Finally, Indian authorities have moved – the Competition Commission of India has ordered a probe against Google for its ‘alleged’ abuse of dominant position in news aggregation. This follows, much later than it should have, in the footsteps of actions in Australia, which last year passed a law that required tech platforms like Google and Facebook to fairly pay local media outlets for linking their content in news feeds or search results. France has implemented the EU’s updated copyright rules that require digital platforms to compensate news publishers for previews of news content. This forced Facebook last October to sign a deal with a French lobby group that represents 300 French publishers.
The world’s second-largest online market and biggest democracy needs equally strong action against tech giants. The health of Indian democracy depends on a financially viable, independent news media. As online news consumption increases, the current system becomes more and more unfair to news publishers. Google and Facebook dominate internet traffic, and they take away as much as 70-80% of advertising revenue that comes from digital consumption of news. This, in turn, makes mainstream news publishing, which involves gatekeeping and fact-checking and therefore has to employ trained professionals, increasingly financially unviable.
As this newspaper has always argued, without responsibly produced news, we are left with the social media jungle of half-truths, lies, fake content, superstition, manipulation and hate-mongering. The world has already seen the chaos this can wreak. Tech giants falsely argue that they bring substantial traffic to news publishers. It works both ways. Around 40% of trending queries on Google are news-related, bringing considerable traffic to it. So, tech giants basically get a near free ride. It is logical and fair that online platforms equitably share online ad revenues with news publishers. Hopefully, CCI’s action will lead quickly to necessary rules that ensure this.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.