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Google, Facebook pay less tax in NZ than Australia

At The Conversation Massey University lecturer Victoria Plekhanova writes: Google and Facebook pay way less tax in New Zealand than in Australia – and we’re paying the price.

 

She says:

While the internet has created new opportunities for media and audiences alike, those opportunities have come at a price. Traditional media organisations now compete with giant digital platforms, not only for the attention of readers, but also for the advertising revenue that was once their lifeblood.

Adding insult to injury, the digital platforms compete for audiences’ attention partly by distributing the news content that was first created and published by those now-struggling media organisations.

This not only damages the media and public discourse, it is harmful to taxpayers.

Plekhanova says Google paid A$426.5 million in Australian digital service tax in 2018. That’s 66.5 times the amount of tax paid in New Zealand: “Given the New Zealand economy is about a seventh the size of Australia’s, this is an extremely wide disparity”.

Publishers

There are also rules forcing Google and Facebook to compensate publishers when they piggyback off their original content.

The idea of a digital service tax isn’t that unusual. Other countries have a similar tax.

All of this makes sense. We let the overseas media giants freeload here. Part of their income depends on services that have been provided by taxpayers. Some of that income even comes direct from government agencies which buys advertising on the two social media giants.

It amounts to a net transfer from the New Zealand taxpayer’s pocket to social media investors: some of the richest people in the world.

Tax a global problem

Ideally the OECD would deal with this problem. But that’s been a long time coming and the money continues to flow in one direction only.

Plekhanova comes unstuck when suggesting taxing or charging tech giants will help local media survive. The damage was done ages ago. Survival depends on more than taxing the giants and anyway, up to a point the main local media outlets depend on the tech giants to reach their audience.

So, yes, let’s tax Google and Facebook like countries tax extractive industries. And, at least, stop pour government money into their coffers. But let’s not kid ourselves this is going to fix our media problems.

 

This is not a Huawei P40 Pro review

In March Huawei launched the P40 Pro. It is the company’s latest flagship Android phone.

Going by the reviews, the hardware is as good as it gets for Android.

It could have been a contender for 2020’s best phone.

Yet there is more to a phone than hardware. If anything the software and services are more important. So is the way these two integrate with the phone hardware.

Android, not Google

This is a problem for the Huawei P40 Pro because it is the first major Android phone from a top brand that doesn’t include Google Mobile Services.

Last May the Trump Administration placed heavy sanctions on Huawei. The company is not allowed to licence or otherwise use US-made technology.

Which means Huawei’s new phones can only use the open source version of Android.

Moreover, new Huawei phones can’t offer Gmail, Google Maps or You Tube. Huawei is cut adrift from the Google Play Store. You can’t pay for stuff using Google Pay.

Clever, up to a point

Huawei has found one clever workaround the problem. It has re-released versions of earlier phones that are still allowed to use these services. The Huawei P30 Pro recently appeared complete with everything Android.

That works if customers don’t mind buying what could be thought of as old technology. Not that 99 percent of users would ever know the technology is old, it still feels modern enough. As my P30 Pro review says, you get a lot of camera.

Homegrown ecosystem

P40 Pro buyers are stuck with Huawei’s own homegrown ecosystem. You get Huawei’s unexciting EMUI 10 operating system wrapped around Android and a handful of substitute apps. The apps might get the job done, but while some buyers may be satisfied others may not warm to them.

Huawei also offers its own App Gallery. The company said it was going to, or maybe that is will, spend a billion US dollars on the gallery. It has 3,000 software engineers working on it.

Whatever the claims, it’s like entering an Eastern Bloc shop in the bad old Cold War days. There are gaps everywhere and many apps are limp, pale copies of the real thing.

Even the included email app is, well, not a patch on Gmail. Huawei really ought to have poured some resources into making that one sing and dance.

If you are hooked on Facebook, there is no app. In fact you won’t find any of the most popular apps.

A brave decision

You’ve got to really want a Huawei P40 Pro to get one. Or you have to be extra keen to stick-it-to-the-man.

For a start, the P40 Pro isn’t listed in the Spark or Vodafone online stores at the time of writing. You could buy it from 2degrees at NZ$1500 a pop or on a plan.1

Then the challenge is making it work the way you’d want an Android phone to work. A lot of geeky folk are attracted to Android precisely because it does offer more scope for tinkering that Apple’s iPhone.

No doubt some of these will enjoy the P40 Pro challenge.

Security melt-down

You can use third-party app stores. If you work for a corporation your IT security people will probably have a melt-down at the thought. There are downloadable and published hacks and so on. Android is already a minefield for malware and scams, heading into this territory is not for the faint hearted.

Patching security updates is likely to be troublesome and P40 Pro owners may even be violating the terms and conditions for services like online banking using such risky software.

Huawei has made some great phones over the years. In another world, the P40 Pro would probably be among them. But it isn’t. Whether its handicap is fair or reasonable is one thing, but regardless of those matters, it would not be wise to sink $1500 of your own money into a crippled phone.


  1. The marketing material at the 2degrees site doesn’t go anywhere near mentioning the phone is not like other Android phones. This could be grounds for getting your money back if you feel duped. ↩︎

Facebook, Google to share revenue with Aus media

Australia’s ACCC is developing a mandatory code to create ‘level playing field’ in media landscape. Josh Frydenberg says

Source: Facebook and Google to be forced to share advertising revenue with Australian media companies | Australian media | The Guardian

From the original story:

Facebook and Google will be forced to share advertising revenue with Australian media companies after the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, instructed the competition watchdog to develop a mandatory code of conduct for the digital giants amid a steep decline in advertising brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

This is the same steep advertising decline that has New Zealand media companies in a tail spin. Things have been tough for nearly 20 years. Depending on which set of numbers you read, Facebook and Google take as up to 85 percent of advertising revenue.

Media extinction event

Elsewhere pundits have described the Covid-19 pandemic as the extinction trigger for traditional media. The comparison is with the meteor that wiped out most dinosaurs.

Frydenberg said it was only fair that media companies that created the content got paid for it.

“This will help to create a level playing field,” he said.

The communications minister, Paul Fletcher, said the decision was about a strong and sustainable news media ecosystem.

If we are realistic, it is too late to talk about a “strong and sustainable news media ecosystem”. Today’s game is all about survival.

Level playing field for Australian media

Likewise “level playing field” is a nice idea, but we’re talking about a playing field where one side has 85 percent and the other has 15 percent.

Yet Frydenberg is correct when he says it is only fair that the tech giants should pay media companies that create content. The same goes for small publishers and individual journalists.

It’s correct to say Google doesn’t take much material from media companies. Often it isn’t much more than a headline and an opening paragraph. Although that is where most of the gold sits in a news story.

Google gives something back in the way of a link to the original story. Yet often, once a Google reader has seen the head and the opening par, the incentive to click a link has gone.

It’s more complicated with Facebook. Sometimes people cut and paste entire stories into Facebook posts. That means when someone reads the story in that timeline, Facebook gets to sell the advertisement, not the publisher.  It means Facebook gets rich on someone else’s work. But then that is the Facebook business model.

Dependency

The flip side of this argument is that media outlets depend on Facebook and Google to deliver links to help readers find stories. It’s a form of dependency that means relying on the parasite that is eating you to also continue feeding you.

Australia’s approach may not be the best way of tackling the problem. Yet it is good to recognise that there is a problem and to attempt to tackle it.

If recent history is any guide, the big social media firms will resist. They will spend a fortune on legal and lobbying attempts to overturn the decision. By the time that fight draws to a conclusion there will a quite different media landscape.

DuckDuckGo is good enough… most of the time

Jake Voytko posted a long, considered and comprehensive post about his experiment comparing DuckDuckGo and Google Search.

Voytko’s blog post headline makes his conclusion clear: DuckDuckGo is good enough for regular use.

He writes:

I haven’t tried a new search engine since I tried Bing in 2009. It was time to find out how good DuckDuckGo is in 2020. What was the biggest difference that I found?

Voytko concludes that Google works best for what he calls ‘low intention searches’. He says Google throws out so much information from so many sources that it often returns something close enough to what the searcher wanted.

Broad searches, narrow searches

He found Google shines at broad searches. That’s when you have a less clear idea of what you are searching for.

It wins hands down when you search to buy a product.

Voytko discovered that, in general, DuckDuckGo does a better job when searches are more specific.

Interestingly, the places where DuckDuckGo struggles are also places where Google struggles.

He concludes that DuckDuckGo is good enough for everyday use.

And so it is. Except where it is not.

New Zealand missing in action

Sadly, the place where DuckDuckGo fails me every time is when I search for New Zealand specific information. DuckDuckGo often misses obvious things.

It almost feels as if the search engine is biased against New Zealand. If Google produced the same quality of local results, search engine experts might deduce it had imposed what search professions call “a search penalty” for the entire nation.

I might, say, search for a New Zealand act of parliament, use the correct name of the legislation and yet DuckDuckGo might serve up a Canadian or UK law with a vaguely similar name at the top of search results.

Sometimes the results are totally bonkers, even when I click the New Zealand box at the top of the page. I’ve seen Te Reo names interpreted as spelling errors even when they are commonly used words in New Zealand.

As an aside, it doesn’t do a good job indexing my site either. Google has everything, finding my own stories on DuckDuckGo can be a challenge.

And yet DuckDuckGo still works for me

Despite all these whinges, I’ve moved all my search to DuckDuckGo because when I’m searching for something specific, say a piece of background for a story I’m writing, it regularly beats Google.

If the results are disappointing, you can always search again and use the G! command to have the search sent through to Google. It’s quicker than opening another browser tab.

I find DuckDuckGo cleaner, easier to navigate than Google. I rarely see advertising, that could be something to do with the New Zealand neglect. Or maybe not. Feel free to enlighten us all if you know what’s going on there.,

A DuckDuckGo that helps my writing work is that I can copy and paste the URLs in the search results. I do this if I use a URL in a blog post. I also collect useful URLs for later use. Google mangles URLs for some reason, making them harder to copy and paste.

ChromeOS: Google’s surveillance capitalism OS 

“Anyone saying that Android apps on ChromeOS are a good experience is delusional.”

In Chrome OS has stalled out, Dave Ruddock says Google’s Chrome OS has failed to live up to its potential. Ruddock is a Chrome user who says he does 95 percent of his work using the operating system.

When Chrome OS first appeared it looked like the future. Or at least one version of a potential future.

It’s a great idea on paper.

Take a minimal specification computer. One that costs almost nothing to make and almost everyone can afford. Give it just enough hardware to connect to the net and handle a web browser.

Cloud power

Then let efficient remote cloud systems do all the heavy lifting. After all, that’s what most people now do most of the time anyway. Few MacBooks or Surface Books are not web-connected.

ChromeOS users mainly connect to free services. That’s a problem because in the online world free can be a high price to pay.

Large companies don’t give services away out of the goodness of their hearts. They want to advertise their client’s products or manipulate you into voting a certain way. And we all know that works. It’s an aspect of surveillance capitalism.

This gets worse.

ChromeOS uses Android apps to plug functionality or entertainment gaps. The experience is bad.

Android apps can be cheap and nasty at the best of times. They collect far too much user data. Many Android apps live at the seamy end of surveillance capitalism.

Ask yourself why you need to give someone your home address to write a document or your first pet’s name1 in order to put an interesting filter on your uploaded pictures.

Dismal

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Android app on ChromeOS experience is dismal. I can’t bear to use it.

Many apps were clearly written for phones and make little or no allowance for larger screens and keyboards. They are buggy as anything and many are a security nightmare2.

There’s something else bad about Chrome. We live in a world where technology iterates towards a kind of nirvana. Each successive line of Windows or MacOS computers is a step up on what went before. Each new generation of mobile phone has a better camera, faster processor, is packed with more oomph.

This applies even when there are two-steps forward, one step back messes like the butterfly keyboards in recent Apple laptops.

As Ruddock points out, the problem with Chrome, the OS and Chromebooks, the computers do not appear to be moving in any direction.

ChromeOS going nowhere

Chromebooks are not as clunky as they were, some are nice to use. But it isn’t going anywhere. The Chrome experience has barely changed over the years. There’s little prospect of it changing in the near future.

It’s stagnant.

Sure this might not matter to school students who need a fast, low-cost route to the web. It matters to almost everyone else.

Ruddock says there are aspects of Chrome life that amount to computing barbarism. He is being generous.

Sure, a MacBook or a Surface Book might cost getting on for ten times the price of a Chromebook. But the experience is on another plane. You can do so much more. It’s a struggle doing everyday work on a Chromebook, it’s a challenge being creative.


  1. Maybe not literally. But they often ask for information they have no right collecting ↩︎
  2. Although I doubt the average Chromebook users cares much for security or privacy ↩︎

NZ, France to halt social media terror promotion

New Zealand and France will work together to make it harder for terrorists to broadcast violence through social media. The move is a response to the March 15 attack in Christchurch which the terrorist streamed live.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron will meet in Paris next month to discuss plans. They timed their meeting to coincide with a G7 digital ministers Tech for Humanity event and a separate Tech for Good summit.

A media statement from Jacinda Ardern says:

“We all need to act. That includes social media providers taking more responsibility for the content that is on their platforms and taking action so that violent extremist content cannot be published and shared.

“It’s critical that technology platforms like Facebook are not perverted as a tool for terrorism and instead become part of a global solution to countering extremism. This meeting presents an opportunity for an act of unity between governments and the tech companies.”

Social media terrorist toolkit

This nails the problem. Facebook and other social media outlets have become part of the terrorist’s toolkit. In part they have spent recent years encouraging ever more extreme and violent content on their sites.

Social media companies know that extreme material resonates with audiences. In effect, they have turned people’s anger into rivers of gold. Rather than calm things down, they have learnt that ramping up fear and hate is a lucrative business.

Profit explains their reluctance to act in the past.

Inevitable

Given this, it was inevitable that a terrorist would one day choose to live-stream the murder of dozens of people. It happened in Christchurch, but the live atrocity could have been anywhere.

It’s good to see Jacinda Ardern work with Macron on this. Neither New Zealand nor France are able to fight these battles alone. It’s also good to involve the G7. The more allies the better. It will take co-ordination from many governments to rein-in the social media giants.

Until now the likes of Facebook, Google with YouTube and Twitter have acted amorally.

Above the law?

If they appear to believe they are above the law, that’s because in a sense they are.

The social media giants are all US-based. They can point to that country’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech as a justification for not policing content loaded on to their sites.

What’s more, the US gives them Section 230 protection. In effect, they have legal immunity for what they publish, although there are exceptions. This sets up a climate where the big social media companies act as if they can do whatever they want.

Reputation not considered

In an ideal world, these companies would fear their reputations and long-term business prospects are risk if they don’t take more responsibility. We’re not at that point yet.

Australia has laws which could see them prosecuted for actions like showing the Christchurch terrorist attach video. Incidentally, there’s a report this morning saying these images are still online and easy to find.

Facebook, Google and Twitter can afford to laugh in the face of small governments. To a degree that’s been their strategy until now. Even medium-sized countries like the United Kingdom are openly disrespected by social media executives. Facebook even dismisses ad hoc groups of countries working together.

New Zealand, France and the G7 are a more powerful combination. They can act together. Yet that last sentence has an important word act. The countries must do more than just bat ideas around in a talk fest. They must take collective action if anything is going to change.

I talked to Lynn Freeman on RNZ Nine-to-Noon about the NZ, France effort to tackle violence on social media