US authorities announced a ban Friday on the import or sale of communications equipment deemed “an unacceptable risk to national security” — including gear from Chinese giants Huawei Technologies and ZTE.
Both firms have been on a roster of companies listed as a threat by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the new rules bar future authorizations of their equipment.
The move is the latest in a series of actions to limit the access of Chinese telecom firms to US networks, and comes during a long-running standoff between the world’s two biggest economies.
US officials have shown growing wariness in recent years of Chinese telecommunications companies and technology.
“The FCC is committed to protecting our national security by ensuring that untrustworthy communications equipment is not authorized for use within our borders,” said chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement.
She added that the new rules are a part of ongoing work to guard against security threats.
A Huawei spokesperson offered no comment on the ban when contacted by AFP.
The order also affects other companies, including video surveillance equipment firms Hangzhou Hikvision and Dahua Technology.
The FCC said Friday that it was also seeking comment on future action relating to existing authorizations.
Previously, Washington had banned Huawei from supplying US government systems and strongly discouraged the use of its equipment in the private sector, with fears that Huawei equipment could be compromised by Chinese intelligence.
In 2019, it put Huawei on a trade blacklist that barred US suppliers from doing business with it, cutting off the Chinese firm — also a top smartphone brand — from Google’s Android mobile operating system.
The United States has cited national security fears as well to restrict the operations of China’s big three state-owned mobile carriers.
After another chaotic week of mass staff departures and policy reversals, Twitter’s future seems highly uncertain, with users — and everybody else — increasingly asking one question: What would a world without the so-called bird app even look like?
With about 237 million daily visitors at the last count in late June, Twitter’s user base is still smaller than Facebook’s nearly two billion, TikTok’s one billion plus and even Snapchat’s 363 million.
But in Twitter’s 15 years of existence, the platform has become the predominant communication channel for political and government leaders, businesses, brands celebrities and news media.
Some, like New York entrepreneur Steve Cohn, are convinced the Twitterverse is only an artificial microcosm of the real world, with limited actual importance.
Twitter is “not ‘essential’ in any way,” Cohn declared — from his own Twitter account. “The world works just fine without Twitter.”
Few people actually tweet, he went on. “Almost all tweets come from (the) 1%. Most normals never log into Twitter.”
But for others, including Karen North, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the site is indispensible for bringing light to little-known conversations.
“Most of the time, people without prominence are not heard,” she said. But on Twitter, “there’s the opportunity to announce things.”
In situations of conflict, social movements or crackdowns, “Twitter I think has become the central platform for being able to disseminate the truth and the ground reality,” Charles Lister, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, told AFP.
Like most other social networks, Twitter is also used to spread propaganda and misinformation, and the company has developed moderation tools to try to limit the worst of it.
But their ability to keep up with the demands of such a task has been thrown into question after more than two-thirds of those teams have left since Elon Musk’s controversial takeover.
A 2018 study found that false information circulates faster than posts that have been fact-checked.
“That’s an unrealistic expectation to imagine a platform where misinformation and disinformation is impossible,” Lister cautioned.
But “to see information, good and bad, vanish,” with the potential disappearance of Twitter, “is by definition a bad thing,” Lister said.
“Autocrats and anyone who doesn’t want information widely shared, would potentially benefit from Twitter being gone,” added Mark Hass, a professor at Arizona State University (ASU).
A Twitter fail could have devastating effects on journalism, experts say.
“Twitter… is really not a social network,” North explained. “It’s a network of news and information.”
“It’s the place, the core hub of where journalists go to get a heads up, or a story idea or a headline or a source or a quote,” she said.
With the reduction of the workforces and budgets in newsrooms, the resources just aren’t there, even at the most well-funded news operations, “to go find sources out in the world,” North lamented.
Twitter, she said, is where much of that work can be done.
Another knock-on effect of a potential collapse of the platform, according to North, is that without Twitter, the world’s rich and powerful stars and politicians will still be able to command the media’s attention, while those less in the spotlight will struggle for attention.
“With Twitter, anybody can announce a story,” she said.
The site functions as a way to share information in real time.
“Twitter has been a vital source of information, networking, guidance, real-time updates, community mutual aid, & more during hurricanes, wildfires, wars, outbreaks, terrorist attacks, mass shootings… etc,” tweeted University of Maryland researcher Caroline Orr.
“It’s not something that can be replaced by any existing platforms.”
For now, the solution for a potential Twitter alternative is not obvious.
“Facebook is valuable, but I think it’s almost a bit old fashioned,” Lister said.
Smaller Twitter competitors are likely to syphon off users, including Mastodon, which has grown in popularity since Musk purchased Twitter.
“But these will likely remain niche, with none of them becoming the public square that Twitter tries to create,” ASU’s Hass said.
He and North both listed Reddit as a possible substitute, though North said the forum-based network is limited by its fragmented and cluttered design that cannot replicate Twitter’s ease of use.
Could a replacement emerge? “Of course,” Lister added, but he noted such ingenuity takes enormous resources and significant time.
Elon Musk expressed excitement Saturday as he watched votes pour in on a Twitter poll he has posted on whether to readmit Donald Trump to the messaging platform.
“Reinstate former President Trump,” the billionaire Twitter owner posted Friday, with a chance to vote either yes or no.
As of 2200 GMT Saturday, 51.8 percent of the more than 14 million responses were in favor of a return of the former president, who was banned from Twitter for his role in last year’s attack on the US Capitol by a mob of his followers seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Musk said the poll was drawing one million answers per hour.
“Fascinating to watch Twitter Trump poll!” Musk said Saturday morning in a blast of tweets from the controversial and hard-charging new owner of the one-to-many messaging platform.
There was no indication that the mercurial boss of Space-X and Tesla would adhere to the results of the ad hoc poll.
But on Friday, Musk also posted a Latin adage suggesting that the decision would be up to Twitter users: “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” (“The voice of the people is the voice of God”).
He has done similar polls in the past, asking followers last year if he should sell stock in his electric car company Tesla. Following that poll, he sold more than $1 billion in shares.
Trump, who reveled in using Twitter as a mouthpiece, was followed by more than 88 million users.
He has said he will not return to the popular platform but would instead remain on his own network, Truth Social, launched after he was banned from Twitter.
Appearing via video Saturday at a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, Trump said he welcomed Musk’s poll, and was a fan of the man himself, but appeared to reject any return.
“I do like him… you know, he’s a character and again, I like characters,” he said.
“He did put up a poll and it was very overwhelming… but I have something called… Truth Social.”
As to whether he would return to the platform, he said: “I don’t see it because I don’t see any reason for it.”
Musk, also the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has come under fire for radical changes at California-based Twitter, which he bought less than a month ago for $44 billion.
Since then, he fired half of Twitter’s 7,500 staff, scrapped a work-from-home policy and imposed long hours, all while his attempts to overhaul the company faced backlash and delays.
His stumbling attempts to revamp user verification with a controversial subscription service led to a slew of fake accounts and pranks, and prompted major advertisers to step away from the platform.
On Friday, Musk appeared to be pressing on with his plans and reinstated previously banned accounts, including that of comedian Kathy Griffin, which had been taken down after she impersonated him on the site.
The company’s offices were locked down Friday and hundreds of employees quit rather than yield to Musk’s demands that they resign themselves to working long, grueling days at the new Twitter.
Musk tweeted earlier in the day that he was buying Twitter “because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner.”
Twitter did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the departure of its top executives, but the platform’s co-founder Biz Stone thanked the trio — Agrawal, Ned Segal and Vijaya Gadde — for their “collective contribution to Twitter.”
“Massive talents, all, and beautiful humans each.”
The closure of the deal marks the culmination of a long and drawn out back-and-forth between the billionaire and the social network.
Musk tried to step back from the Twitter deal soon after his unsolicited offer was accepted in April, and said in July he was canceling the contract because he was misled by Twitter over the number of fake “bot” accounts — allegations rejected by the company.
Twitter, in turn, sought to prove Musk was contriving excuses to walk away simply because he changed his mind.
After Musk sought to terminate the sale, Twitter filed a lawsuit to hold Musk to the agreement.
With a trial looming, the unpredictable billionaire capitulated and revived his takeover plan.
Musk signaled the deal was on track this week by changing his Twitter profile to “Chief Twit” and posting a video of himself walking into the company’s California headquarters carrying a sink.
“Let that sink in!” he quipped.
He even shared a picture of himself socializing at a coffee bar at Twitter headquarters earlier in the day Thursday.
Musk said during a recent Tesla earnings call that he was “excited” about the Twitter deal even though he and investors are “overpaying.”
Some employees who would prefer not to work for Musk have already left, said a worker who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely.
“But a portion of people, including me, are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now,” the employee said.
The idea of Musk running Twitter has alarmed activists who fear a surge in harassment and misinformation, with Musk himself known for trolling other Twitter users.
But Musk said he realizes Twitter “cannot become a free-for-all hellscape where anything can be said with no consequences.”
Musk has vowed to dial content moderation back to a bare minimum, and is expected to clear the way for former US president Donald Trump to return to the platform.
The then-president was blocked due to concerns he would ignite more violence like the deadly attack on the Capitol in Washington to overturn his election loss.
Far-right users were quick to rejoice on the network, posting comments such as “masks don’t work” and other taunts, under the belief that moderation rules will now be relaxed.
“Free speech will always prevail,” tweeted Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, prompting replies including “says the party that bans books.”
Google parent Alphabet on Tuesday reported quarterly earnings that fell short of market expectations as belts tightened in the digital ad market that drives its revenue.
Alphabet said it made a profit of $14 billion in the third quarter on ad revenue that grew just 6 percent to $69 billion when compared with the same period of last year.
Aside from one period at the start of the Covid pandemic, that would mark the weakest revenue growth at Alphabet for any quarter since 2014.
“When Google stumbles, it’s a bad omen for digital advertising at large,” said Insider Intelligence analyst Evelyn Mitchell.
“This disappointing quarter for Google signifies hard times ahead if market conditions continue to deteriorate.”
Alphabet shares slipped 6.8 percent to $97.35 in after-market trades that followed the release of the earnings report.
Google’s foundation in advertising on its heavily used search engine does give it an advantage, however, over other ad-reliant tech firms such as Meta, Snap and Twitter, the analyst added.
“Over time, we’ve had periods of extraordinary growth and then there are periods I viewed as a moment where you take the time to optimize the company to make sure we are set up for the next decade of growth ahead,” Alphabet and Google chief Sundar Pichai said on an earnings call.
“I view this as one of those moments.”
Alphabet chief financial officer Ruth Porat said the financial results in the quarter showed “healthy fundamental growth in Search and momentum in Cloud” computing revenue, but suffered from foreign exchange rates given the strong US dollar.
“We’re working to realign resources to fuel our highest growth priorities,” Porat said.
Big tech firms are grappling with multiple challenges, from inflation to the war in Ukraine, putting pressure on earnings.
Alphabet recruited throughout the pandemic, but announced a slowdown in hiring as ad revenue growth cooled this year.
“Within this slower headcount growth next year we will continue hiring for critical roles, particularly focused on top engineering and technical talent,” Porat said.
Many other tech companies have decided to lay off staff, including Netflix and Twitter, or slow the pace of hiring, such as Microsoft and Snap.
Worsening the financial situation for Alphabet is the fact that Google tends not to aggressively promote advertising on its platform with tactics such as trying to convince businesses that online marketing is a smart move during tough economic times, said independent tech analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group.
“They don’t like the idea of making their money off advertising, so they don’t treat the market very well,” Enderle contended.
“Now, you are seeing the adverse impact of not taking your revenue source seriously.”
The earnings report also showed that ad revenue at YouTube was slightly lower than it was in the same quarter a year earlier, despite a hot trend of people watching video on-demand on the internet.
“Overall, I feel YouTube remains in a really good position to continue to benefit from the streaming boom,” chief business officer Philipp Schindler said during an earnings call.
However, Alphabet noticed a “pullback in spending” by advertisers at YouTube in the quarter, Schindler told analysts.
“They have a ton of competition in video, and TikTok is probably hitting YouTube pretty hard,” Enderle said.
Netflix last week reported that it gained subscribers in the recent quarter, calming investor fears that the streaming giant was losing paying customers.
The company said it ended the third quarter with slightly more than 223 million subscribers worldwide, up some 2.4 million, after seeing subscriber ranks ebb during the first half of the year.
The turn-around in subscriber growth comes as Netflix is poised to debut a subscription option subsidized by ads in November across a dozen countries.
Rival streaming platform Disney+ is to launch ad-subsidized subscriptions in December.
The UN’s telecoms agency, which chooses either an American or a Russian as its new chief on Thursday, plays a key role in the rules governing radio frequencies, satellites and 5G.
The International Telecommunication Union is holding its quadrennial main conference until October 14 in Bucharest, with all eyes on who its next secretary-general will be.
Here is a look at the oldest agency in the United Nations fold, which behind the scenes sets the global standards underlying mobile phones, television and the internet.
What the ITU does
It allocates global radio spectrum and satellite orbits and develops technical standards that ensure networks interconnect.
The ITU was created to manage international telegraph networks but expanded its remit to new technology such as telephones, radio, television, satellites, mobile phones and the internet.
It brings together 193 member states as well as about 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organisations.
“Every time you make a phone call via the mobile, access the internet or send an email, you are benefiting from the work of ITU,” it says.
The ITU was founded in 1865. Twenty countries gathered at a conference in Paris to make cross-border communications more efficient, standardising telegraphy equipment and setting uniform operating instructions.
It established “SOS” as the Morse code international maritime distress call in 1906. Following the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, a common wavelength was agreed for ships’ radio distress signals.
Its headquarters moved in 1948 from Bern to Geneva, where it today is situated in a 15-storey pentagonal silvery tower near the UN’s Palais des Nations. It joined the UN fold in 1949.
TV, mobiles, internet
The ITU’s first TV technical standards were released in 1949. Now more than 150 standards cover sound and vision broadcasting to a multitude of devices.
In 2000, technical specifications for 3G systems were agreed, allowing full interoperability of mobile systems for the first time, laying the foundation for high-speed wireless devices able to handle voice and data connection to the internet.
The ITU says the internet’s expansion from early modems to broadband owes much to its standards.
Climate change is now a major theme of the ITU’s work, notably through satellite-based weather monitoring and disaster warning systems.
Contenders for leadership
China’s Houlin Zhao reaches the end of his second four-year term as ITU secretary-general on December 31.
The two candidates to replace him are the ITU’s American development chief Doreen Bogdan-Martin and Russia’s former deputy telecoms minister Rashid Ismailov.
Bogdan-Martin, considered the favourite, wants to get more of the world online with high-speed access; Ismailov wants to humanise technological development rather than focus purely on expanding it.
The winner will be chosen by secret ballot on Thursday in Bucharest during the ITU’s plenipotentiary conference, its main decision-making body.
How it is run and funded
The ITU’s work is divided into three branches: radiocommunications, standardisation and development.
A regionally-balanced 48-member council serves as its governing body.
The ITU’s total budgeted revenues in 2021 were around 164 million Swiss francs ($165 million), of which 76 percent came from membership fees — including 66 percent from countries — with the rest from “cost-recovery activities”: publication sales, registration fees and radiocommunication filing.
The European Union early Saturday finalised new legislation to require Big Tech to remove harmful content, the bloc’s latest move to rein in the world’s online giants.
The Digital Services Act (DSA) — the second part of a massive project to regulate tech companies — aims to ensure tougher consequences for platforms and websites that host a long list of banned content ranging from hate speech to disinformation and child sexual abuse images.
EU officials and parliamentarians finally reached an agreement at talks in Brussels early Saturday on the legislation, which has been in the works since 2020.
“Yes, we have a deal!,” European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton tweeted.
“With the DSA, the time of big online platforms behaving like they are ‘too big to care’ is coming to an end. A major milestone for EU citizens,” said Breton, who has previously described the internet as the “Wild West”.
“Today’s agreement on DSA is historic,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen tweeted.
“Our new rules will protect users online, ensure freedom of expression and opportunities for businesses. What is illegal offline will effectively be illegal online in the EU.”
The regulation is the companion to the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which targeted anti-competitive practices among tech behemoths such as Google and Facebook and was concluded in late March.
The legislation had faced lobbying from the tech companies and intense debate over the extent of freedom of speech.
Tech giants have been repeatedly called out for failing to police their platforms — a New Zealand terrorist attack that was live-streamed on Facebook in 2019 caused global outrage, and the chaotic insurrection in the US last year was promoted online.
The dark side of the internet also includes e-commerce platforms filled with counterfeit or defective products.
– Obligations for large platforms – The regulation will require platforms to swiftly remove illegal content as soon as they are aware of its existence. Social networks would have to suspend users who frequently breach the law.
The DSA will force e-commerce sites to verify the identity of suppliers before proposing their products.
While many of the DSA’s stipulations cover all companies, it lays out special obligations for “very large platforms”, defined as those with more than 45 million active users in the European Union.
The list of companies has not yet been released but will include giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, as well as Twitter and probably the likes of TikTok, Zalando and Booking.com.
These players will be obliged to assess the risks associated with the use of their services and remove illegal content.
They will also be required to be more transparent about their data and algorithms.
The European Commission will oversee yearly audits and be able to impose fines of up to six percent of their annual sales for repeated infringements.
Among the practices expected to be outlawed is the use of data on religion or political views for targeted advertising.
Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen caused a huge stir last year when she accused her former bosses of prioritising profits over the welfare of users.
She hailed in November the “enormous potential” of the European regulation project, which could become a “reference” for other countries, including the United States.
However, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) fears the text does not go far enough.
It wants a ban on all advertising based on the surveillance of internet users, and random checks on online vendors’ products.
The Ibadan Zonal Command of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), on Thursday, secured five convictions before Justice Nathaniel Ayo-Emmanuel of the Federal High Court, Osogbo, Osun State, and Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of the Federal High Court, Abeokuta, Ogun State respectively, for their involvement in internet fraud.
The convicts are Sulaimon Ayub Damilare, Mujeeb Lawal Alabi, Timilehin Paul Ogunleye, Osoko Adesola David, and Akinwunmi Emmanuel. They pleaded “guilty” to their separate charges.
Justice Nathaniel Ayo-Emmanuel convicted and sentenced Osoko Adesola David to five months’ imprisonment, Timilehin Paul Ogunleye, four months’ imprisonment while Akunwunmi Emmanuel bagged three months’ jail term. Similarly, Justice Oguntoyinbo convicted and sentenced Mujeeb Lawal Alabi to three months’ imprisonment while Sulaimon Ayub Damilare bagged four months. The convicts are to restitute their victims and forfeit recovered items to the Federal Government.
A US digital infrastructure company, Equinix on Monday announced its expansion into Africa through its intended acquisition of MainOne, a leading West African data center and connectivity solutions provider, with a presence in Nigeria, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire.
The acquisition is expected to close in Q1 of 2022, subject to the satisfaction of customary closing conditions including the requisite regulatory approvals, a statement from the company said.
MainOne was founded by Funke Opeke in 2010, who is expected to continue as CEO after the deal is finalised.
Opeke holds a master’s in engineering from Columbia University and was named one of the World’s Top 50 Women in Tech by Forbes in 2018 for her efforts in sparking internet adoption.
She was also recently named one of the Top 10 Women to Watch in the Data Center Industry by Data Centre Magazine.
“Equinix will accelerate our long-term vision to grow digital infrastructure investments across Africa. I thank our founding shareholders led by Mr. Fola Adeola, MainStreet Technologies, AFC, PAIDF, FBN, Polaris, and AfDB for investing in the MainOne vision to bridge the Digital Divide in Africa,” Opeke said.
“With similar values and culture to what we have jointly built in twelve years, Equinix is the preferred partner for our growth journey.
“The MainOne team is excited about the partnership created through the acquisition, and we look forward to building our next chapter together.”
“The acquisition of MainOne will represent a critical point of entry for Platform Equinix into the expansive and rapidly growing African market,” President and CEO, Equinix, Charles Meyers, said.
“MainOne’s leading interconnection position and experienced management team represent critical assets in our aspirations to be the leading neutral provider of digital infrastructure in Africa.
“Growth of data consumption in Africa is amongst the fastest in the world, and our customers are looking for a trusted partner to pursue the opportunities presented by broad mobile adoption and greater connectivity across the region.
“MainOne’s infrastructure, customer relationships, partner ecosystem, and operating capability will extend the reach of Platform Equinix and bolster opportunities for customers in Africa and throughout the world.”
The Federal Government is set to begin the roll-out of fifth-generation (5G) services across the country.
Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta, made the announcement on Friday at a public inquiry on the instruments necessary for the deployment of the technology.
The instruments are the annual operating levy regulations and the frequency spectrum regulations.
Speaking further, Professor Danbatta explained that the commission has submitted the proposal to the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy and is awaiting approval from the Federal Government to roll out the services.
He added that the commission is also discussing the fees and pricing for the technology.
The NCC and the Nigerian Communications Satellite (NIGCOMSAT) had signed a Memorandum of Understanding in May to facilitate the deployment of 5G technology.
Both agencies signed the agreement on the use of C-Band Spectrum for 5G services in Nigeria at an event in Abuja.
In his remarks, the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners at the NCC, Professor Adeolu Akande, noted that in recent times, precisely from the last quarter of 2019, several administrations have begun to license spectrum for commercial deployment of 5G.
He stated that 5G services have already been deployed in the United States and South Korea among many more countries in the world.
“Telecommunication evolution from inception to date has led to improvement in user experience witnessed from 2G, 3G and later 4G. The global impact of 4G brought about increases in mobile usage and network performance.
“5G will build on this momentum, bringing substantial network improvements, including higher connection speeds, mobility, and capacity, as well as low-latency capabilities,” Akande said.
According to him, 5G does not only offer enhanced broadband and ultra-reliable latency communications but also provides massive machine-type communications where a lot of devices will seamlessly connect and independently interact with the internet without human intervention.
According to industry estimates discussed during the Better World Summit in Shenzhen, China earlier this month, there would be 2.7 billion subscribers to 5G networks globally by 2025.
Internet access was partially restored in Myanmar on Sunday, Netblocks reported, as a nationwide web blockade failed to curb public outrage and protests against the coup that ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Partial restoration of internet connectivity confirmed in #Myanmar from 2PM local time on multiple providers following information blackout,” the internet monitoring service said on Twitter.
Myanmar was plunged into cyber darkness on Saturday at the military’s orders.
Netblocks said social media platforms remained off limits on Sunday afternoon.
But mobile phone customers using services with MPT, Ooredoo, Telenor and Mytel are now able to access mobile internet data and Wi-Fi.
Earlier on Sunday Netblocks said connectivity in Myanmar was at 14 percent of usual levels.
Despite the internet blackout several live Facebook feeds were broadcast of tens of thousands of protesters marching in the streets of Yangon.
United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews said the internet disruption was dangerous and a violation of human rights.
“The generals are now attempting to paralyse the citizen movement of resistance — and keep the outside world in the dark — by cutting virtually all internet access,” he tweeted.
Google threatened Friday to block Australians from using its search service unless the government changed landmark legislation to make the internet giant pay news outlets for their content.
Google Australia managing director Mel Silva warned a Senate committee in Canberra that the world-first media law was “unworkable” and would undermine the functioning of the internet.
“If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia,” Silva said, the first time the company has made such a threat after months of difficult negotiations over the draft law.
The legislation was introduced last year to force Google and Facebook to pay local media organisations to host news content or face millions of dollars in fines, in one of the most aggressive moves globally to check the power of the US tech giants.
Under the laws, the firms would be required to compensate Australian media outlets, ranging from Rupert Murdoch’s giant News Corp to public broadcasters ABC and SBS, for publishing snippets of their content in search results.
The most controversial part of the law would require Google and Facebook to enter mandatory arbitration with media companies if they cannot reach agreement over the value of their content within three months.
The arbiter would then choose between the payment proposal put forward by a news outlet and that coming from the tech firm.
“This provision in the code would set an untenable precedent for our business and the digital economy,” Silva said Friday. “It is not compatible with how search engines work or now the internet works.”
The law would also require the platforms to give the news businesses two weeks’ notice of algorithm changes affecting the distribution of their content, and includes punitive clauses to stop the firms from blocking content to avoid payment.
Google and Facebook have been backed in their opposition to the law by the US government and internet architects including Tim Berners-Lee.
The initiative has been closely watched around the globe, as news media worldwide have suffered in an increasingly digital economy where big tech firms overwhelmingly capture advertising revenue.
Efforts to confront the tech firms on behalf of beleaguered news media in Europe have focused mainly on copyright law and have had some limited success.
But the Australian law relies on antitrust provisions and would have a more far-reaching financial impact on Google and Facebook.
‘Don’t respond to threats’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose conservative government has heeded demands by the country’s biggest news organisations to crack down on the tech firms, responded sharply to the threat by Google, by far the dominant search engine in the country.
“Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia. That’s done in our parliament,” Morrison said. “People who want to work with that in Australia, you’re very welcome, but we don’t respond to threats.”
At Friday’s hearing, Facebook similarly labelled the code “unworkable” in its current form and said it would cause the social media platform to stop publishing Australian news.
“The great majority of people who are using Facebook would continue to be able to do so, but we would no longer be able to provide news,” Facebook’s Simon Milner told the hearing.
Both companies stressed that they were willing to pay media companies for their content through various direct arrangements, including in products like Facebook News and Google News Showcase.
And they proposed a series of amendments to the draft Australian law to avoid a showdown.
“Withdrawing our services from Australia is the last thing that Google wants to have happen, especially when there is another way forward,” Silva said.
“There is a clear pathway to a fair and workable code, with only slight amendments,” she said.
The key change demanded by the companies is to drop the mandatory arbitration process in favour of mediated negotiations with individual news organisations.