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Digital giants respond to Lords committee questions

Posted on: July 6, 2020 by Ian Murray

Google has outlined its proposals to pay UK news publishers to enable users to visit some of their online content for free.

The plans are discussed in further answers to the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the future of journalism.

Google said it would shortly open discussions with UK publishers over the proposals.

The initiative is outlined in response to the House of Lords committee’s request for more information after expressing disappointment at earlier answers provided by Google and Facebook.

The committee’s chairman, Lord Gilbert had said that he was disappointed by evidence given by Google and Facebook when representatives appeared before the committee in a virtual session on 23 June.

In new response, Google states: “Since the hearing Google has announced a new licensing programme to pay publishers for a new Google News and Discover experience launching later this year. This will build on the value Google provides through Search and News, and the work of the Google News Initiative.

“Where available, Google will also offer to pay for free access for users to read paywalled articles on a publisher’s site.

“The ambition is to let paywalled publishers grow their audiences and subscribers, and to create an opportunity for people to read content they might not ordinarily see.

The digital giant also responded to concerns that some publishers were being unfairly downgraded by its use of algorithms: “When Google ranks news content, no individual or set of individuals determines the ranking of any particular website. The algorithm is applied universally to the corpus of news pages online and ranks them accordingly.

“Google’s News algorithms are not designed to influence ranking based on a point of view on issues. While some personalised news experiences are designed to connect users with stories they may be interested in based, for example on topics like ‘cricket’ or ‘technology news’, none of Google’s systems endeavour to assess a publisher’s—or a user’s—ideological or political leanings.”

Facebook in its response informed the committee:

“It is important to note that news organisations receive aggregated and anonymised data from Facebook which they can then analyse in order to optimise building relationships with their audience, whether through our CrowdTangle tool, which shows content performance, or other tools such as FB Analytics, which provides comprehensive data insight into where and how people interact with your content and business across your website, app, Facebook page and more.

“We conduct training with UK publishers on both these tools on a regular basis through our Crowdtangle and engineering teams to ensure they are using them in the most effective manner for their business.

“We also know that many media organizations value these tools -indeed, many have created dedicated teams of social media strategists whose job is to make use of these tools to drive engagement and develop new sources of revenue. The tools and data we provide help gather insights on the performance of posts and advertising campaigns and are particularly valuable in helping small and emerging publishers who are in greatest need of support and who benefit most from being able to reach new audiences.”

Facebook and Google’s full responses can be found here.