliated in the form of a misinformation campaign. Frydenberg sees the critical value in journalism and wants to support it by creating “a sustainable media environment” and “payment for original journalistic content.” Read more here.

French Publishers Fail to Reach an Agreement with Google on Compensation

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According to news reports, Google and French news publishers failed to reach an agreement on compensation for the use of news content under the new Publishers’ Right adopted by the European Union last year. France is the first EU member country to have transposed the Publishers’ Right in national law. Following Google’s refusal to negotiate with the French publishers in late-2019, the French competition authority handed down an interim decision in April requiring Google to engage in good-faith negotiations and to reach a deal on compensation with the news publishers within three months. Google has appealed the interim decision, and a ruling on the appeal is expected in September. An organization of French publishers reportedly filed another complaint with the competition authority following the failure to reach a deal, claiming that Google had failed to negotiate in good faith. Read more about the situation here (subscription required).

Alliance Calls on Congress to Abrogate State Sovereign Immunity in Copyright Cases

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On September 2, the News Media Alliance filed comments with the U.S. Copyright Office regarding state sovereign immunity in copyright suits. The Copyright Office is conducting a study into instances of state infringement of copyrights, in response to a request by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The Senators asked the Copyright Office to conduct a study on the issue following a ruling by the Supreme Court in Allen v. Cooper earlier this year. The case concerned a North Carolina creator whose works had been used by the state without authorization. The Supreme Court found that the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act of 1990 did not validly abrogate state sovereign immunity in copyright suits, meaning that copyright owners cannot sue unwilling state entities for infringement. The Alliance comments focused on the systematic infringement of news articles by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System between 2009 and 2017, and the importance of Congress passing legislation that validly abrogates state sovereign immunity in copyright suits. Read the comments here.

Alliance Submits Comments with the European Commission on Google’s Abusive Business Practices

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On September 3, the News Media Alliance submitted comments in response to the European Commission’s public consultation on the proposed Digital Services Act package. The consultation is aimed at collecting views from stakeholders regarding the future of digital services in the European Union, including on issues related to online safety, freedom of expression, and competition in the digital marketplace. The Alliance shared with the Commission the White Paper on Google’s use of news content, released by the Alliance in June. The White Paper focuses on the ways in which Google abuses its dominant position to strong-arm news publishers and hurt high-quality journalism. The EU’s Digital Services Act will be aimed at updating the region’s legal framework for digital services, which has remained largely unchanged since the e-Commerce Directive was adopted in 2001. Read more about the Digital Services Act here and the Alliance’s White Paper here.

Apple’s New Privacy Policy Bad for Ad Revenue, Says Facebook

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Facebook recently alleged that Apple’s new privacy policy will cripple efforts to offer personalized ads. These changes would require that app developers obtain users’ consent before they are able to track information used to deliver personalized ads. This policy is expected to roll out this fall with iOS14. If these privacy changes are put into effect, Facebook claims that many users will disallow tracking, and app owners will struggle financially because of the inability to effectively advertise. These changes could have ripple effects for news publishers’ ad revenue if a multitude of users opt out of personalized ads. Read more here.

Facebook Retaliates Against Australian Bargaining Code

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On August 31, Facebook issued a press release saying that if the ACCC’s draft code becomes law, they will no longer allow publishers or consumers to share any news on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook alleges that the regulation “misunderstands” the bargaining imbalance and ignores important facts. The ACCC released a statement the next day condemning Facebook’s threat to ban all news content. The ACCC reiterates that the Code is designed “to bring fairness and transparency” to the relationship between news publishers and Facebook. They further cited the University of Canberra’s 2020 Digital News Report, saying that 39 percent of Australians use Facebook for general news, and 49 percent use the platform for news about COVID-19. Read more here.

Google Suspected in Latest Campaign Against Australian Bargaining Code

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On August 26, The Australian reported that Google is suspected of using “scare tactics” to push back against the recent passage by the Australia Competition & Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) mandatory bargaining code to fairly compensate news publishers. Both Senators and Members of Parliament have received thousands of emails, all with the same message condemning the bargaining code. These messages are apparently sourced from an anonymous Change.org petition with over 40,000 signatures calling the Code an “assault on Australia’s democracy.” A Google spokesman said they have been informing users, creators, and partners about the law, but they are “not involved with this petition or email campaign in any way.” Read more here. 

Google Implements New Ad Blockers

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Google is supposed to implement a new “heavy ad blocker” in late August, according to a Google official’s activity on a Chromium message board. Google defines a heavy ad as any ad that a user hasn’t interacted with that uses the main thread for more than 60 seconds in total, uses the main thread for more than 15 seconds in any 30-second window, or uses more than 4 megabytes of network bandwidth. Google explains that this update is “to be fast and responsive without harmful or annoying experiences,” to comply with the Coalition for Better Ads “Better Ads Standards,” and to protect against “abusive experiences.” This comes as tension continues to rise with Google’s unwillingness to compensate news publishers in Australia. Read more here.  

News Publishers Push Back on Apple Policies

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On August 20, Digital Content Next (DCN) sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook asking about better terms for revenue sharing from digital subscriptions to news publishers’ content through Apple’s App Store. DCN represents a broad variety of news publishers, including NPR, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post. For any subscriptions through iOS apps, Apple takes 30 percent of the revenue and then 15 percent after the subscriber’s first year. DCN points out in its letter that Amazon has received much more favorable terms from Apple, allowing it to generate more revenue. The letter requests Apple share what terms Amazon met to receive a more favorable revenue split so that news publishers could potentially receive the same. Read more here. 

DOJ Attorneys Want to Delay Big Tech Lawsuit

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The Wall Street Journal reported that some Department of Justice (DOJ) staffers are concerned that the lawsuit against Google is not ready to be filed, despite Attorney General Barr hoping to file by the end of the summer. While the DOJ has dozens of attorneys working on the matter, they are worried about vulnerabilities in the high-profile case. Senior officials are still adamant about the quicker timeline, with some suggesting they may try to file before the election. Read more here.

Google Spreads Misinformation About ACCC News Media Bargaining Code

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Google released an open letter to Australians claiming that the Australia Competition & Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) draft news media bargaining code threatens consumer data privacy, the accuracy of search results, and the ability of Google and YouTube to remain free services. The Guardian reports that Google is targeting Australian consumers with ads that take them to the open letter. The ACCC released a statement saying Google’s open letter contains misinformation and correcting the errors. The statement makes clear that Google will not be required to charge for its services or share any additional user data with news businesses. Instead, the ACCC argues, the draft code simply allows Australian news publishers to negotiate for fair compensation for their content. Google invoked similar strategies in 2011-2012 to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). The ACCC says they “will continue to consult on the draft code with interested parties, including Google.” Read more here.

ACCC Rules Facebook & Google Must Pay Australian Publishers

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On July 31, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) released its mandatory News Media Bargaining Code to correct the power imbalance between big tech and news publishers. The Code ensures publishers’ ability to be meaningfully compensated for news content through their negotiations with Google and Facebook that will result in forced arbitration after three months if an acceptable business arrangement cannot be reached. It provides that financial materials must be shared on demand to determine the adequate remuneration and prevents Google or Facebook from removing content as an alternative to payment. The draft Code also requires digital platforms to disclose algorithmic changes and other unilateral decisions that could affect news publishers’ bottom line. The ACCC is accepting comments on the draft Code until late August, after which the Australian Parliament will have to pass the final legislation before the Code can take effect. Read more here.

Congress Considers Extending PPP Options to More News Publishers

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Congressional leaders and the White House are continuing their discussions on the next stimulus bill, including an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Both the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act released by the Senate Republicans earlier this week and the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act passed by the House in May include an extension of the PPP. The latter included an Alliance ask to include a waiver of the PPP for news organizations who are currently ineligible because their owner also has other small newspapers or non-news businesses. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is negotiating with the Republicans, is supportive, having co-sponsored the Local News and Emergency Information Act of 2020 which would create such a waiver. The Alliance is also working to support Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and who has been a leader on this effort.  The NewsGuild-CWA Union reportedly also approached Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Schumer on the issue, and other labor unions are expected to follow. A main driver, the unemployment benefits that are ending on July 31, remain unresolved and the Senate just adjourned until Monday without reaching a deal. We’ll continue to advocate for our asks for news publishers and will keep you updated on developments.

Top Tech CEOs Testify Before Congress Regarding Antitrust Investigation

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On Wednesday, the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google all testified before the House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee on Antitrust as part of the Subcommittee’s investigation into the anticompetitive practices of online platforms. The hearing was the sixth hearing in the bipartisan investigation, originally launched last year by the Chair of the Subcommittee David Cicilline (D-RI) and then-Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-GA). Our safe harbor bill, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, was the first focus of these series of hearings in which the News Media Alliance testified.  During the hearing, several representatives questioned the CEOs on issues that the Alliance highlighted in our recent White Paper. Specifically, Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) compared Google’s ad exchange to a stock market but with no regulation, allowing Google to abuse its market power at the expense of journalists. Google CEO Sundar Pichai was adamant that Google is “deeply committed to journalism” and that its business with news publishers remains a “low margin business for us,” but did not address the control over ads without accountability or the increasing ad revenue for Google-owned sites at the expense of websites not owned by Google. More highlights below in the video reel created by our comms team.  The Alliance is following the investigations into the online platforms closely and will continue to advocate for the safe harbor as a critical solution to the problem caused by the platform’s anticompetitive conduct. You can watch highlights of the discussion of journalism during the hearing here. You can watch the full hearing here.

European Publishers Unite to Negotiate with the Dominant Online Platforms

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On July 30, French and German news publishers announced that they were working together to form a new joint venture to license news content to online platforms under the EU’s recently adopted Copyright Directive. Article 15 of the Directive created a so-called Publishers’ Right, allowing news publishers to protect their content online against unauthorized use by the online platforms. The French and German publishers are working through VG Media in Germany and l’Alliance de la presse d’information générale in France and expect the new licensing company to be available to all European publishers once established. France became the first country to transpose the Publishers’ Right into national law in July 2019. After Google refused to pay French publishers, the French competition authority issued an interim order in April 2020 requiring Google to negotiate with the publishers for compensation. While Google reportedly (link in French) appealed the order in early July, requesting for more details on “certain elements of the decision,” the head of the competition authority said on July 9 (link in French) that the negotiations were ongoing and that the authority was hoping to see some results in late-July or August.

ACCC Claims Google Misled Consumers

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On July 27, the Australia Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) began a proceeding against Google for allegedly misleading Australian users into giving consent for broad data collection. The ACCC alleges that Google did not obtain users’ “explicit informed consent” to combine personal data linked to a Google account with data about activities on non-Google sites. The ACCC claims Google used this combined information to improve its advertising business, which is its primary source of revenue. Read more here.

House Judiciary Hearing: Online Platforms and Market Power

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Image: Getty

What: Hearing on “Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 6: Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple”

When: Wednesday, July 29 at 12:00 p.m. ET

Where: Online – click here to watch the live stream.

The House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled, “Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 6: Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple.” This is part of the ongoing investigation that started last June regarding competition in the digital marketplace.

Witnesses:

  • Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon
  • Tim Cook, CEO, Apple
  • Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google
  • Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

Read more here.

EARN IT Act Unanimously Passes Committee

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On July 2, the bipartisan “EARN IT Act,” which is aimed at eliminating the sexual exploitation of children on the internet by imposing restrictions on big tech’s Section 230 immunity, unanimously passed the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said no social media company is doing enough to protect children, and they should have liability like everyone else in America. Before passing, the Committee accepted an amendment by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that excludes encryption from being grounds for increased liability. The bill will now be presented on the Senate floor. Read the bill here.

Enforcement of California Privacy Law Begins

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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s enforcement of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) began on July 1, despite numerous requests for it to be postponed. The guiding regulations are not yet official, but the statute itself can be enforced. Meanwhile, Alastair Mactaggart, of Californians for Consumer Privacy, which advocated for the CCPA, is now proposing the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), a ballot initiative to expand CCPA. The CPRA would create a new enforcement agency and require more business disclosures, among other measures. Read more here.

UK’s Competition and Markets Authority Calls for Greater Regulation of Digital Marketplace

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On July 1, the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) released its final market study report on online platforms and digital advertising. The study, launched in July 2019, focused on Google and Facebook’s dominance of the digital advertising marketplace. The findings and recommendations in the final report follow closely those identified in the CMA’s interim report published last December. The report’s findings highlight, among other things, the competitive advantage Google and Facebook enjoy due to their extensive access to user data; how the online platforms interpret data protection laws and regulations to benefit them; and concerns arising from vertical integration in the digital ad markets. In order to address the concerns identified in the report, the CMA recommends the establishment of a Digital Markets Unit with powers to develop, oversee, and enforce a code of conduct and to take other necessary actions, including data-related interventions. The report also raises the prospect of separation interventions to address vertical integration concerns. While the CMA refuses to launch a full market investigation into the digital ad markets, the report indicates that it is considering possible enforcement actions. The report also discusses the Digital Markets Taskforce, designed to advise the government on digital competition issues, that CMA will be leading. Read the full report here.

New Facebook Policy Priorities Original News Content

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On June 30, Facebook announced that original reporting with transparent authorship would be ranked higher in users’ News Feeds. Facebook hopes that by boosting original sources, it will give more traffic and revenue to trusted news publishers. Facebook will also demote any articles that do not list authors or lack transparency about the editorial staff. Facebook has provided a guide explaining how news publishers are ranked in the News Feed. Facebook hopes these changes will demote unverified sources and promote ethical journalism. Read more here.

New York Times Opts Out of Apple News

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On June 30, the New York Times announced its content will no longer appear on Apple News, starting July 6. The Times reports that it could not accomplish its goal of reader engagement and building subscribers while being part of Apple News. The announcement comes as scrutiny of big tech’s control of ad revenue and business models that negatively affect news publishers is growing. Read more here.

Google Announces Plan to Start Paying Some News Publishers

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On June 25, Google published a blog with its plan to start a “licensing program to support the news industry.” The program is supposed to “help participating publishers monetize their content through an enhanced storytelling experience.” Google will start by allowing a small number of publishers in specific countries to participate in the program, with plans to expand. Read more here. Google has also made claims that they help news publishers build audiences and provide compensation to news publishers by driving traffic to their websites — a claim the Alliance debunks in its White Paper.

Republican Senators Introduce New Bill to Limit Section 230

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On June 17, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) proposed the “Limiting Section 230 Immunity to Good Samaritans Act,” requiring digital platforms to fulfill their duty of good faith to receive Section 230 immunity. The bill would allow users to sue tech companies for breaching a “contractual duty of good faith.” This good faith would require non-discriminatory enforcement of their terms of service and “filing to honor their promises.” The bill was co-sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Rom Cotton (R-AK). Read more here

DOJ Proposes Section 230 Immunity Limitations

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On June 17, the Department of Justice (DOJ) proposed changes to the Section 230 immunity that big tech currently enjoys. It includes requiring the platforms to more proactively address illicit content, as well as requiring consistency in removing objectionable material. This proposal would go through the Office of Management and Budget to be the official administrative position before requiring Congressional legislation. Read more here.

Most Americans Don’t Trust Big Tech, Recent Study Says

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On June 16, Gallup and the Knight Foundation released a poll showing that eight out of every 10 Americans don’t trust big tech to moderate content on their platforms. Despite over 80 percent of respondents favoring the removal of false or misleading information about elections or health issues, they don’t trust the digital platforms or the government to decide what to remove. This comes as social media sites have increasingly come under fire for their internal fact-checking and content moderation. Read more here.

Ad Companies Keyword Block Terms Related to the Black Lives Matter Movement

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AdAge reports that certain marketers are blocking keywords that would put advertising content next to Black Lives Matter coverage. These keywords include “BLM,” “George Floyd” and “black people.” Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, said “advertisers are running away from” content related to Black Lives Matter. The cost per impression (CPM) is reportedly 57 percent lower on Black Lives Matter content than other content. With news publishers already struggling to monetize content, ad companies are now facing criticism for shying away from important issues. Read more here.

Four GOP Leaders Ask FCC to Clarify Section 230

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On June 9, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and Josh Hawley (R-MO) requested that the FCC “clearly define the framework under which technology firms, including social media companies, receive protections under Section 230.” The letter, addressed to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, was in reference to President Trump’s May 28 Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship and the FCC’s role in the clarification process. FCC Commissioner response to the executive order has been mixed. Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the Executive Order would turn the FCC into the president’s “speech police,” while Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr applauded the effort to hold tech companies accountable. Section 230 was not on the agenda for the FCC’s monthly open meeting on June 9. Read more here

Senate Committee Holds Hearing About Section 512’s Modern-Day Impact

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On June 2, Public Knowledge’s Policy Counsel Meredith Rose testified that Section 512 has allowed online censorship to thrive. The Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property hosted a hearing titled “Is the DMCA’s Notice-and-Takedown System Working in the 21st Century?” discussing the complex issues facing copyright policy today. The Committee also heard testimony from Don Henley, a veteran in the music industry, who spoke about how content creators are being robbed of their intellectual property by the current notice-and-takedown regime. This hearing followed the U.S. Copyright Office issuing a study of proposed changes to Section 512, after finding it was “tilted askew” of Congress’ original purpose. Watch the hearing here.

Twitter’s Objectivity Questioned Over Net Neutrality

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Twitter recently rejected an ad campaign by the Free State Foundation opposing net neutrality and calling for the internet not to be regulated as a public utility. The FCC has long since finished its net neutrality rulemaking, revoking most of the Obama-era regulations. Twitter has been supportive of net neutrality, and the Free State Foundation alleges that is a reason for its refusal to promote the tweet, calling the proposed ad “political.” In its ad policy, Twitter states it will not promote a tweet that advocates “for or against” political content that includes any reference to “legislation, regulation, directive, or judicial outcome.” This comes after Twitter came under fire from President Trump for fact-checking and placing warnings on some of his tweets. Read more here

Facebook Won’t Pay Australian News Publishers

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On June 5, Facebook responded to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Mandatory News Media Bargaining Code proposal, saying the “competitive rivalry in the relationship between digital platforms and news publishers” is “healthy” as it is. This comes in the wake of news publishers struggling to monetize content and having to lay off workers, problems only exacerbated by the coronavirus. In its response, Facebook claimed that removing news content from its website would have an insignificant impact on Facebook’s revenues in Australia because “most users do not come to Facebook with the intention of viewing news.” Facebook believes its already-existing efforts to support journalism and the benefits publishers receive from sharing their content on the platform are sufficient compensation. Read more here

Tech Group Challenges Section 230 Executive Order

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On June 2, the Center for Democracy and Technology filed a complaint in the District Court for the District of Columbia claiming that President Trump’s recent executive order violates the First Amendment. The “Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship” serves as directive to both the FCC and FTC to begin the process of limiting Section 230’s legal safeguards afforded to digital platforms. The order was signed after Twitter began issuing warnings alongside many of President Trump’s tweets. The complaint claims the Order attacks Twitter — a private company — and will chill constitutionally protected speech. In February, the Ninth Circuit held that the First Amendment does not apply to big tech, allowing them an unprecedented amount of editorial power with little accountability. Read more here.

U.S. Copyright Office Calls for Reform of Section 512

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On May 21, the U.S. Copyright Office released a report outlining issues with the current regulation scheme as applied to the digital context. While the report does not call for a complete overhaul of Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, it does suggest Congress address flagged issues because the “original intended balance has been tilted askew.” The technological advancements since the statute’s enactment in 1998 has created gaps in the legislation, and online copyright infringement poses significant issues that need to be addressed. The U.S. Copyright Office calls on Congress to “fine-tune” Section 512 to address the new copyright issues posed by the internet. Read more here

Australian Competition & Consumer Commission Releases News Media Bargaining Code

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On May 19, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) published a concepts paper seeking comment on four possible solutions to the bargaining imbalance between big tech and news publishers. These suggestions followed the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry in June 2019, which recommended a code of conduct to address this bargaining power imbalance. The ACCC suggests collective bargaining or a collective boycott of Google and Facebook as a possible solution to the imbalance — both practices that would otherwise be punishable as anti-competitive. Other possible solutions include bilateral negotiations and collective licensing or fee arrangements. The comments on these suggested solutions are due June 5. Read more here.

Supreme Court Denies Cert in Latest Section 230 Case

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On May 18, the Supreme Court denied to review Force v. Facebook, a recent case implicating Section 230, from the Second Circuit. In Force v. Facebook, the Second Circuit allows Facebook immunity from a suit for failing to remove a post by Hamas, saying they will grant immunity “unless the defendant directly and materially contributed to what made the content itself unlawful.” This comes at a time when some are suggesting a public health exemption to Section 230, as communities are seeing the disastrous impacts of inaccurate information spread through digital platforms. The Supreme Court has yet to hear a case on the troubling applications of Section 230 to digital platforms. Read more here.

U.S. and UK Begin Post-BREXIT Trade Negotiations

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On May 5, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer issued a joint statement that they would begin virtual trade negotiations. As both countries deal with the ramifications of COVID-19, the economic health of the UK and the US are a top priority. The parties concur that a Free Trade Agreement “is a priority for both countries” and both hope to “secure an ambitious agreement that significantly boosts trade and investment.” However, United States negotiating representatives must ensure that Section 230 immunities are not further exported at the request of the platforms in an attempt to enshrine their immunity globally while Congress is revisiting the rule’s existence. The countries have provided adequate resources for the negotiations to be completed at an accelerated pace. Being that the U.S. and UK already trade over $200 billion a year, making each the other’s biggest investor, there is significant motivation to reach an amicable and timely deal. The Alliance will continue to ensure that news publishers interests are heard. Read more here.

Facebook Attempts to Expand Their Market to Appear Competitive Amidst Rising Profits

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As Facebook is investigated by the Department of Justice, the FTC, and over 40 state prosecutors, it now claims it isn’t just competing with other social media sites, it’s competing with newspapers, television, and videogames. As the investigations continue and whispers of breaking up the company increase, Facebook’s lobbyists advocate for an expanded market size, likely in an attempt to make Facebook appear less dominant. But as local newspapers struggle to keep the lights on in the midst of COVID-19 crisis, Facebook’s profit has increased despite sharp ad declines. In 2019, Facebook made over $67 billion from digital ads, and their first-quarter revenue was up 18 percent for this year, making many worries deepen about the pandemic expanding big tech’s already pervasive power. Read more here.

Europe’s GDPR Law Lacks Funding, Enforcement

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Nearly two years ago, the EU enacted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which was the world’s strictest online privacy regulation. Since its enactment, Google has been the only company fined under the law, making many question its effectiveness. CEO of advertising company WPP said that GDPR empowered big tech companies rather than limited them, because the law gave them “the ability to collect and process the data,” as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Many believe this lack of enforcement is due to European governments not providing adequate resources to data protection agencies. In a survey of European privacy regulators, 70 percent of those surveyed reported having inadequate resources. Because of Europe’s lack of enforcement under the GDPR, it could undermine other efforts around the world to hold big tech accountable for privacy breaches. Read more here.

Texas AG Continues Antitrust Investigation into Google

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Since September 2019, Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, has led a group of attorneys general across the country in an investigation into Google for potential antitrust violations. Specifically, the attorneys general are scrutinizing Google’s level of control and anticompetitive behavior in the online advertising and search traffic markets. On April 22, 2020, AG Paxton spoke at an event held by the American Bar Association’s Antitrust Law Section. He reiterated his belief that federal, state, and local regulations of Big Tech companies are necessary to protect consumers.  He also said that the COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed down the attorneys’ general investigation into Google. Read more here.

News Media Alliance Joins Others to Recommend Strong Copyright Protections in the U.S.-UK Trade Agreement

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On April 28, the News Media Alliance joined a group of creative-industry organizations to publish comments on the proposed trade agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom. The comments outline the importance of the copyright-intensive industries to the economies of both countries and lays out the priorities of these communities for the negotiations. The priorities include keeping any potential copyright safe harbor provisions “short and high-level” without detailed obligations, ensuring that these provisions are not affected by other third-party liability provisions that are under review in both countries, and extending the copyright term in the United States to meet that in the United States. The letter also calls out for strong copyright enforcement and national treatment provisions, in addition to reiterating the willingness of the signatories to work constructively with both governments during the negotiations. Read the full comments here.

District Court Approves $5 Billion Settlement for Facebook’s Privacy Violations

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On April 23, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the settlement reached last July for sanctions brought by the FTC against Facebook for privacy violations that have spanned nearly eight years. Judge Timothy Kelly upheld the largest penalty ever won by the FTC, but the settlement also requires Facebook to take additional measures to protect users’ personal information. The opinion lists 11 different remedial steps Facebook must take, including “clearly disclosing” any time it shares personal information  with third parties and obtaining express consent, ceasing “a host of” misrepresentations about its collection and use of users’ personal information, and creating a committee, independent of Facebook’s board of directors to oversee the implementation of the new privacy efforts. Read more here.

 

Google Joins W3C’s Privacy Community Group

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On April 23, 2020, several Google and Facebook representatives participated in an every-other-week video conference hosted by the Privacy Community Group (PCG) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This marks Google’s first appearance at a PCG conference as a member of the group. The discussion focused mainly on a proposal called “Registry of Businesses and Domain Name Ownership,” which would create an authority with whom businesses could register as trusted owners of user data, include which legal requirements they follow (e.g., GDPR, CPAA, etc.), and identify third-parties with whom the business has contracted. Browsers could consult this list before sharing an individual user’s cross-site browsing activity. Read more here.

Australia to Draft Regulations for How Platforms Use News Media Content

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On April 20, 2020, the Australian government directed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to develop a mandatory code governing the commercial relationship between digital platforms and media outlets.  This code will address the sharing of data, ranking and display of news content, monetization and sharing of revenue generated from news, and dispute resolution mechanisms.  ACCC will release a draft mandatory code by the end of July 2020.  This decision follows findings of disparate bargaining power between digital platforms and media outlets in ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry final report, the Australian government had instructed ACCC in December 2019 to facilitate negotiations between the two industries for the development of a voluntary code.  These negotiations were expected to last until November 2020.  Due to the media sector’s financial strain exacerbated by COVID-19 and ACCC’s belief that a voluntary agreement is unlikely, the Australian government instead enjoined ACCC’s development of a mandatory code.  Australia’s Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, stated the government’s belief that a mandatory code “is critical for the future viability of [the Australian] media sector and it’s all about competition and creating a level playing field.”

Keyword Ad Blocking Hurts News Industry

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Traffic to news sites has spiked in recent weeks due to the COVID pandemic; however, news publishers have not seen a financial benefit. Overzealous blacklisting – based on unjustified fears that news stories don’t meet brand safety guidelines – has led to a decrease in digital ad revenues just when publishers are investing resources in meeting their communities’ needs.

Support for ad placement with news publishers has come from the ad industry association — the 4A’s released a report pointing out that “trusted news content is brand safe” and encouraged its members to support news. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which focuses on online advertising, specifically called on its members to not block news, citing the public health benefits of supporting journalism. The Local Media Consortium and the Brand Safety Institute partnered to create a whitelist of local news sites for advertisers to include in their digital buys. And the advertising technology companies MediaMath and TRUSTX partnered with each other and data provider Peer 39 to ensure their clients understand how continuing to place their ads near brand suitable news can help them reach the right audiences while supporting the important work of journalism.  The Alliance will continue to push for a solution to prevent the news industry from seeing continuing declines in ad revenue.

Google Contract with Brand Safety Companies Allegedly Limits Ability to Share Negative Information

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On April 19, the Wall Street Journal reported that OpenSlate, a brand safety company, refused to sign a contract with Google after being an approved partner since 2017. The contract would allegedly limit OpenSlate’s ability to report to clients when their ads play in YouTube videos with sensitive subject matter like “hate speech, adult content, children’s content, profanity, violence and illegal substances.” The contract would require OpenSlate to get prior approval from Google to share these metrics with its clients. One of Google’s brand-safety partners, DoubleVerify reported that it still delivers “unrestricted” reports to its clients. This news follows a universal ad decline amid the COVID-19 crisis, and tech companies scramble to continue monetizing content. Read more here.

Big Tech Still Under Scrutiny After Helping Government with Coronavirus Response

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As America works to meet the needs brought on by COVID-19, tech companies have coordinated with the government to find effective responses to the crisis. But people’s newfound appreciation and trust in big tech will likely be short lived. Statistics about regional differences in social distancing can be useful for public health experts and interesting to the general public today, but information like this can make users increasingly concerned about their privacy and big tech’s use of their data tomorrow. Similarly, the online platforms’ role in choosing what people see and vetting information can help distribute reliable information during a crisis but threatens the sustainability of and access to high-quality journalism at other times. As big tech enjoys a rare bout of positive press, Attorney General William Barr was quick to confirm that he plans to make a decision about the antitrust inquiries into the tech industry by early summer. Read more here.

French Competition Authority Requires Google to Pay for News Content

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On April 9, the French competition regulator, Autorité de la Concurrence, issued an interim decision requiring Google to pay for news content under the recently implemented European Union Copyright Directive. Article 15 of the Directive requires EU Member States to create a so-called Publishers’ Right that allows news publishers to protect their content online by preventing uncompensated use by online platforms. The competition regulator’s decision, finding that Google has likely engaged in anticompetitive behavior, came after a group of French publishers filed a complaint with the authority due to Google’s refusal to pay for news content following France’s transposition of the Publishers’ Right into national law last year. The decision requires Google to engage in good faith negotiations and reach a remuneration deal with French publishers within three months, among other conditions. The decision is an interim measure while the authority continues its investigation into the merits of the case. Read the decision here (in French).

News Media Alliance Joins Other Industry Groups to Call for California to Postpone CCPA Enforcement

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On March 20, the News Media Alliance joined over 60 business groups, including the Motion Picture Association and the Association of National Advertisers, in asking the Attorney General of the State of California, Xavier Becerra, to postpone the enforcement of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). The CCPA was adopted in 2018 and provides residents of California with strong privacy protections. While the law came into effect in January 2020, the Attorney General is required to promulgate implementing regulations prior to the planned enforcement start date of July 1. The letter calls for the Attorney General to delay this deadline by six months due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that places considerable stress on the businesses that must comply with the new law. According to reports, the Attorney General is currently planning on sticking to the original schedule. Read more here.

Big Tech in Discussions on Using User Data for Virus Prevention Despite Privacy Concerns

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On March 17, the Washington Post reported that the government is in discussions with the tech industry regarding the use of user location data to aid in slowing the spread of COVID-19. The news follows earlier reports of the administration reportedly asking the big tech companies to assist governmental efforts to battle the virus. Any potential partnerships between the government and big tech would be sensitive as the tech industry has been under increased scrutiny for its handling of user privacy and as Congress has not agreed on a federal privacy legislation. On March 18, five Democratic Senators, including Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), sent letters to Vice President Mike Pence and Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking whether user privacy considerations had been taken adequately into account when developing the Google-affiliated pilot screening website launched on Sunday. Read the letter here

House Antitrust Chairman Holds a Roundtable on Competition in Digital Markets

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On March 17, Representative David Cicilline (D-RI), Chair of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, held a roundtable discussion with stakeholders in Rhode Island on competition in the digital marketplace. The event, hosted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was aimed at soliciting the views of local businesses, innovators, and thought leaders about the issue. Representatives of The Boston Globe and The Providence Journal participated in the roundtable, highlighting how the dominant platforms affect the news industry. They also expressed support for the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act that would grant news publishers a temporary safe harbor to come together and negotiate collectively with the platforms. Rep. Cicilline has been leading a congressional antitrust investigation into market power online, including whether the dominant platforms have engaged in anti-competitive conduct, that is expected to wrap up soon. The subcommittee has held five hearings and sent multiple requests of information to the tech platforms as part of the investigation. Read more about the subcommittee’s investigation here.

Google’s Undisclosed Use of Consumer Data Challenged Under GDPR

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On March 16, Dr. Johnny Ryan of Brave Software, a California-based developer of a privacy-focused web browser, filed a complaint with the Irish Data Protection Commission regarding Google’s use of consumer data for undisclosed purposes across its business. The complaint argues that Google fails to adequately ring-fence the personal data it collects for its various services, instead allowing other parts of the company to use the data without making this clear to users. Such use would violate Article 5(1)b of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which establishes a “purpose limitation” principle. Specifically, GDPR allows user data to be collected for “specified, explicit and legitimate” purposes but forbids the use of such data “in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes.” The complaint follows Dr. Ryan’s attempts to find out how Google uses his personal data. Properly enforced, GDPR would allow users to limit how Google uses their personal data, in addition to increasing competition in the digital marketplace. Read more about the complaint here.

Copyright Office’s Pandemic Plan Ensures Critical Functions during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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On March 13, the U.S. Copyright Office shared a summary of its pandemic plan with Members of Congress, noting that the Office aims to continue providing essential services during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. These services include administering the registration and recordation systems, handling mandatory deposits, and conducting regulatory activities. According to the summary, many Copyright Office staff members will work remotely, although some will remain on-site, and the registration examination of digital applications will continue as normal. Paper applications and physical deposits may experience delays. Additionally, the remote working arrangements should not have any effect on the Copyright Office modernization efforts.

Data Privacy Bill Fails in Washington; New York Legislators Consider a Comprehensive Bill Requiring Opt-In

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On March 12, Washington State Senator Reuven Carlyle issued a statement indicating that the state House and Senate had failed to reach a compromise on a proposed consumer privacy bill, the Washington Privacy Act. The Act would have created broad consumer data protections similar to those established by the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The Washington House and Senate disagreed about whether the Act should include a private right of action. The bill’s failure marks the second time that the bill has failed to pass the legislature. Meanwhile, New York State is considering a data privacy bill, A8526/S5642, which would go beyond CCPA and GDPR by requiring affirmative opt-in consent, creating a private right of action, and establishing a fiduciary duty of care, loyalty, and confidentiality that would require businesses to put consumers’ privacy rights ahead of their own interests. Read more about the Washington Privacy Act’s failure here.

Ninth Circuit says First Amendment Does Not Apply to Big Tech

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On February 26, the Ninth Circuit effectively held that any challenges to a digital platform’s censorship or ad-blocking on First Amendment grounds will fail. In a unanimous opinion, the court found that YouTube is not a public forum or government actor. PragerU argued that the expansive reach of the internet and selective censorship qualified YouTube as a moderator of an effective town square, subject to First Amendment scrutiny. The court rejected this argument to find that online platforms do not require First Amendment protections, claiming that the new digital age has not changed legal principles. Read more here.

Rep. Cicilline Says Limiting Section 230 Legislation in Works

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On February 24, House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI) told reporters he will propose a bill to limit Section 230 immunity for digital platforms that knowingly publish false political ads. Cicilline aims for the bill to address the “emergency problem” of false political ads. His staff is still deciding whether to remove Section 230 immunity for all political ads or just false political ads. Cicilline said that big tech companies profiting from “demonstrably false advertising” will directly affect whether citizens will have truthful information when deciding who to vote for. He has been a critic of Section 230, demanding action from Congress if the FTC fails to act. Cicilline plans to introduce the bill in a month. Read more here.

Google Alleges State AGs Conduct “Irregular Investigation”

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On February 21, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google is not surrendering emails, texts, and other documents for the state attorneys general investigation into possible anticompetitive practices. A Google spokesperson claims the company has complied with the investigation but raised concerns about the investigation being “irregular.” The spokesperson alleged that the investigation has included “unusual arrangements with advisers who work with our competitors and vocal complainants.” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton remains suspicious of Google’s behavior, saying they are not acting “clean.” Read more here.

DOJ Hosts Workshop on Section 230

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On February 19, the DOJ hosted a workshop featuring three panels about Section 230. Attorney General William Barr opened the event by expressing concern about Section 230, specifically digital platforms’ lack of cooperation with law enforcement. The panels discussed litigating Section 230, addressing illicit activity online, and alternatives to Section 230. The panelists included testimony from News Media Alliance’s President and CEO David Chavern, Patrick Carome who argued the Zeran case, and other experts in the field. Chavern stated that commercial decisions of the platforms algorithms that choose what content readers see and don’t see should carry with it responsibility for those decisions.  The panelists divided over Section 230’s long and short term effects, with one side arguing for platform accountability and the other for self-regulation. Read more here.

 

Alliance Files an Amicus Brief with the Supreme Court in Google v. Oracle

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On February 19, the News Media Alliance filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of Oracle in the Google v. Oracle case. The case concerns Google’s unauthorized copying of parts of Oracle’s code when developing applications for Android. The Supreme Court will hear the case in March and wants the parties to address two questions: whether the code is copyrightable, and whether Google’s use constituted fair use. The lower U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in favor of Oracle on both of these questions, and the Supreme Court accepted Google’s appeal in November. The Alliance amicus brief focuses solely on the fair use question, challenging Google’s argument that its use of Oracle’s code was fair use under the current statutory standard. The brief contrasts Google’s actions in this case to their widespread and unauthorized use of news content without compensation for their own commercial purposes. Read the Alliance statement here and the full brief here.

Google Reportedly Talking with French Publishers About Paying for News

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Following the passage of the European Union’s Copyright Directive last year, Google is now in discussions with French news publishers on paying for their news content, according to news reports. Article 15 of the EU Copyright Directive created a so-called “Publishers’ Right” that gives news publishers the right to protect their content online. France became the first country to implement the Publishers’ Right in July, after which Google indicated that it would refuse to pay for news content in France and would simply display headlines in its search results unless publishers waived their rights. A competition claim was filed against Google for using its market dominance to evade the law, and a ruling is expected to come in March. According to the Financial Times, Google is now negotiating with select French publishers, including Le Monde and Figaro, about direct content payments. It is unclear what form the payments would take. Read more here.

Senator Graham’s New Bill Circulates, Would Add Hurdle for Online Platform Immunity

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On February 13, Senator Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) draft bill, which would predicate interactive computer services’ Section 230 immunity on compliance with “best practices” in the proposed Act and impose liability for tech platforms that allow dissemination of child sexual abuse material (CSAM), circulated. The EARN IT Act of 2019 would establish a Commission that would seek to prevent the exploitation of children online by submitting recommended best practices to the attorney general (AG). The AG reviews and can modify the best practices before publishing them to the Federal Register, under Section 4(b) of the Act. Within one year of posting these best practices, interactive computer services are required under Section 4(c) to submit a written certification to the AG that they have reviewed and implemented the best practices. If the AG has any reason to believe the interactive computer service is not complying with best practices it can order an investigation, imposing significantly more scrutiny on the platforms previous blanket immunity under Section 230.  Read more here.

The UK Department for Culture Responds to the Online Harms White Paper

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On February 12, the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport announced that it is “minded” to grant the Office of Communications (Ofcom) the power to regulate online platforms. The announcement was included in the Department’s initial response to the Online Harms White Paper released last April. The aim is to make the internet a safer place by protecting children and vulnerable people, in addition to increasing user trust in technology. According to the government’s announcement, Ofcom will be responsible for protecting internet users from harmful and illegal content, particularly terrorist and child abuse content. The regulations will only apply to companies that share user-generated content. Currently, Ofcom is responsible for regulating the broadcasting and telecoms industries. The Department will publish a full response to the White Paper later in the spring. Read more here.

FTC Requests Information on Past Acquisitions by Large Tech Companies

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On February 11, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it will re-examine past acquisitions of small and nascent firms by big tech companies, including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Alphabet. The Special Orders, issued under Section 6(b), require the identified companies to provide information on acquisition transactions that took place in the last decade. Section 6(b) allows the FTC to request information for studies that do not have a specific law enforcement purpose in order to evaluate the companies’ acquisition activities and to evaluate whether they are making anticompetitive acquisitions that fall below reporting thresholds. The announcement came following the conclusion of the hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century, held between September 2018 and June 2019. The Commission approved the issuance of the Special Orders unanimously. Read more here.

Rep. Jordan (R-OH) Tapped to Become House Judiciary Ranking Member

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On February 6, 2020, the House Steering Committee selected Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) to replace Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, as Collins steps down to run for Georgia’s Senate seat. Rep. Collins and House Antitrust Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI) remain lead sponsors for H.R. 2054, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act.  The legislation is still expected to go through regular order in the House this year, according to statements made by the Chairman, while the Senate version has gained co-sponsors and the Alliance supports regular order – a hearing and markup – in the Senate, as well.  Lawmakers are aware of the urgency, and the importance of ensuring passage of this legislation.

President Trump Signs Renegotiated NAFTA, Including Immunities for Online Platforms

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On January 29, President Trump signed the newly negotiated United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) following the Senate’s adoption of the agreement on January 16 in an 89-10 vote and the House’s passage in December by a 385-41 vote. The agreement, replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), was finalized between the three countries over a year ago but faced significant challenges due to concerns by the House Democrats who insisted on changes in some of the key provisions prior to passage. Despite last-minute efforts by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the final agreement still includes provisions similar to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that establishes broad liability immunities for online platforms for third-party content they publish. USMCA marks the first time such immunities are enshrined in a trade agreement. Before taking effect, USMCA must still be approved by the Canadian Parliament. Read more here.

Google Announces Plans to Phase Out Third-Party Cookies

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On January 14, 2020, Google announced that it intends to phase out its support of third-party cookies within the next two years as part of its Privacy Sandbox initiative.  These changes will take place within Google’s Chrome browser, which is the dominant browser at 69% global market share, and could significantly impact the subscription and advertising revenue of news publishers. This change follows indications from Google that it would continue taking privacy-related actions. For example, Google’s changes to the Chrome browser’s incognito mode in July 2019 were said to be intended to protect consumer privacy, but instead the changes to the browser facilitated paywall circumvention and did nothing more to protect users’ privacy than before the changes were made. Google has stated that it plans to work with publishers, advertisers, and other relevant stakeholders to determine how the new policies will be developed and implemented. The Alliance is engaged in good faith efforts with Google to ensure any new policies benefit news publishers and to learn how the policies will impact news publishers’ business.

News Media Alliance Files Comments on the Effects of Artificial Intelligence on the News Industry

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The Alliance submitted comments on January 10, 2020, to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USTPO) regarding their request for comments on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the protection of intellectual property. The comments focused on USTPO’s question regarding the ingestion of large volumes of copyrighted material for AI training purposes, and whether such use constitutes fair use and is adequately addressed by existing statutory language and case law. The Alliance comments noted the existential threat to the news industry posed by the unlicensed use of news content for AI training purposes, and argued that while the current case law provides protections for news content against such use, stronger enforcement is needed. The comments also emphasized the importance of fair use analysis, including the market effect unauthorized copying has on news publishers. While the current legal framework, properly understood and enforced, should provide adequate protections for news content, legislative solutions may be useful if that is not the case. Read the full comments here.

Alliance Submits Opposition Letter to Facebook’s Updated Privacy Policy

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Facebook updated its privacy policy in preparation for the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) to go into effect on January 1, 2020. Specifically, Facebook asserts itself as a Service Provider and that it does not share information other than for that specific Business Purpose as permitted by the statute. The policy also states that the publisher will remain solely liable for the publisher’s compliance with CCPA. The Alliance is concerned that, among other things, Facebook does not make clear they will not sell the personal information received from news publishers. If this policy stands, publishers have limited recourse, as they must do business with Facebook. The Alliance seeks to gain clarification by highlighting these concerns to Facebook as the law is now in effect and implementing regulations are expected to be released by the California AG before its July 1, 2020 deadline for guidance. Read the letter here.

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