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Time to rein in the tech giants

by Don Groves

The US Government financed the development of the internet with the aims of decentralising control and harmonising people.

The unintended result; tech giants now dominate the world economies at the expense of artists, music companies and newspapers while fake news proliferates.

That was the sombre message delivered by US academic and former Hollywood producer, Jonathan Taplin, at a two-day Australian content conversation event in Sydney staged by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Taplin, Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California, suggested anti-trust legislation in the US may be needed to curb the market power of tech companies such as Google and Facebook.

He estimated that YouTube accounts for a 60% share of the global music market but it contributes just 11% of those revenues to artists.
      Photo: Johnathan Taplin Presentation at ACMA Content Conversation

Taplin also questioned why there are thousands of ISIS videos on YouTube, usually advertiser- supported.

He also lamented the fact that 50% of Americans consider Facebook as a core source of news. He said Facebook is now seen as a gatekeeper of news and Mark Zuckerberg's company has huge leverage over media outlets because more than two thirds of their traffic comes via the online platform.

When Zuckerberg succumbed to pressure from Fox News and Breitbart in May 2016 and removed editors from the process of selecting news stories, the presidential election swung Trump's way and the fake news business took off, he said.

            

      Photo: Johnathan Taplin Presentation at ACMA Content Conversation

Taplin said the safe harbour provisions in the US (which the Productivity Commission has proposed be adopted in Australia) protect the Internet service providers from the risk of liability for hosting infringing material on behalf of their users.

At the conference, NZ On Air CEO, Jane Wrightson, observed that Netflix has completely changed viewing habits.

When Wrightson then turned to the issues posed by the major tech giants, she suggested that they were too big for a country of New Zealand's size to deal with. Taplin responded saying that the Kiwi industry could make a difference by issuing take down and stay down notices to offending websites.

In Taplin's book Move Fast and Break Things he chronicled the downward spiral of traditional media while the tech giants' advertising revenue rocketed. From 2000 to 2014, US ad revenues fell from $65.8bn to $23.6bn.

Between 2007 and 2013, UK ad revenues slumped from $4.7bn to $2.6bn, whereas Google's revenue spiked up from $1.5bn in 2004 to $74.5bn in 2015.

For Google and Facebook, he writes, "the difference between the supreme artistry of a Martin Scorsese short film and an amateur cat video lies only in the number of views that can be sold to advertisers."

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