The social media giant Facebook is in hot water recently, with legislations and fines targeting the goliath company cropping up in multiple countries. One proposed legislation in Australia, which passed the Australian House of Representatives last night, will require social media websites to pay Australian news organizations for links shared on their website. In Italy, Facebook faces a fine of seven million euros ($8.45 million) from an Italian competition watchdog for failing to comply with a previous order related to improper use of its users’ data.
A new legislation which has already passed the House of Representatives will require social media websites to pay Australian news organizations for links shared on their websites. Whereas, Google has already struck a deal with Australian news mega-corporation News Corp, Facebook has refused to play ball with the Australian government. In retaliation against this new ‘Media Bargaining law’ as it is known in Australia, Facebook blocked people in Australia from sharing news stories. Not only that, the Facebook ban also blocks posts by Australian publishers from being seen around the world. Due to the Facebook ban, Australians are unable to view news on Facebook, even from Non-Australian sources. William Easton, Managing Director, Facebook Australia and New Zealand, wrote this regarding the proposed new law:-
“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content. It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”
There were many unintended consequences of the Facebook Ban. The ban ended up targeting many Australian essential services. Facebook blocked user access to FB pages like 1800Respect, which is an Australian Domestic Violence helpline, the West Australian Department of Fire and Emergency Services and the Bureau of Meteorology. Many FB pages of essential and emergency services for Fires, Covid etc were also unavailable because of the ban.
The Facebook ban has met with a huge backlash in Australia, from the Prime Minister to the regular Australian citizen. “Facebook needs to think very carefully about what this means for its reputation and standing,” said Australian Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. The Australian PM Scott Morrison took to Facebook itself to slam the Big Tech giant.
“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing. I am in regular contact with the leaders of other nations on these issues. These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of Big Tech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them. They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it.”
Facebook has since then removed restrictions on essential services FB pages for Australians, but the mood is still sour. The new law is expected to pass through the Senate later this week. The hashtags #DeleteFacebook and #BoycottZuckerberg are still trending on Twitter as Australians delete their profiles to protest Facebook’s news ban. The Australian PM, in a direct statement, said that Facebook has “attacked a sovereign nation” and, “shown tech giants think they’re bigger than governments”.
On Wednesday, The Italian Competition and Market Authority (AGCM) fined Facebook Inc and Facebook Ireland Ltd. to the tune of $8.45 million for failing to implement a 2018 order, requiring them to abandon a wrongful practice in the use of user’s data. Facebook also failed to publish a corrective declaration disregarding the requests from the watchdog.
In November 2018, the AGCM had found that Facebook uses its subscriber’s data in a way which violates Italy’s consumer code. The regulator also found that Facebook was misleading local users over how their data would be collected and shared with third-party services. For all of these violations, the AGCM had inflicted a fine on Facebook of around 10 million euros ($12 million). However, Facebook managed to get the penalty reduced to 5 million euros in early 2020.
The additional penalty enforced today against Facebook is because of Facebook’s failure to fully comply to the 2018 AGCM ruling. In a press release, the AGCM clarified its ruling saying:-
“[Facebook] has not published the corrective declaration and has not ceased the ascertained incorrect practice: Despite having eliminated the claim that Facebook is free when registering to the platform, immediate and clear information is not yet provided on the collection and use of user data for commercial purposes. According to the Authority, this is information that the consumer needs to decide whether to join the service, in light of the economic value Facebook places on the data.”
Facebook has faced a similar fine in Hungary, requiring to pay around $4.3 million to the country’s competition authority for falsely advertising its services as being free.
There is a clear global upswing in rhetoric and action against Big Tech monopolies like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon etc. Countries around the world are now realizing that trillion dollar multi-national companies like Amazon are becoming more powerful than most governments around the world. With the Big Tech censorship of U.S. President Donald Trump, arguably the most powerful man on Earth because of his office, it is now dawning on multiple countries around the world that the power and influence of Big Tech can influence democracies and elections in almost any country on Earth.