The Lockdown That Felt Like It Might Last Forever Has Finally Ended

Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, emerged from its 111-day hibernation with a mix of euphoria and caution.

#andrews-daniel-1972, #australia, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #melbourne-australia


Qatar ‘Regrets’ Airport Strip-Searches Over Abandoned Baby

Women were pulled from a Qatar Airways flight bound for Sydney, Australia, and subjected to strip-searches after a baby was found in an airport toilet.

#airlines-and-airplanes, #australia, #doha-qatar, #pregnancy-and-childbirth, #qatar, #qatar-airways, #women-and-girls


My Adult Son Moved in. It’s a Nightmare. Can I Kick Him Out?

The magazine’s Ethicist columnist on evicting a relative who refuses to get help for his abusive behavior — and more.

#australia, #evictions, #mental-health-and-disorders, #suicides-and-suicide-attempts, #united-states


Australia Says Female Passengers on Qatar Flight Got Invasive Medical Exams

Women told officials they had been pulled from a Sydney-bound flight in Doha, strip-searched and examined to see if they had recently given birth after an abandoned newborn was found in an airport bathroom.

#australia, #babies-and-infants, #doha-qatar, #international-relations, #qatar-airways, #women-and-girls


To Recognize Misinformation in Media, Teach a Generation While It’s Young

There is no silver bullet to slay internet lies and fictions. But students can be taught to know when information is reliable.

#atlanta-ga, #australia, #boston-mass, #censorship, #clark-katherine-m, #computers-and-the-internet, #connecticut, #e-learning, #education-k-12, #europe, #far-east-south-and-southeast-asia-and-pacific-areas, #illiteracy, #kim-jong-un, #klobuchar-amy, #law-and-legislation, #lobbying-and-lobbyists, #massachusetts, #news-and-news-media, #reading-and-writing-skills-education, #rumors-and-misinformation, #russia, #social-media, #united-states


A Childhood Favorite Reimagined

Harissa and lamb, pork and fennel, and vegan mushroom with leeks and farro make sophisticated fillings for the humble Australian sausage roll.

#allam-paul, #australia, #bakeries-and-baked-products, #bourke-street-bakery-nyc-manhattan-ny, #cooking-and-cookbooks, #lamb, #pork, #recipes, #sausages


The Great Barrier Reef Has Lost Half Its Corals

Researchers in Australia blamed climate change for the loss, which they said could diminish critical habitats for fish and other marine life.

#andy-dietzel, #arc-center-of-excellence-for-coral-reef, #australia, #coral, #fish-and-other-marine-life, #global-warming, #great-barrier-reef-australia, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #proceedings-of-the-royal-society, #reefs


Petition Targeting Murdoch Swamps Australian Parliament’s Website

More than 200,000 people signed a petition drawn up by a former prime minister calling for an examination of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in Australia.

#australia, #global-warming, #media, #murdoch-james-r, #murdoch-rupert, #news-and-news-media, #newspapers, #politics-and-government


What if Local and Diverse Is Better Than Networked and Global?

Helena Norberg-Hodge has been arguing for localism since the 1970s, but the pandemic is making the Australian activist-scholar’s ideas more relevant than ever.

#agriculture-and-farming, #australia, #byron-bay-australia, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #gross-domestic-product, #ladakh-india, #local-food, #local-futures-nonprofit, #norberg-hodge-helena, #organic-foods-and-products, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #sustainable-living


Hidden Beneath the Ocean’s Surface, Nearly 16 Million Tons of Microplastic

New research shows that the quantity of fragments embedded in the sea floor far exceeds the plastic floating on the ocean’s surface.

#australia, #great-australian-bight, #oceans-and-seas, #plastics, #research, #waste-materials-and-disposal


Pompeo’s Message in Japan: Countering China Is Worth Meeting Face to Face

The American diplomat’s willingness to meet with allies in Asia, despite the crisis embroiling the White House, speaks to fears of China’s rise.

#australia, #china, #india, #jaishankar-subrahmanyam, #japan, #motegi-toshimitsu, #pompeo-mike, #suga-yoshihide, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government, #white-house-coronavirus-outbreak-2020


Distrust of China Jumps to New Highs in Democratic Nations

The sharpest rise in negative views was in Australia, while unfavorable opinions jumped in the United States and Europe, a Pew survey found.

#australia, #china, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #europe, #international-relations, #japan, #pew-research-center, #politics-and-government, #polls-and-public-opinion, #united-states, #united-states-international-relations, #xi-jinping


Abandoned Rio Tinto Mine Is Blamed for Poisoned Bougainville Rivers

Residents of the Papua New Guinea region have accused the mining giant of environmental and human rights violations and asked for an investigation.

#australia, #bougainville-papua-new-guinea, #copper-brass-and-bronze, #gold, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #indigenous-australians, #mines-and-mining, #papua-new-guinea, #respiratory-diseases, #rio-tinto-plc, #rivers, #water-pollution


E-scooter startup Neuron Mobility adds $12M to its Series A for expansion in Australia and New Zealand

Neuron Mobility, a Singapore-based e-scooter rental startup, announced today that it has added $12 million to its Series A. Led by Square Peg, an Australian venture capital firm and GSR Ventures, this increases the round’s new total to $30.5 million. The company, which operates in Australia and New Zealand in addition to Southeast Asian markets, first announced its Series A in December 2019.

Part of Neuron Mobility’s growth plans hinges on the increased adoption of electric scooters and bikes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people are using their cars less frequently because they are working remotely or there are movement restrictions where they live. When they do go out, electric bikes and scooters offer an alternative to public transportation and ride-hailing services for short trips.

Neuron Mobility’s chief executive Zachary Wang said the company raised a Series A+ instead of moving onto a Series B because more cities are “opening up to the possibility of micromobility, particularly rental e-scooters as they present an individual transport option that takes pressure off public transport and allows people to continue social distancing.”

“We’ve been experiencing tremendous growth in ANZ and the pandemic has made us fast track our plans,” he added.

Though Neuron Mobility currently does not operate in other Southeast Asian countries besides Singapore, Wang said it is “constantly evaluating opportunities across APAC.”

The new funding will be used to speed up Neuron Mobility’s expansion plans in Australia and New Zealand, where it claims to be the leading electric scooter rental operator. The company is currently present in nine locations, including Auckland, New Zealand, and Australian cities Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Canberra and Townsville. Neuron Mobility plans to expand into five new cities over the next two months and part of that involves hiring 400 more people in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. In addition to the Asia-Pacific, Neuron Mobility will also launch in Slough, it’s first location in the United Kingdom, by the end of this year.

Neuron Mobility’s research found that before the COVID-19 lockdowns in Australia, one in five of its users had never used an e-scooter before. But now Australian and New Zealand users have increased their average e-scooter trip distances by 23% to 2.6 kilometers, with the average duration of rides rising by 10% to more than 14 minutes. Neuron Mobility’s pricing is meant to be affordable depending on different markets. For example, in Brisbane, users pay one Australian dollar (about 68 U.S. cents) to begin a trip and then 38 Australian cents for each minute of the ride. Its e-scooters can go up to speeds of about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) per hour.

Other “micromobility” companies, including Ofo, Reddy Go, Obike and Lime, have also offered rental services in Australia and New Zealand, but ran into trouble. Bike-sharing startups Ofo, Reddy Go and Obike withdrew from Australia in part because city councils were frustrated by bikes were being abandoned on sidewalks and in parks. Lime still operates in Australian cities, but in June, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found that the company failed to disclose safety issues with its Generation 2 scooters (in response, Lime said it would implement new compliance procedures and upgrade to its new Generation 3 scooter).

Wang said Neuron Mobility avoids those issues by strategically planning which cities it will launch in, instead of focusing on rapid expansion, partnering with city councils and “continually shifting and adapting to meet their needs.” Several of Neuron Mobility’s features, including geofencing to control where and how fast e-scooters can be ridden, and a “Helmet Lock” to make helmets available for all scooters, were developed after discussions with city councils. Neuron Mobility’s scooters, designed by the company specifically for renting, also use swappable batteries to decrease pollution.

After launching in Singapore, Neuron Mobility decided to focus on Australia and New Zealand because “both countries have cities that are highly suitable for micromobility in terms of infrastructure and regulations,” Wang said. City councils have also “been keen to push the boundaries of what can be done with technology to make programs better and safer and that really suits our way of thinking.”


#asia, #asia-pacific, #australia, #e-scooters, #fundings-exits, #mobility, #neuron-mobility, #new-zealand, #singapore, #startups, #tc


How Coal-Loving Australia Became the Leader in Rooftop Solar

Embracing solar panels to save money, homeowners have made the country a powerhouse in renewable energy.

#alternative-and-renewable-energy, #australia, #batteries, #coal, #electric-light-and-power, #global-warming, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #liberal-party-australia, #morrison-scott-1968, #politics-and-government, #queensland-australia, #solar-energy, #wildfires


Microsoft outage leaves users unable to access Office, Outlook, Teams

Microsoft said it’s investigating an authentication outage with Office 365, preventing users from accessing some of the company’s most widely used services, including,, and Teams.

The company’s status dashboard said the issue started at 2:25pm PT, and has impacted mostly consumer users across the globe for the last few hours. Some government users may also be impacted, the company said.

In a series of tweets, Microsoft said that it tried to fix the issue, but was forced to roll back its changes after the fix failed.

For now, Microsoft said it was “rerouting traffic to alternate infrastructure to improve the user experience while we continue to investigate the issue.”

But that leaves millions on the U.S. west coast and users in Australia still unable to access their online services.

TechCrunch will keep you posted with developments. In the meantime, feel free to catch up with some of the bigger stories of the day.

Read more:

#australia, #broadband, #computing, #judge, #microsoft-office, #operating-systems, #outlook-com, #personal-shopper, #play-store, #security, #software, #united-states, #webmail, #windows-live


Tasmania Whale Rescue Ends With 108 Saved and Over 300 Dead

The whale beaching, one of the largest strandings ever recorded globally, prompted a five-day rescue effort.

#australia, #fish-and-other-marine-life, #tasmania-australia, #whales-and-whaling


China Will Learn the Hard Way That Australians Can’t Be Shamed

A transparent and egalitarian society like ours isn’t susceptible to “kompromat.”

#australia, #china, #freedom-of-the-press, #politics-and-government, #rumors-and-misinformation, #social-media


Australia’s Coronavirus Restrictions Strand Thousands Overseas

Limits on the number of Australians who can return have spurred a growing uproar over the country’s hard-line approach to the coronavirus.

#airlines-and-airplanes, #australia, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #morrison-scott-1968, #politics-and-government


Microsoft Azure launches new availability zones in Canada and Australia

Microsoft Azure offers developers access to more data center regions than its competitors, but it was late to the game of offering different availability zones in those regions for high-availability use cases. After a few high-profile issues a couple of years ago, it accelerated its roadmap for building availability zones. Currently, 12 of Microsoft’s regions feature availability zones and as the company announced at its Ignite conference, both the Canada Central and Australia region will feature availability zones now.

In addition, the company today promised that it would launch availability zones in each country it operates data centers in within the next 24 months.

The idea of an availability zone is to offer users access to data centers that in the same geographic region but are physically separate and each feature their own power, networking and connectivity infrastructure. That way, in case one of those data centers goes offline for whatever reason, there is still another one in the same area that can take over.

In its early days, Microsoft Azure took a slightly different approach and focus on regions without availability zones, arguing that geographic expansion was more important than offering zones. Google took a somewhat similar approach, but it now offers three availability zones for virtually all of its regions (and four in Iowa). The general idea here was that developers could always choose multiple regions for high-availability applications, but that still introduces additional latencies, for example.

#australia, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-storage, #computing, #data-center, #data-management, #google, #iowa, #microsoft, #microsoft-ignite-2020, #microsoft-azure


Microsoft launches new Cortana features for business users

Cortana may have failed as a virtual assistant for consumers, but Microsoft is still betting on it (or at least its brand) for business use cases, now that it has rebranded it as a ‘personal productivity assistant’ as part of Microsoft 365. Today, at its Ignite conference, Microsoft launched and announced a number of new Cortana services for business users.

These include the general availability of Cortana for the new Microsoft Teams displays the company is launching in partnership with a number of hardware vendors. You can think of these as dedicated smart displays for Teams that are somewhat akin to Google Assistant-enabled smart displays, for example — but with the sole focus on meetings. These days, it’s hard to enable a device like this without support for a voice assistant, so there you go. It’ll be available in September in English in the U.S. and will then roll out to Australia, Canada, the UK and India in the coming months.

In addition to these Teams devices, which Microsoft is not necessarily positioning for meeting rooms but as sidekicks to a regular laptop or desktop, Cortana will also soon come to Teams Rooms devices. Once we go back to offices and meeting rooms, after all, few people will want to touch a shared piece of hardware, so a touchless experience is a must.

For a while now, Microsoft has also been teasing more email-centric Cortana services. Play My Emails, a service that reads you your email out aloud and that’s already available in the U.S. on iOS and Android is coming to n Australia, Canada, the UK and India in the coming months. But more importantly, later this month, Outlook for iOS users will be able to interact with their inbox by voice, initiate calls to email senders and play emails from specific senders.

Cortana can now also send you daily briefing emails if you are a Microsoft 365 Enterprise users. This feature is now generally available and will get better meeting preparation, an integration with Microsoft To Do and other new features in the coming months.

And if you’re using Cortana on Windows 10, this chat-based app now let you compose emails, for example (at least if you speak English and are in the U.S.). And if you so desire, you can now use a wake word to launch it.

#android, #artificial-intelligence, #australia, #bing-mobile, #canada, #cortana, #enterprise, #google, #india, #microsoft, #microsoft-ignite-2020, #microsoft-office, #operating-systems, #smartphones, #software, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #virtual-assistant, #voice-assistant, #windows-10, #windows-phone


Rescue Effort Is Underway After Hundreds of Whales Beach Themselves Off Tasmania

About 270 pilot whales became stranded on the west coast of the island state in Australia. Rescuers estimate that a third of them have already died.

#australia, #rescues, #tasmania-australia, #whales-and-whaling


Israeli Accused of Sex Abuse in Australia Can Be Extradited, Court Says

Australia has been seeking Malka Leifer’s extradition for six years so she can face 74 charges of sexual assault stemming from her time as the principal of an ultra-Orthodox school in Melbourne.

#australia, #child-abuse-and-neglect, #decisions-and-verdicts, #extradition, #fugitives, #international-relations, #israel, #leifer-malka, #mental-health-and-disorders, #sex-crimes


‘White Australia’ Policy Lives On in Immigrant Detention

The government’s abuse of refugees in offshore facilities on Nauru and Papua New Guinea has its roots in the country’s racist, colonial history.

#asylum-right-of, #australia, #immigration-and-emigration, #indigenous-australians, #manus-island-papua-new-guinea, #nauru, #politics-and-government, #refugees-and-displaced-persons


The Flight Goes Nowhere. And It’s Sold Out.

People who miss flying are rushing to buy tickets for flights that land in the same place they depart from.

#airlines-and-airplanes, #antarctic-regions, #australia, #brunei, #eva-airways, #qantas-airways, #starlux, #taiwan, #travel-and-vacations


Inside a Wildfire Inferno

In a new documentary on FX and Hulu, The New York Times shows what it’s like to live through a wildfire. These are the stories of the people who decided to stay put and confront the extraordinary blazes that left 46 million acres of Australia scorched earlier this year.

#australia, #fx-tv-network, #hulu-com, #new-york-times, #wildfires


The Wildfires: What I Saw When Australia Burned

At one point, the wildfires that country experienced seemed to fade from our memory. Not anymore. And what I witnessed there has shaped my thoughts on what’s raging here.

#australia, #new-york-times, #wildfires


Trump Is Wrong about TikTok. China’s Plans Are Much More Sinister.

The West still doesn’t understand the scale of Beijing’s soft-power ambitions.

#5g-wireless-communications, #australia, #beijing-bytedance-technology-co-ltd, #blacklisting, #chiang-kai-shek, #china, #communist-party-of-china, #computers-and-the-internet, #confucius-institutes, #darwin-australia, #embargoes-and-sanctions, #espionage-and-intelligence-services, #huawei-technologies-co-ltd, #india, #indian-ocean, #kenya, #kiribati, #maldives, #mao-zedong, #military-bases-and-installations, #mobile-applications, #myanmar, #pakistan, #panama-canal-and-canal-zone, #propaganda, #solomon-islands, #sri-lanka, #the-art-of-war-book, #the-romance-of-the-three-kingdoms-book, #tiktok-bytedance, #united-states, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government, #xi-jinping


Australia’s Stinging Trees: Please Do Not Pet Them

Scientists have found a potent chemical that might give Australian giant stinging trees their extraordinarily painful punch.

#australia, #hazardous-and-toxic-substances, #indigenous-australians, #research, #science-advances-journal, #trees-and-shrubs, #your-feed-science


Researchers ready world-first vision restoration device for human clinical trials

Over a decade’s worth of work by scientists working at Melbourne, Australia’s Monash University has produced a first-of-its-kind device that can restore vision to the blind, using a combination of smartphone-style electronics and brain-implanted micro electrodes. The system has already been shown to work in preclinical studies and non-human trials on sheep, and researchers are now preparing for a first human clinical trial to take place in Melbourne.

This new technology would be able to bypass the damaged optic nerves that are often responsible for what’s definite as technical clinical blindness. It works by translating information gathered by a camera and interpreted by a vision processor unity and custom software, wirelessly to a set of tiles implanted directly within the brain. These tiles convert the image data to electrical impulses which are then transmitted to neurons in the brain via microelectrodes that are thinner than human hair.

There are still a number of steps required before this becomes something that can actually be produced and used commercially – not least of which is the extensive human clinical trial process. The team behind the technology is also looking to secure additional funding to support the eventual ramp of manufacturing and distribution of its devices as a commercial venture. But its early studies, which saw 10 of these arrays implanted on sheep, saw that one the course of a cumulative total of more than 2,700 hours of stimulation, there weren’t any adverse health affects observed.

Animals studies are a very different thing from human studies, but the research team believes their technology has promise well beyond vision. They anticipate the same approach could provide benefits and treatment options for patients with other conditions that have a neurological root cause, including paralysis.

If that sounds familiar, it might be because Elon Musk recently revealed ambitions to use his company Neuralink’s similar brain implant technology to achieve these kinds of results as well. Musk’s project is hardly the first to imagine how devices paired with modern software and technology could overcome biological limitations, and this effort form Monash has a much longer history of working towards turning this kind of science into something that could impact the lives of everyday people.

#articles, #australia, #biotech, #bypass, #elon-musk, #emerging-technologies, #hardware, #health, #manufacturing, #melbourne, #neuralink, #paralysis, #science-and-technology, #smartphone, #tc, #technology


Australia’s Witnesses to Fire’s Fury Are Desperate to Avoid a Sequel

Eight months after blazes devastated a wide swath of Australia, the most battered communities are trying to burn their way to safety as another fire season approaches.

#australia, #fires-and-firefighters, #global-warming, #indigenous-australians, #wildfires


Extra Crunch membership now available to readers in Australia

We’re excited to announce that Extra Crunch memberships are now available in Australia. That adds to our existing support in:

  • United States
  • Canada
  • Argentina, Brazil, Mexico
  • UK
  • Select European countries

We’ve been polling readers for the past year and a half about where to expand, and Australia was one of the most requested regions. 

Join our growing community of founders, startup teams, and investors by signing up for Extra Crunch membership here. Use the discount code AUSLAUNCH to get 20% off an annual or 2 year plan (expires October 31).

Much of the attention for Australian tech gets focused on startups that have gone public, been acquired, or raised massive funding rounds like Atlasssian, Canva, and Afterpay. We know there are TONS of other startups in Australia pushing the envelope and innovating because we regularly write about them. 

Thanks to everyone who voted on where to expand next. If you’d like to see Extra Crunch memberships available in your country, let us know here.

Join Extra Crunch by heading here, and use the code AUSLAUNCH to get 20% off an annual or 2-year membership plan.

What is Extra Crunch?

Extra Crunch is a membership program from TechCrunch that features market analysis, weekly investor surveys and how-tos and interviews on growth, fundraising, monetization and other work topics. Members can save time with access to an exclusive newsletter, no banner ads or video pre-rolls on, Rapid Read mode and our List Builder tool. 

Committing to an annual and two-year plan will save you a few bucks on the membership price and unlock access to TechCrunch event discounts and Partner Perks. Extra Crunch annual membership gets you 20% off tickets to virtual events like Disrupt 2020 in September and TC Sessions: Mobility in October. The Partner Perks program features discounts and savings on services from Canva, DocSend, Crunchbase, and more.

You can sign up or learn more about Extra Crunch here.

#australia, #extra-crunch, #media, #subscriptions, #tc


Saying Goodbye to Australia

With an upcoming departure from Sydney, one Australian reporter reflects on the experience of home and the country’s culture of simple pleasures.

#australia, #new-york-times, #news-and-news-media, #sydney-australia


The Coronavirus Is Mutating, and That’s Fine (So Far)

SARS-CoV-2 has been slowly changing in small ways, without getting more dangerous.

#australia, #cell-journal, #china, #content-type-service, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #evolution-biology, #hong-kong, #immune-system, #influenza, #italy, #mutation, #new-south-wales-australia, #rna-ribonucleic-acid, #rumors-and-misinformation, #sars-severe-acute-respiratory-syndrome, #vaccination-and-immunization, #victoria-australia, #viruses, #wuhan-china


Rio Tinto Executives to Step Down After Miner Destroys Sacred Australian Sites

The mining giant’s chief executive was among those pushed out after shareholders revolted over the destruction of ancient Indigenous sites in Western Australia.

#australia, #indigenous-people, #jacques-jean-sebastien, #mines-and-mining, #rio-tinto-plc


Fearing Detention, Two Australian Correspondents Flee China

The forced departures highlight souring relations between the two countries and Beijing’s increasingly heavy-handed tactics to limit independent journalism.

#australia, #australian-broadcasting-corp, #bill-birtles, #cheng-lei, #china, #diplomatic-service-embassies-and-consulates, #international-relations, #michael-smith, #news-and-news-media


Missing Livestock Ship Prompts Search Off Japan

The livestock carrier, with dozens of crew members and nearly 6,000 cows, left New Zealand for China last month. It sent a distress signal as a typhoon raged in the region.

#australia, #cattle, #east-china-sea, #japan, #livestock, #new-zealand, #philippines, #rescues, #ships-and-shipping, #typhoons


Australia Enters Its First Recession in Nearly 30 Years

The battle against Covid-19 has ended an impressive growth streak, but other challenges will make it hard for “The Lucky Country” to match its past success.

#australia, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #economic-conditions-and-trends, #gross-domestic-product, #international-trade-and-world-market, #politics-and-government, #recession-and-depression


America, Don’t Try to Out-China China

Beijing’s nationalism will be self-defeating in the long term. Washington should just let that run its course.

#australia, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #china, #communist-party-of-china, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #embargoes-and-sanctions, #hong-kong, #hong-kong-protests-2019, #immigration-and-emigration, #india, #international-relations, #japan, #ministry-of-state-security-of-the-peoples-republic-of-china, #politics-and-government, #presidential-election-of-2020, #protective-clothing-and-gear, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government, #wang-yi, #wuhan-china, #xi-jinping, #yang-jiechi


Facebook threatens to block news-sharing in Australia

Logo of Facebook displayed on a smartphone screen and keyboard are seen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on August 11, 2020. (Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Enlarge / Logo of Facebook displayed on a smartphone screen and keyboard are seen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on August 11, 2020. (Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

Facebook has threatened to block users and publishers in Australia from sharing news on its platform if the country presses ahead with a landmark proposal to force big tech to pay media groups for carrying their content.

The US social media platform said it would “reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram” if the draft legislation comes into force.

“This is not our first choice—it is our last. But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector,” Facebook said in a statement.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#australia, #copyright, #facebook, #gaming-culture, #policy


Facebook threatens to block news sharing in Australia as it lobbies against revenue share law

Adtech giant and self-styled ‘free speech champion’, Facebook, has threatened to pull the plug on the public sharing of news content on Facebook and Instagram in Australia.

The aggressive threat is Facebook’s attempt to lobby against a government plan that will require it and Google to share revenue with regional news media to recompense publishers for distributing and monetizing professionally produced content on their platforms.

Consultation on a draft of the mandatory code — which Australia’s lawmakers say is intended to address “acute bargaining power imbalances” between local news businesses and the adtech duopoly — closed on August 28, with a final version expected imminently from Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and then due to be put before parliament.

Facebook’s threat thus looks timed to turn the heat up on lawmakers as they’re about to debate the details of the code. However dangling the prospect of blocking professionally produced news in an attempt to thwart a law change that’s not in its commercial interests will do nothing to reduce lawmakers’ concerns about the level of market power being wielded by tech giants.

Last month Google also warned that if Australia goes ahead with the plan then the quality of regional search results and YouTube recommendations will suffer — becoming “less relevant and helpful” if the law goes into effect.

Both platform giants are essentially saying that unless the bulk of professional reportage can be freely distributed on their platforms, leaving them free to monetize it via serving ads and through the acquisition of associated user data, then unverified user generated content will be left to fill the gap.

The clear implication is that lower grade content — and potentially democracy-denting disinformation — will be left to thrive. Or, in plainer language, the threat boils down to: Give us your journalism for free or watch your society pay the price as our platforms plug the information gap with any old clickbait.

“The ACCC presumes that Facebook benefits most in its relationship with publishers, when in fact the reverse is true. News represents a fraction of what people see in their News Feed and is not a significant source of revenue for us. Still, we recognize that news provides a vitally important role in society and democracy, which is why we offer free tools and training to help media companies reach an audience many times larger than they have previously,” writes Facebook in the same blog post where it threatens — as a ‘last choice’ — to pull the plug on content it describes as playing “a vitally important role in society and democracy” because it doesn’t want to have to pay for it.

Facebook’s calculus is clearly elevating its own commercial interests above free speech. And indeed above democracy and society. Yet the tech giant’s go-to defence for not removing all sorts of toxic disinformation and/or hateful, abusive content — or indeed lying political ads — from circulating on its platform is a claim that it’s defending ‘free speech’. So this is a specially rank, two-faced kind of platform hypocrisy on display.

Last year the comic Sacha Baron Cohen slammed Facebook’s modus operandi as “ideological imperialism” — warning then that unaccountable Silicon Valley ‘robber barons’ are “acting like they’re above the reach of law”. Well, Australians are now getting a glimpse of what happens when the mask further slips.

The ACCC has responded to Facebook’s flex with a steely statement of its own, attributed to chair Rod Sims.

“Facebook’s threat today to prevent any sharing of news on its services in Australia is ill-timed and misconceived,” he writes. “The draft media bargaining code aims to ensure Australian news businesses, including independent, community and regional media, can get a seat at the table for fair negotiations with Facebook and Google.”

“Facebook already pays some media for news content. The code simply aims to bring fairness and transparency to Facebook and Google’s relationships with Australian news media businesses,” he adds.

“As the ACCC and the Government work to finalise the draft legislation, we hope all parties will engage in constructive discussions.”

A similar battle is playing out in France over Google News, following a recent pan-EU law change which extended copyright to news snippets. France has been at the forefront of implementing the change in national law — and Google has responded by changing how it displays news media content in Google News in the country, switching to showing headlines and URLs only (so removing snippets).

However earlier this year France’s competition watchdog slapped down the tactic — saying Google’s unilateral withdrawal of snippets to deny payment to publishers is likely to constitute an abuse of a dominant market position, which it asserted “seriously and immediately damaged the press sector.”

Google’s share of the search market in Europe remains massively dominant — with the tech giant taking greater than 90% marketshare. (Something that underpins a number of regional antitrust enforcements against various aspects of its business.)

In Australia, Facebook’s position as a news distributor appears to be less strong, with the ACCC citing the University of Canberra’s 2020 Digital News Report which found that 39% of Australians use Facebook for general news, and 49% use Facebook for news about COVID-19.

However information and disinformation do not distribute equally, with plenty of studies indicating a faster spread for fake news — which suggests Facebook’s platform power to distribute bullshit is far greater than its role in informing societies by spreading bona fide news. That in turn makes its threat to block genuine reportage an antisocial weaponization of its dominance of social media.

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