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07 June 2018

NMA: Dominant Tech Platforms Must Be Held To Account

It is "imperative" that the tech platforms are held to a level of responsibility that reflects both their financial dominance and the detrimental effect that this dominance has on other sectors such as the news media sector, the News Media Association has said. 

In a submission to the Lords Communications Committee’s inquiry ‘The Internet: to regulate or not to regulate? Inquiry’, the NMA cited Google’s approach to GDPR as an example of the tech platforms’ “exploitation” of their dominant market position to the disadvantage of other sectors.

Last month, the NMA joined forces with associations representing more than 4,000 publishers across the globe to accuse Google of “effectively putting a gun against publishers’ heads” with its proposed framework for the new data protection regime in a “flagrant abuse of their dominant position.” 

This “further emphasises the need for the CMA and the ICO to investigate and address the impact of Google and other tech companies on the online ecosystem and highlights the need for the Government to ensure that regulations are not exploited by these companies as opportunities to increase their stranglehold on the digital market,” the NMA added.

Warning against the “misleading and dangerous mirage” of attempting to regulate the internet, the NMA said the Government should instead address the business models that generate problems, “the most notable of which are online platforms.”

Facebook and Google combined claimed more than half of the UK’s digital advertising revenue, and this is forecast to keep increasing, the NMA said, meaning that content creation industries like the news media are “beholden to the very platforms that are threatening their viability.”

The NMA said: “A regulatory review of the status of the tech platforms to determine whether they should be categorised as publishers rather than mere “conduit”, and what additional responsibilities that they should bear for the content that they host, is necessary.

“This should be done without imposing new restrictions upon news media publishers, or allowing tech platforms to seek to shift liability, costs and regulatory burdens to news media publishers and other online players. 

“Platforms exert significant influence the basis of information gathered about individual users, the impact of which could not be in sharper focus following the revelations about Cambridge Analytica.  They exercise a huge amount of control over what users see, both in terms of content and advertising.

“Much greater transparency and accountability are needed.  Platforms must be clear about information they use, how their algorithms prioritise content, and how third parties are allowed to use this information.

The NMA added: “A rebalancing of the business model of the free to access internet would allow revenues to reflect the investment into content and the societal value of independent journalism, in line with the Government’s earlier pledge to ‘ensure content creators are appropriately rewarded for the content that they make available online’”

In the submission, the NMA also called for the maintenance of a strong intellectual property regime to protect publishers’ abilities to reap the commercial awards from their investment in journalistic content.