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Expert Insights

17 February 2021

Read all about it: UK launch of Google News Showcase

On 10 February 2021, Google announced the launch of Google News Showcase in the UK. The tech giant’s latest offering, which has already launched in over a dozen other countries, features “an editorial curation of award-winning newsrooms” and, for the first time, involves Google paying licensing fees to news publications for the extracts (with links to the full articles) that appear on users’ feeds. The product represents Google’s biggest financial commitment to date, with $1 billion being invested in partnerships with 450 news outlets worldwide, including 120 in the UK. According to Google, the product differs from similar established news platforms because it provides news publications with the editorial freedom to choose which stories to display to readers and offers users access to select content that would ordinarily sit behind a paywall.

The launch of Google News Showcase comes as the so-called Facebook/Google “duopoly”, finds itself under increasing scrutiny for cashing in on advertising revenue from news publishers’ content; together, the two represent around 80% of all UK digital advertising spending. This dominance, coupled with what many see as a reluctance to take on sufficient responsibility in monitoring the content accessible on their platforms, has left many governments sharpening their focus in terms of regulating big tech companies. For instance, the Australian government announced proposals for new laws which would force Google and Facebook to pay publishers for the right to link to their content in news feeds or search results, with provisions for a government-appointed arbitrator to step in should the parties fail to reach a consensus. The EU is also considering adding similar provisions to the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, and in November 2020 the UK announced plans to establish a new Digital Market Unit to oversee a “pro-competition” regime for big tech providers.  

Faced with the threat of adapting to new regulations, and managing the substantial cost and time implications they bring, it is perhaps unsurprising that Google has responded by launching Google News Showcase prior to being compelled to do so. Indeed, after initially announcing that it would pull out of Australia if the government were to implement tighter regulations, Google ultimately reneged on its threat and Google News Showcase launched there before the UK. In a similar vein, Facebook News, which follows substantially the same format, launched in the UK at the end of January, having launched in the US back in 2019.

Notwithstanding the financial benefits for news publications, Google and Facebook’s latest offerings could also indicate the companies’ intentions to promote traditional news outlets and give it greater visibility on their respective platforms; Google has described its own product as a contributing to “the overall sustainability of our news partners around the world”. Critics are likely to argue that the launch of these products is an attempt by the companies to detract from perceived inaction in tackling at its source the misinformation on their platforms.

Only time will tell whether Google and Facebook’s efforts are sufficient to head off regulation seeking to address their market dominance in terms of advertising revenue, or whether greater government intervention is an inevitability.

For more information, please contact Millie Parrott.

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