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Sensemaker: Newspapers vs Google

Wednesday 21 April 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd after a three-week trial, in a decision Joe Biden called a “giant step forward” (more below).
  • All six English clubs – and two other teams – involved in the European Super League withdrew from the competition.
  • Amazon announced plans to open a hairdressing salon in east London where customers can use augmented reality to try out styles before submitting to the scissors.

Newspapers vs Google

Google’s search engine contains arguably the most powerful lines of computer code in the global economy, controlling how much of the world accesses information. Its search results are supposedly governed by autonomous algorithms oblivious to outside pressure and business considerations.  

So we should take notice when an antitrust lawsuit filed against the tech giant by Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Daily Mail, alleges the opposite to be true.  

On the one hand, the lawsuit is only the latest skirmish between a publisher and a platform. It comes a month after Google struck a global content deal with News Corp in Australia. And it joins a spate of other lawsuits currently in play that accuse the company of a wide variety of anti-competitive practices.

Yet the accusation of search bias – if it can be proved – makes this case stand out. It also adds to a growing body of evidence that Google interferes with search results far more than the company publicly acknowledges. 

Here are the key accusations in the complaint – all are denied by Google: 

  • Search. In June 2019 Google caused the Mail’s website to “disappear” on its search results “overnight” to penalise it for steering ad sales away from the tech giant. Google restored the Mail’s normal search performance three months later only after it backed down.
  • Mobile search. Publishers were only permitted to appear at the top of Google’s mobile search results page if they prioritised the tech company’s own tools to sell ad space. This matters because 70 per cent of all the Mail’s web traffic is now on mobile devices. 
  • Bid rigging. Google used its dominance of the online ad-tech market to secure valuable online ad space at knockdown prices. As the lawsuit puts it: Google “buys box seats at the ballpark for the price of the grandstands”.

Today’s papers report another accusation: that in 2021 Google deliberately hid links to Mail articles about the British royal family. British users searching for “Harry and Meghan” or “Piers Morgan” were much more likely to see articles about them produced by the BBC or by smaller regional outlets, it was reported. 

Interestingly, the royal accusations are not contained in the antitrust lawsuit. Instead they appear to have been briefed to journalists by the Mail’s chief brand officer, Sean Walsh. Does this make them less reliable? Perhaps. It also suggests the Mail knows better than most the value of inserting a royal into a news story. 


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Justice served
Darnella Frazier changed the world. So said CBS News journalist Wesley Lowery of the teenager who filmed the killing of George Floyd with her mobile phone and, in so doing, provided the most compelling piece of evidence in the case against former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin. Following a three-week trial, a jury found Chauvin guilty on all three charges against him, including second-degree murder. Joe Biden was among those who praised the verdict.


New things technology, science, engineering

Audio first
Perhaps following Tortoise’s lead, Big Tech companies are doubling down on audio. First Facebook announced it would allow users to post short-form audio clips called “soundbites”, host live audio rooms (à la Clubhouse), and discover podcasts through the Facebook platform. Then, yesterday, Apple unveiled a subscription podcast service. Spotify is set to announce a similar subscription model next month. 


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Vaccine unpaused
Johnson & Johnson has been given the green light to resume the roll-out of its single-shot vaccine across Europe. The European Medicines Agency said that patients should be warned that blood clots were a very rare possible side effect but made clear that the benefits outweighed the risks. In the US, where the vaccine is also paused, a similar decision to resume roll-out could come as soon as Friday. Nine blood clot cases in the US have so far been identified out of approximately seven million J&J doses administered.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Luxury bounces back
Anna Wintour has predicted the world will enter a “roaring twenties” of post-pandemic indulgence. The Vogue editor told the FT that “lines around the block” at reopened Gucci and Dior stores in London showed pent-up demand for a luxury lifestyle. Wintour predicted that the growth would help return Conde Nast – the private company behind Vogue and the New Yorker – to profit after years of losses.


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Biden’s big promise
Joe Biden will pledge to slash US greenhouse gas emissions “at least in half” by the end of the decade, several papers report this morning. They’ve been briefed ahead of Thursday’s Earth Day summit, where the leaders of China, India and nearly 40 other countries are expected to join the US to discuss environmental targets. The new goal nearly doubles the pledge that the Obama administration made to cut emissions – although it gives Biden five more years to achieve it. Success depends on the president’s ability to cut greenhouse pollution in two key domestic areas: cars and power plants.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around. 

Alexi Mostrous
@AlexiMostrous

Photographs by Getty Images


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