Monday December 6th, 2021 10:07AM

In shock move, Facebook blocks news access in Australia

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — In a shocking act of retaliation Thursday, Facebook blocked Australians from sharing news, a milestone in the increasingly frantic jockeying between governments, media and powerful tech companies.

Australia's government condemned the decision, which also blocked some government communications, including messages about emergency services, and some commercial pages. The digital platforms fear that what's happening in Australia will become an expensive precedent for other countries.

Facebook took the drastic action after the House of Representatives passed legislation that would make Facebook and Google pay for Australian journalism, said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. He said he was given no warning before Facebook acted. The legislation must be passed by the Senate to become law.

“Facebook’s actions were unnecessary, they were heavy-handed and they will damage its reputation here in Australia,” Frydenberg said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison later lashed out on his own Facebook page, using Facebook jargon.

“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” Morrison posted.

“These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behavior of BigTech 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,” he added. “We will not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament.”

Facebook said the proposed Australian law “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it.”

“This is an assault on a sovereign nation,” Health Minster Greg Hunt told Parliament. “It is an assault on people’s freedom and, in particular, it’s an utter abuse of big technologies’ market power and control over technology.”

Both Google and Facebook have threatened retaliation if Australia enacts the law, which the government contends will ensure media businesses receive fair payment for their journalism being linked on those platforms.

Australia's proposal requires a negotiation safety net through an arbitration panel. The digital giants would not be able to abuse their dominant negotiating positions by making take-it-or-leave-it payment offers to news businesses for their journalism. In case of a standoff, the panel would make a binding decision on a winning offer.

Facebook had threatened to block access to Australian news rather than pay for it under the proposed News Media Bargaining Code. Google had threatened to remove its search functions from Australia because it said the proposed law was unworkable.

But Google’s threat has faded as it quickly stitches up licensing content deals with Australian media companies under its own News Showcase model.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. announced a wide-ranging deal with Google on Wednesday. Major Australian media organization Seven West Media reached a deal earlier in the week. Their rival Nine Entertainment is reportedly close to its own pact, and state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corp. is in negotiations.

The government accused Facebook of endangering public safety by temporarily blocking state emergency services messaging on a day when there were severe fire and flood warnings in various parts of Australia.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s weather warnings, a Hobart women’s shelter and the Betoota Advocate, a satirical website named after an Australian ghost town, were among those surprised to find their content blocked at least temporarily.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said he told Facebook the government expects access to its pages to be restored.

“The fact that there are organizations like state health departments, fire and emergency services . . . who have had their Facebook pages blocked, that’s a public safety issue,” Fletcher said.

Facebook said in a statement: “Any pages that are inadvertently impacted, we’ll look to reverse.”

Health Minster Greg Hunt said the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne still didn't have its feed fixed after more than eight hours.

Frydenberg said he had “constructive” discussions with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg after the content blocking began.

“He did explain to me that they had concerns with aspects of the code, and it goes to the interpretation of some of its elements. And he will come back to me with some more considered views,” Frydenberg said.

He said the government remains committed to the code that is yielding generous payment deals with Google for Australian media.

“Other countries are watching, but also Google and Facebook and other digital giants are very focused on what it means, as far as a precedent goes, for other countries,” Frydenberg said.

News Corp. said it would receive “significant payments” from Google under the three-year agreement, which includes heavyweight news organizations throughout the English-speaking world such as The Wall Street Journal and New York Post in the U.S., the Times and the Sun in the U.K., and The Australian and Sky News in Australia. The deal spans audio and video and News Corp. also will get an ad revenue share from Google.

Frydenberg said after weekend talks with Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Alphabet Inc. and its subsidiary Google, that he was convinced the platforms “do want to enter into these commercial arrangements.”

“It’s a massive step forward we have seen this week,” Frydenberg said of the Google deals.

“But if this was easy, every other country in the world would have done it already. But they haven’t,” he said.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP World News, AP Business, AP Technology News
© Copyright 2021
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
In shock move, Facebook blocks news access in Australia
Australia’s government has condemned Facebook over its shocking move to prevent Australians from sharing news that also blocked some government communications and commercial pages
12:58AM ( 6 minutes ago )
Trump-McConnell feud threatens Republicans' path to power
Former President Donald Trump is stepping up a political war within the Republican Party that could undermine the GOP’s ability to fight President Joe Biden’s agenda and ultimately return the party to power
12:17AM ( 47 minutes ago )
Muddled promises on schools pose political problem for Biden
Republicans have seized on confusion surrounding President Joe Biden’s goal to reopen a majority of schools within his first 100 days, painting the president as beholden to teachers’ unions at the expense of American families
12:15AM ( 48 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Power outages linger for millions as another icy storm looms
Millions of Americans endured another frigid day without electricity or heat in the aftermath of a deadly winter storm
11:44PM ( 1 hour ago )
Facebook blocks Australians from accessing news on platform
Facebook has announced it has blocked Australians from viewing and sharing news on the platform because of proposed laws in the country to make digital giants pay for journalism
8:17PM ( 4 hours ago )
California lawmakers propose ban on fracking by 2027
New legislation would ban all fracking in California by 2027, taking aim at the powerful oil and gas industry in the state that's been a leader in combating climate change
7:47PM ( 5 hours ago )
AP National News
EXPLAINER: Why the power grid failed in Texas and beyond
The power outages tormenting Texas and other states are exposing weaknesses in an electricity system designed when the weather’s seasonal shifts were more consistent and predictable
7:12PM ( 5 hours ago )
Players return to COVID protocols as spring training opens
Pitchers and catchers around baseball reported to spring training Wednesday appreciating what’s at stake as they try to follow COVID-19 protocols make sure the season runs with minimal interruptions
6:57PM ( 6 hours ago )
Crippling weather hampers vaccine deliveries, distribution
Just as vaccine efforts ramp up and gain speed, the icy blast across much of the United States has injected more confusion and frustration into the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination drive
6:39PM ( 6 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
US charges North Korean computer programmers in global hacks
The Justice Department has charged three North Korean computer programmers in a broad range of global and destructive hacks, including targeting banks and a movie studio
9:20PM ( 3 hours ago )
Biden's Medicare pick would be 1st Black woman to hold post
President Joe Biden has picked a former Obama administration official to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
7:22PM ( 5 hours ago )
Rush Limbaugh, voice of American conservatism, has died
Rush Limbaugh, the talk radio host who became the voice of American conservatism, has died
6:59PM ( 6 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Government rushes virus gene-mapping as mutations spread
The U.S. is scrambling to expand DNA mapping of coronavirus samples taken from patients to identify potentially deadlier mutations that are starting to spread around the country
2:35PM ( 10 hours ago )
South Carolina House passes bill restricting abortions
South Carolina House members have passed a bill banning almost all abortions in the state
2:24PM ( 10 hours ago )
Groups ask Biden administration to reconsider nuke decision
Watchdog groups want the Biden administration to reconsider a decision by a U.S. agency not to conduct a more extensive environmental review related to production of the plutonium cores used in the nation's nuclear arsenal
2:17PM ( 10 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
Malaysia ex-PM's wife ordered to make defense in graft trial
A Malaysian court has ordered the wife of ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak to enter her defense in a corruption trial linked to a $310 million solar energy project
9:52PM ( 3 hours ago )
The Latest: Hong Kong ease pandemic rules as cases decline
Hong Kong is reducing social distancing rules following a sharp drop in new coronavirus cases, including restarting indoor dining and reopening gyms
9:28PM ( 3 hours ago )
Indian journalist acquitted of defamation in #MeToo case
A New Delhi court has acquitted a journalist of criminal defamation over sexual harassment accusations she made against a former junior government minister
7:33PM ( 5 hours ago )
AP World News
The Latest: Oklahoma gov seeks federal disaster declaration
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt says he is asking President Joe Biden for a federal disaster declaration due to this week’s winter storm
6:59PM ( 6 hours ago )
New round of icy weather hits frigid Deep South
Parts of the frigid Deep South are still getting a new round of snow and ice, and thousands of people are without power
6:21PM ( 6 hours ago )
Mets' Rojas condemns behavior of fired hitting coordinator
Mets manager Luis Rojas condemned the behavior of former New York hitting performance coordinator Ryan Ellis but said he never witnessed his longtime coworker act inappropriately after Ellis was fired recently for sexual harassment
5:51PM ( 7 hours ago )
AP Business
Trump-McConnell feud threatens Republicans' path to power
Former President Donald Trump is stepping up a political war within the Republican Party that could undermine the GOP’s ability to fight President Joe Biden’s agenda and ultimately return the party to power
12:17AM ( 47 minutes ago )
Muddled promises on schools pose political problem for Biden
Republicans have seized on confusion surrounding President Joe Biden’s goal to reopen a majority of schools within his first 100 days, painting the president as beholden to teachers’ unions at the expense of American families
12:15AM ( 48 minutes ago )
US needs to brace itself for more deadly storms, experts say
The deadly winter storms that knocked out power for millions in Texas and other states have exceeded the worst-case scenarios of many U.S. utilities
12:12AM ( 52 minutes ago )
Asian shares mostly lower after mixed day on Wall Street
Shares are mostly lower in Asia after a mixed session on Wall Street as losses by technology and industrial companies offset other gains
12:08AM ( 56 minutes ago )
Migrants on the move again in Mexico and Central America
The first Mexican shelter reached by migrants after trekking through the Guatemalan jungle has hosted nearly 1,500 migrants only six weeks into the year compared to 3,000 all of last year, even though it has halved its dormitory capacity due to the pandemic
12:01AM ( 1 hour ago )