Issue 97

What's a Google?

Delivered on 25 January 2021 by Justin Pyvis. About a 5 min read.

Happy early Australia Day (26 Jan for non-Australian readers), a country where the verb 'Google' may soon become obsolete:

A proposed law, intended to compensate publishers for the value their stories generate for the company, is “unworkable,” Mel Silva, managing director for Australia and New Zealand, told a parliamentary hearing Friday. She specifically opposed the requirement that Google pay media companies for displaying snippets of articles in search results.

The threat is Google’s most potent yet as the digital giant tries to stem a flow of regulatory action worldwide, but such a radical step would hand an entire developed market to rivals. At least 94% of online searches in Australia go through the Alphabet Inc. unit, according to the local competition regulator.
“If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia,” Silva told a panel of senators. She described the law as an “untenable financial and operational precedent.”
Facebook Inc., the only other company targeted by the legislation, also opposes the law. The social media platform reiterated at Friday’s hearing it’s considering blocking Australians from sharing news on Facebook if the law is pushed through.

These are legitimate threats. The Australian market is somewhere between the size of Florida and Texas, but the risks to Google and Facebook's respective business models run far deeper than Australia. If the tech giants don't follow through with their threats to leave or block Australians from sharing news - and the Australian government doesn't back down - then every other anti-tech banana republic will soon come calling for a pound of flesh as well.

The legislation is the result of rent seeking, plain and simple. Instead of subsidising Australia's fading legacy media companies directly (on balance sheet) and defending that decision to the electorate, the Australian government has opted to take the coward's way out, effectively taxing a couple of foreign companies to prop up some local dinosaurs. Unfortunately for Australians - who may soon be forced to use less effective search engines and only share news published in foreign countries - the Australian government does not seem to be retreating:

“We don’t respond to threats,” Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday. “Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia. That’s done in our parliament. It’s done by our government. And that’s how things work here in Australia.”

Yes, that is how things work here in Australia. Just as former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed that "the laws of mathematics are very commendable but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia", the Australian government will not listen to reason and is intent on legislating its people into the Stone Age.

Happy Australia Day. Treat yourself to a good VPN, you may actually need one soon.

Ignore the Biden hype

The media will give President Joe Biden a free pass over the next few months for no other reason than he's not Donald Trump, but don't expect Biden to suddenly buck the trend of poor governance. He is, after all, a 45-year career politician who knows nothing else but how to wheel and deal in the so-called 'swamp'.

Two days into his Presidency and Biden has already disappointed in terms of the pandemic. Remember this tweet?

Biden's big pandemic plan was to administer 100 million doses of a vaccine in his first 100 days in office. It sounded impressive but it really wasn't: the day after Biden was inaugurated, the United States administered 1.02 million doses, up from 818,000 the day prior. The day after that, it administered another 1.56 million doses. In other words, given the existing trend, 100 million vaccinations should have been the minimum after 100 days in office, not the plan.

Biden seems content with his modest plan, more recently proclaiming that:

There's nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.

But there's plenty he could do to change the trajectory of the pandemic, the most effective of which would be to speed up the vaccination rollout. But nope, now that he's President, there's nothing 'we' can do. When quizzed by the media about his soft plan, Biden counterattacked:

When I announced it, you all said it's not possible. Come on, give me a break, man. It's a good start -- 100 million.

A blatant lie on his first day, which even CNN could see through:

Biden's claim is false; it's not true that there was an initial media consensus that the 100 million goal was impossible. Some of the early news coverage of the goal did not even question whether it was plausible. Some experts featured in the early coverage, including CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, said the goal was achievable. And while some journalists and experts were more skeptical, cautioning that the goal was ambitious, they did not go so far as to say it was impossible.

It's not the only lie the Biden administration has told in its first couple of days, either. Less than a day after signing an executive order mandating that masks be worn on all federal property, Biden was spotted without a mask on said federal property with family members, also without masks. True it was only for a brief period of time, but Biden has in the past made a big deal about the "power of our example", which this goes against. Worse, his White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded in a manner that would not have been out of place in the previous administration:

I think the power of his example is also the message he sends by signing 25 executive orders, including almost half of them related to COVID, the requirements that we’re all under every single day here to ensure that we’re sending that message to the public. Yesterday was a historic moment in our history. He was inaugurated as president of the United States. He was surrounded by his family. We take a number of precautions, but I think we have bigger issues to worry about at this moment in time.

Don't get your hopes up that the Biden administration will be any different to those that came before. More predictable, sure. But it will largely be the same old, same old, where there are rules for thee but not for me and friends of the administration will make out like bandits.

Always follow the money!

Issue 97: What's a Google? was compiled by Justin Pyvis and delivered on 25 January 2021. Join the conversation on the fediverse at