GT Voice: Challenge of reining in tech giants can’t be underrated
Published: Feb 23, 2021 07:32 PM

Photo: IC

While Facebook has agreed to restore its news service in Australia over the next few days, the incident has the potential to be a landmark in strengthening the resolve of global regulators to tighten their grip on tech giants.

In a statement updated on Tuesday, Facebook said that "after further discussions, we are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns ..."

The agreement, which ends the contentious dispute between the US tech giant and the Australian government, is certainly a welcome development. Global lawmakers have been watching closely as to how the two parties would find a balance and reach compromise on whether tech giants should pay news publishers.

Fundamentally, Facebook's news blockade in Australia is nothing but a struggle for influence among all parties. From the publishers' point of view, it is a justified request to ask platforms to pay for their work, while in the eyes of tech giants, they help increase public exposure for the publishers in the internet era, so why should they pay for the favor?

While the dispute only took place in Australia, Canberra's legislation may become a precedent for other countries and discussions surrounding how to put tech giants under stricter scrutiny and regulation will only intensify. Since Facebook banned news in Australia, government officials and news outlets in the UK, Canada and other Western countries have strongly criticized the American tech giant. This is because it has already become a common concern for governments around the world as to how to rein in the power of digital giants while minimizing disruption to the internet-related industries.

It should be noted that although there is growing sense of urgency in terms of digital antitrust in many countries, the complication of the work cannot be underestimated. This is because each tech giant with enormous digital power may make different choices when facing regulatory requirements, which, to a certain extent, adds to the complexity of regulation and supervision. 

While Google chose to cut deals with major news groups that will ensure its services continue to be available in Australia, the subsequent supervision and negotiation could prove challenging. And it is impossible and unrealistic for governments to come up with new rules for every such giant.

In this sense, the future battle over digital regulation will be complicated and a prolonged process. Regulation for tech giants is a brand new field for many countries, which still need time and precedents to find their own ways. How to set up policies and rules will largely determine the future development of the internet economy for each country, so caution is still needed during the process.
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