Google and Facebook’s control of online ad revenue has often been described as a duopoly; together they make up half of the global digital ad market and are responsible for 90% of the growth in digital advertising.
Advertisers’ dependence on them to build reach online has, as a result, led to growing concerns about their tight grip on the market. This is mainly due to the fact that Google and Facebook are content distributors rather than content creators.
The platforms are mostly used to access other sites, including to read snippets of articles written outside of the platforms. For example, a Guardian news headline is written and paid for by the publisher but will be posted on Facebook newsfeeds and Google search results for free.
Now there is increasing demand that the digital giants start paying media outlets for the content they use and the space around it that they monetise. Facebook did attempt to do this last year by paying publishers for premium video content they made for the platform. However, this programme has been slow to roll out completely and doesn’t cover the more day-to-day use of headlines and their snippets.
This year, these calls were answered by the EU and the “link tax” proposal. This would see Facebook and Google pay media outlets for using their headlines, thumbnails and short descriptions of articles – rather than just using them for free as part of a Creative Commons License.
Critics have argued that forcing news outlets to charge a license fee will make life difficult for news start-ups and will lead to the spread of fake news.; this is because less reputable news outlets will charge lower fees which could lead to the proliferation of their news stories on the platforms.
But while these points may be valid, the issue remains that Facebook and Google have not been taking responsibility for what is being said and done on their platforms. As internet superpowers they have a responsibility to remunerate the publishers whose content they use to line their own pockets, while ensuring only accurate and factual stories shared on their platforms.
Spain tried to introduce a similar tax in 2014, but rather than pay out millions of euros in license fees Google shut down their platform and forced the government to go back on the proposal. Now however, with both the EU and the European Alliance of News Agencies behind the regulation, Google will struggle to use similar strong-arm tactics.
Overall, this would be a positive step in ensuring publishers can survive in an age where information is seemingly “free” and – if used properly – will be a bulwark against the spread of “fake news” online.