Sunday, 21 February 2021

Facebook Versus Australia

I remember back in the 1980's and 90's if you wanted news you had to pay for it, either in cash or by watching or listening to advertisements. Today most of us get our news free from the internet. But of course it's not free, someone wrote it and they want to be paid, as does whoever publishes it. Here is the point of contention between Facebook and Australia.

The ethos of the internet used to be that everything should be available for free. Blogger, the platform that publishes this blog, is a perfect example of that. I can write pretty much whatever I want and it is then put on the internet for free. When you think about that, it really is amazing. Blogger is a survivor of that ethos, but most of the internet long ago left that ethos behind. 

It took about 15 years before business could work out how to really make money on the internet. Sure there were success stories before that, but they were few and far between. Nearly everyone could see the potential, but making it work in the real world was extremely hard and as it turned out expensive. So for a long time it seemed churlish to point out that free didn't really mean free, that someone somewhere had to pay for all of that so called free content. 

But today when it is clear that they have worked out how to make money from the internet it doesn't seem churlish at all to point it out. In fact it even seems right to say "hey stop stealing our content!". However this has gone on for so long that many companies and people do not understand why this is a problem. I was talking to someone today when I realised that this has been going on for so long that this has been the way things are for their entire life. I think Mark Zuckerberg probably fits into that category as well. I think he is genuinely perplexed by all this, as he has never known it to be any different. 

Over the past 5 years or so countries, I include the EU here as well, have been having a rethink about the internet. Things such as privacy, information harvesting, payment systems, consumer protection amongst other issues have been getting a lot more attention. Because now companies are making money and flexing their muscles and that has drawn attention. 

In Australia the traditional media companies are asking the government why it is alright to steal from them and why isn't the government protecting them. They are both excellent points. As these companies have money and influence and a lot of contact with politicians this has advanced much further than normal. It has a good chance of succeeding as other countries and companies are watching and paying attention. 

Facebook will lose a lot of money if it succeeds, but at the same time it can afford it. Many Facebook really will leave Australia, to punish us, I think that would backfire. It would become another China to us, but unlike China it can't invade!


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