In the Face of Big-Tech Threats, Australia Needs to Plan for Life Without Google and Facebook

The Australian Government should develop a National Risk Mitigation Strategy to deal with our over-reliance on Google and Facebook, according to a new report for the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

In the wake of threats by Google and Facebook to scale back or close services in Australia should the Government proceed with plans to charge them for news content, the new report from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology ‘Tech-Xit: Can Australia survive without Google and Facebook?’ identifies serious risks to Australian businesses, government services and consumers if services were withdrawn.

Key Findings:

  • Risks to the civil discourse if Facebook bans local news with the platform likely to be swamped with disinformation.
  • Significant risks to local businesses if Google removes access to its advertising platform and to You Tube.
  • Disruption to health and education services which have become increasingly reliant on the Google suite of technology products.

The report recommends three specific approaches to mitigate national risk:

  • Fast-track other elements of the ACCC Platforms Inquiry around consumer protection and privacy to address the existing advertising market dominance of the major platforms.
  • Audit existing government reliance on major platforms and place a cap on the number of government contracts any single technology provider should hold.
  • Develop a public-owned, public-purpose social network which does not track and monetise user data, to be housed through the ABC.

“Google and Facebook’s response to the ACCC mandatory news code has placed in stark relief our national over-reliance on them,” said Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

“This analysis shows that two global corporations that play a dominant role in our civic and commercial institutions are prepared to threaten to withdraw those services to proect their own commercial self-interest.

“The platforms have a history of bullying government. Google closed its news service in Spain in 2014 and Facebook is currently threatening to pull its entire service from Ireland in the face of regulation.

“Whether or not they make good on their threats, it is incumbent on all Australians to ensure we are not in a position where we are held hostage to their commercial interests.

“As the power of the major platforms continues to grow, it is essential Australia has plans for our ongoing digital sovereignty.

“While many people ae uncomfortable with the power and the business models of Google and Facebook, they are so pervasive it’s hard to imagine how we can live without them.

“But with sensible, long-term policy development and investment in the public square, we think it is possible to ensure these companies serve our interest.”

The new report Tech-xit: Can Australia survive without Google and Facebook? by Jordan Guiao, Associate Fellow at the Centre for Responsible Technology, is available here.