Google has joined fellow social-media giant Facebook in responding to the ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry (DPI) with claims that its unfettered growth has made it a driver of jobs creation and national economic growth – and even feted its status as the go-to homework tool for Australian students.
Noting that “our ability to create products that are useful and successful relies on carefully balancing the interests of our users, publishers, and advertisers,” Google Australia managing director Melanie Silva said in a blog announcing the submission of the company’s DPI response and arguing the firm’s credentials as a good corporate citizen.
Google’s advertising tools, non-profit grants and Google Search had “helped connect more than 1.1m [Australian] businesses, website publishers, and non-profits to consumers globally,” Silva said.
Businesses had realised $35.2b in benefits from using Google’s advertising and other platforms, the company claimed, supporting the creation of 117,700 jobs – two thirds of which were found in small and medium-sized businesses.
Using Google Search would save Australian businesses $1.6b in time saved this year, while using Google Maps would save businesses $1.3b in time saved.
Google also dug into a 2015 analysis of its business to point out that Australian students use its tools to “research answers to 25 million homework questions” every night.
Self-promoting economic credentials
The economic figures come from Google Economic Impact, a breathless analysis that was prepared this year by data-analytics consultancy AlphaBeta to support its advocacy efforts within the context of the DPI.
The company has a lot riding on the continued success of its business, which sends more than 24 billion clicks – 9,000 visits per second – to news publishers every month.
This included more than 2 billion clicks to Australian news publishers from Australian users, and more than 1 billion additional clicks to Australian news publishers from users globally.
Google “supports the DPI’s objectives” around promotion of public interest journalism, fostering a “dynamic and competitive digital ecosystem”, protecting consumer privacy, and “drive greater understanding of data collection”.
However, the company argued “these should be balanced with the interests of consumers and wider social and economic objectives”.
Some of the DPI’s findings “require further analysis” around costs and benefits, Silva said, singling out its suggestion of intervening in Android’s search and web-browsing defaults.
Google also has an issue with “regular-sanctioned negotiation of revenue sharing between platforms and news publishers” as outlined in DPI Recommendation 7.
The proposed arrangement would “overlook existing commercial arrangements between Google and Australian news publishers and the broader value that Google provides through referred web traffic and technology.”
Echoes of Facebook’s response
Google’s concerns echo those of Facebook, which argued in its submission against government interference in its commercial relationships with publishers – and did so without once mentioning the company’s effect on Australia’s gross homework product.
Facebook’s argument about its financial benefits centred around its claim that the use of online services like Facebook and Instagram have allowed 57 per cent of Facebook-using Australian small business owners to hire 120,000 more people.
This, the firm claimed, generated additional economic benefits of $16.8b – with 38,400 workers and $4b in additional economic value concentrated in regional Australia.
This spend was heavily tilted towards the top end, with fewer than 150 Australian businesses spending over $US1m ($A1.4m) on Facebook and over 350,000 businesses spending less than $US100 ($A143).
Both companies’ research should be taken with a grain of salt: just as Google sponsored its own research into the value of Google, Facebook’s figures come from Connecting Benefits, a Facebook-sponsored PwC report that “explores some of the economic and social benefits of using Facebook”.
That report cites earlier PwC work that suggested that if Australia’s construction sector “properly” used mobile and online technologies, it would create $4.2b in new economic benefits over ten years.
In the face of these financial figures, Facebook’s DPI response supported “properly designed” regulations but hit back against proposed regulations that would “make targeted advertising practically unworkable in Australia”
The company’s response is also based on a certain level of common purpose with Google, alongside which it is repeatedly mentioned constantly throughout the DPI.
“The focus should be on the broader digitisation trend rather than just a handful of companies,” Facebook said.
Google’s submission has not yet been made public by Google or by the Department of the Treasury, which is managing the DPI and told Information Age that “all submissions will be publicly released on the Treasury website shortly”.