The framing of Australia's battle against Google and Facebook continues in a new piece with the inflammatory title Australian law could make internet ‘unworkable’, says World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee.
Here's what Sir Timothy had to say:
"Specifically, I am concerned that that code risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online"
This is indeed the problem: I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on the internet, so I won't comment on the legalities of the Australian situation — but any requirement to pay for links would indeed break the Web (not the Internet!) as we know it. But that's not the issue at risk, despite Google's attempts to frame the situation that way (emphasis mine):
Google contends the law does require it to pay for clicks. Google regional managing director Melanie Silva told the same Senate committee that read Berners-Lee’s submission last month she is most concerned that the code "requires payments simply for links and snippets."
As far as I can tell, the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code does not actually clarify one way or the other whether it applies to links or snippets. This lack of clarity is the problem with regulations drafted to address tech problems created by the refusal of tech companies to engage in good-faith negotiations. Paying for links, such as the links throughout this blog post, is one thing — and that would indeed break the Web. Paying for snippets, where the whole point is that Google or Facebook quote enough of the article, including scraping images, that readers may not feel they need to click through to the original source, is something rather different.
Lazily conflating the two only helps unscrupulous actors hide behind respected names like Tim Berners-Lee's to frame the argument their own way. In law and in technology, details matter.
And of course you can't trust anything Facebook says, as they have once again been caught over-inflating their ad reach metrics:
According to sections of a filing in the lawsuit that were unredacted on Wednesday, a Facebook product manager in charge of potential reach proposed changing the definition of the metric in mid-2018 to render it more accurate.
However, internal emails show that his suggestion was rebuffed by Facebook executives overseeing metrics on the grounds that the "revenue impact" for the company would be "significant", the filing said.
The product manager responded by saying "it’s revenue we should have never made given the fact it’s based on wrong data", the complaint said.
The proposed Australian law is a bad law, and the reason it is bad is because it is based on a misapprehension of the problem it aims to solve.