Google and Facebook are threatening to either withdraw their services from Australia or to stop linking to news articles there in a reaction to the country’s proposed News Media Bargaining Code, which is aimed at restoring the balance of power between Australian media outlets and digital platforms. In effect, the two tech giants have given the Australian government an ultimatum – to retract or rewrite the law, or risk leaving millions of users unable to access the platforms’ services. This is yet another illustration of the urgent need for data sovereignty in order to give users more choice and control over their data.

Google is now leveraging its market dominance in order to pressure the Australian government to back down. If the proposed law is not retracted or amended, the nation’s citizens will no longer be able to use Google’s wide-ranging services. So despite Google claiming that its mission is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, it appears that the tech giant is only willing to adhere to this statement on its own terms. 

This is a classic example of how Google – supported by Facebook – can abuse its data monopoly and the user dependency resulting from that monopolistic position. Such power plays appear to be common practice for the Big Tech giants; users of WhatsApp, which is a subsidiary of Facebook, were recently issued with a similar ultimatum: accept our new terms, or don’t use our services anymore. And this is precisely why the Australian government has proposed the News Media Bargaining Code. “The Code will ensure that news media businesses are fairly remunerated for the content they generate, helping to sustain public interest journalism in Australia,” according to Paul Fletcher, Australia’s Minister  for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts.

As the Data Sovereignty Now (DSN) coalition, we strongly reject such power plays by any organisation with a data monopoly. It is our firm belief that the only way to prevent Big Tech companies from holding governments to ransom in this way in the future is to restore the ‘data benefit balance’ between users and digital platforms. 

In a data-sovereign world, users will have the freedom to ‘move’ to another platform whenever they wish, taking the data they generated with them. This will also strengthen the position of news and media outlets by increasing competition between platforms, thus giving the news and media outlets more bargaining power. As an added advantage, governments will no longer face such a stark ultimatum if one or more platforms refuse to accept new or existing legislation, since media outlets will be able to simply switch to another platform in order to continue disseminating news and information irrespective of which platform their readers are using.

In an interoperable and decentralised digital world, the best players win, not the biggest – and data sovereignty holds the key to transforming the tech landscape so that the size and dominance of a platform is no longer the only paradigm. Only then will we be able to take the digital economy to the next level and unleash the true and fair benefits of data.

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