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Facebook and Google could be forced to reveal their algorithms to Australian media companies ahead of any changes

Jack Derwin
  • Facebook and Google may have no choice but to reveal any changes they make to their algorithms ahead of time, as part of a new code of conduct in Australia.
  • The Australian government has revealed to Business Insider Australia that the proposal will be negotiated between the different parties following its Digital Platfroms Inquiry.
  • Also on the agenda will be revenue sharing, and how content is presented and accessed. An agreement is expected to be reached by May.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

The Australian government talks a big game when it comes to its crusade against Google and Facebook.

In December, Prime Minister Scott Morrison signalled his government would send tech companies, media companies and the ACCC into the same room to hammer out a code of conduct to tackle "bargaining power imbalances".

Its response to the ACCC's Digital Platforms Inquiry is shrouded in the kind of bureaucratic ambiguity you would expect. But now the government, in a written response to Business Insider Australia, has revealed a little of what Google and Facebook are expected to give up.

"The issues included, among a range of matters, how revenue is shared, how content is accessed and presented, as well as media businesses getting forewarning about changes to algorithms that impact how their content is ranked and appears online," the Department of Communication and the Arts said.

While all are major grievances for media companies, it's the first direct admission by the government that those will need to be sorted out under the new code. Exactly how the terms for each will be negotiated will be another matter, with Facebook and Google unlikely to give up their profits or negotiating power lightly.

Interestingly, the department has put algorithms on the table as a point to be negotiated. Facebook has been steadfast in its opposition to relinquishing their control of algorithms, with a spokesperson previously telling the Sydney Morning Herald that, "people, not regulators, should decide what they see in their News Feeds".

But as Australian media companies struggle financially due to the tech giants swallowing up digital advertising dollars, these are sticking points to which media companies and now the Australian government clearly want a resolution.

"The ACCC will provide a progress report to Government by May 2020, with codes to be finalised by no later than November 2020," the department said.

It puts a ticking clock on what's sure to be terse negotiations.

Google and Facebook have been contacted for comment.

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