Why digital information companies in India are not happy with Google and how they are fighting back



To find, report and deliver news to readers online, digital news companies in India are required to spend a considerable amount of money. Numerous human resources are involved as well as investments in technological platforms in the field of online content creation and news. And it is undeniable that online advertising is the bread and butter of any media business, as the main product – that is, news or content – is mostly offered for free.

Now you have to think that this is a pretty straightforward business model where the news is delivered online for free, readers click to read it, and hopefully interact with the ads on the webpage as well. In turn, depending on the popularity of the news website, advertisers pay money to media companies for their ads to gain visibility. This is how news online worked a decade ago or at least how it was supposed to work.

But when we talk about advertisements, how can we ignore the world’s largest online advertising company, Google. Of course, it’s also one of the biggest tech companies, but its bread and butter are commercials too, as are news companies.

Also read: digital news companies accuse Google of abusing a dominant position in search engines; CCI controls probe

If you think about it, all of the brilliant minds Google hires to create new tech are primarily focused on people’s attention or “screen time” to ultimately make them watch more ads. To add to that, these days it’s about more than just advertisements, it’s about striving to guess what’s going on in your mind and also predicting and eliminating uncertainties.

Google doesn’t spend anything on news, just like Uber doesn’t own a cab

Google must have predicted our reality decades ago by creating Google search. Members of Google’s fundraising team believed that there will come a time when people will search the internet for everything through Google search. Whether it’s movies, games, porn, food, houses, everything including news. And with smartphones, Google literally owns the Internet, at least for the general public.

Google entered the information business simply by offering to help digital information companies deliver information effectively online. It’s as if people were searching for their favorite recipes online in the early 2000s, they also have to search for news at some point in the future. And that’s how Google News began: without hiring even a single reporter or office worker, or buying a camera. All he had to do was find an algorithm through which he could control which news or news sites to present to users on the first search page or on Google’s “Top News” carousel.

And the fight for online traffic began. Every online media company wanted to “rank” their news on the sacred top spot of Google News and Google Search for every possible keyword. The rules have been set: If a story doesn’t rank on Google and doesn’t generate numbers, it can be considered “unnecessary”, regardless of the journalist’s effort or the media company’s investment.

Whether it was the “Top 5 Best Smartphones to Buy” or the “Murder of a Politician”, all stories suddenly started to be measured by the same metric: “Google’s numbers”.

Soon Google also started selling Analytics to help media companies accurately measure online traffic. A new position has been created: SEO for news. The key to winning the online news race has changed to hiring better and bigger SEO teams.

Now, with Google’s entry into the news business, stakeholders in media companies had already predicted all of the above in the past. But what they may not have understood in the past is that Google will move so quickly to essentially try to become the “godfather” of the online information industry.

How? ‘Or’ What? Well, now Google is deciding how much advertising money online media companies get. In fact, the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) – an organization of the digital branches of major media companies in India – claims that “website publishers only receive 51% of advertisers’ ad spend.”

“Google is the major player in the digital advertising space, and it unilaterally decides on the amount to be paid to publishers for content created by them, as well as the conditions under which the aforementioned amounts must be paid. As an example, the informant (DNPA) alleges that Google unilaterally decided not to pay news publishers for the snippets they used in the search, ”the news agency said in its complaint to the Indian Competition Commission (ICC).

Doesn’t that sound like Uber? A large taxi company that does not own taxis but decides the fate of each taxi driver.

From “Google will help you online” to “Google is controlling us”

With both advertising money and online traffic under Google’s control, it is now evident that Google is helping itself rather than just the cause of effective news dissemination. DNPA has now turned to CCI to describe how Google is abusing its monopoly in the online search engine space.

The fair trade regulator CCI has also announced an investigation against Google for its allegations of abuse of dominance. “In view of the foregoing analysis, in summary, the Commission considers prima facie that Google has violated the provisions of section 4 of the law”, according to the order of the Indian Competition Commission (ICC).

The DNPA filed a complaint under section 19 (1) (a) of the Competition Act 2002 (the “Act”) against Alphabet Inc., Google LLC, Google India Private Limited and Google Ireland Limited, alleging a violation of article 4 of the law. .

“The majority of news site traffic comes from online search engines (over 50%), with Google considered the most dominant search engine. Based on the same, the informant claimed that more than 50% of the total traffic on news sites is routed through Google and, being the dominant player in this field, Google, by means of its algorithms, determines which news site is discovered. through research. It has further been argued that it is the content produced by news media companies that creates the context for the audience to interface with the advertiser; however, online search engines (Google) end up leveraging revenue / returns much more than publishers, ”the news agency said.

“Google not only has a monopoly position in search in India, it also has a very strong position in advertising intermediation and controls / retains most of it at every level,” he said.

Google AMP, click-free searches and no payment for snippets

DNPA claimed there was an increase in click-less searches from 50% in June 2019 to 65% between January and December 2020.

“Click-free searches mean that user queries were resolved on the results page itself, without the user going to the target website. As such, by displaying its own ads, Google is supposed to extract value from click-less searches, while publishers lose traffic, ”he explained.

Speaking of AMP or Accelerated Mobile Pages, the news agency said that “Google is giving publishers no choice but to implement the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) standard or lose a critical location in mobile search, resulting in reduced traffic “.

“To this end, publishers were forced to create mirror websites using this format, with Google caching all articles in AMP format and serving the content directly to mobile users. It has further been claimed that for AMP articles Google restricts paywall options unless publishers rebuild their paywall options and counters for AMP. The only alternative to the AMP system is for publishers to subscribe with Google, which benefits Google, to the detriment of publishers, ”he added.

It is claimed that Google donates a small portion of the income generated from ads on websites / links arbitrarily, without disclosing any basis for calculating such income. Not only that, Google does not pay for snippets of news content created by media companies that are displayed by Google in search engine results pages.

Technically, any content that Google presents on its News tab or search pages is not theirs at all.

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