The web giants’ disinformation campaign
President and CEO of News Media Canada
Last fall, Canada’s local news publishers came together to urge the federal government – and MPs of all parties – to join with democracies around the world in fighting the monopoly positions of Google and Facebook.
News Media Canada, which represents the digital and print media industry in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, outlined a list of actions to counter the stranglehold of these foreign web giants, which deny local newspapers the revenues that pay for real journalism, in a report entitled “Levelling the Digital Playing Field.”
Since then, Google and Facebook, already in hot water for problems with spreading disinformation on their platforms, have responded with some disinformation of their own.
Google’s misleading omissions
The latest illustration is a letter sent by Google to every MP in Ottawa as part of a high-priced global lobby campaign. As the American company seeks to fight all restraints on its wealth and power, the letter contains statements and claims that are as important for what they omit as what they purport.
Contrary to Google’s claims that “Not all publishers agree with News Media Canada,” we point out that our group represents the publishers of the daily, regional, community and ethnocultural news publications that account for more than 90 per cent of news media readership in Canada.
Google claims that it did not cause “the disruption of the newspaper business model,” implying that what it dismissively refers to as “legacy media” have not kept up with changing technology. In fact, Canadian newspaper publishers, large and small, have been in the forefront of adapting to the digital world, rapidly developing products for their readers tailored to the various digital platforms available on the market.
Google also states that it “does not earn meaningful revenues from news.” We will leave it to you to decide what constitutes “meaningful revenues” for a company that earned more than C$200 billion in revenues in 2019.
Google also neglects to acknowledge that it and Facebook combined collect 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues in Canada.
Google’s omissions of facts in its letter are deliberate – and deliberately misleading. For example, it states that it “does not set ad prices… (they) are driven by real time auctions.” In fact, Google uses its immense size and wealth and its uncontested market domination to control every step of buying and selling digital advertising and thus lay claim to the lion’s share of all advertising.
Since 2001, Google has aggressively acquired digital display advertising technology companies that posed any threat. Google technology now powers the ad systems used to display ads on publisher websites; is used to offer those placements to the market for purchase (bidding), is the base for bidding on the placement of those ads; and is used for targeting consumers and tracking how those ads perform.
Google is the auction, the auctioneer, the product, the buyer and the seller.
Putting an end to the abuse of power
The rejection of Google’s abuse of power is growing in democracies around the world. Australia is taking decisive action to ensure a fair online market for media in that country. We believe – given our similar legal and federal political systems – that same approach should be adopted by the Government of Canada. That is the key recommendation of our report. It requires no government funding or new or increased taxes or user fees.
All it requires is for our MPs to quickly exercise their responsibilities to protect Canadians and Canadian businesses from the predatory and destructive practice of this powerful monopoly and thus ensure fair competition.
As media publishers in Canada and Quebec, we will continue to champion the interests of local news and the communities we serve. We will continue to fight for women and men in newsrooms across Canada. Real journalists, reporting real news and using new, innovative ways of reaching their readers.
We hope that by taking the legislative action we outlined in our report, MPs from all parties and all regions of Quebec and Canada will stand with us.