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The news Down Under

February 18, 2021, 2:00 PM UTC

In the face of proposed regulation in Australia that would require tech giants to pay publishers for news, Facebook took its toys and went home. (Google, on the other hand, opened its pocketbook.)

Facebook announced on Wednesday that it would no longer allow news content on its service in Australia. Facebook says the proposed law “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship” between Facebook and publishers and that publishers benefit more than Facebook does from it.

“For Facebook, the business gain from news is minimal,” reads a blog by William Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand. “News makes up less than 4% of the content people see in their News Feed.”

Facebook’s decision creates a bold juxtaposition from the company’s calls for more regulation the past couple of years. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that he believes more regulation would help define the rules of the Internet more clearly. But apparently, Australia’s proposed law was not the kind of regulation he had in mind.

“Here is where the rubber hits the road for Facebook and its civic intentions,” tweeted Emily Bell, the director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. “It won’t comply with a democratic government law, which it doesn’t agree with, which costs it money, and removes all accredited publishers … This hurts publishers—sure. But it also hurts Australian Facebook users in terms of their quick access to news information.”

But talks between Facebook and the Australian government are seemingly still underway, and Australia’s Treasurer Josh Frydenberg seemed to imply that some kind of compromise was in the works. “This morning, I had a constructive discussion with Mark Zuckerberg,” Frydenberg tweeted on Wednesday. “He raised a few remaining issues … and we agreed to continue our conversation to try to find a pathway forward.”

Meanwhile, Google, after threatening to pull out of Australia altogether, sealed a three-year deal with Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp. As part of the deal, Google will make “significant payments” to News Corp. for stories from publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s MarketWatch, and the New York Post. It also signed deals with at least two major Australian media companies.

But critics were quick to blast Google’s decision, too. Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York, told the Columbia Journalism Review that Google’s deal sets a terrible precedent. “What Google’s payment to News Corp. demonstrates is that media blackmail works,” he said.

As the situation evolves, both Facebook and Google will likely modify their strategies. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that Facebook isn’t the best at executing its own policy changes. So don’t be surprised if the company has the same troubles Down Under (it’s reportedly banned itself, presumably by accident).

Danielle Abril


While technology has enormous power to solve problems, it can also systematize the most toxic elements of our culture. Think algorithms that equate beauty with lighter skin, or that disproportionately disqualify Black people from receiving bank loans. Why haven’t the creators behind the tech corrected these problems? And what will it take to fix them? On this week’s episode of Brainstorm, hosts Michal Lev-Ram and Brian O’Keefe speak with tech insiders and experts committed to building more inclusive technology. Listen to the podcast here.


Freezing production. The blizzard-like conditions that have led to mass power outages across Texas have now created tech supply chain issues. Semiconductor plants near Austin have shut down, causing problems for automakers and electronic manufacturers who need chips for their technologies. It’s another blow to the semiconductor industry, whose output was already slowed due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, millions of Texans are still without power, and freezing temperatures are expected to continue in several parts of the state through the end of the week.

Hey Amazon, build me this. Amazon introduced a new Kickstarter-like program called Build It on Wednesday that will allow customers to pre-order potential products for the company to make. Without providing specifics, Amazon said it will build products that reach their “pre-order goal” in 30 days. Customers who pre-order products on Build It will lock in a “special price” and be the first to get the products should they reach their goals. The first products Amazon is pitching via the program are a smart sticky note printer, a smart nutrition scale, and a smart cuckoo clock.

Voice is all the rage. Twitter has started testing a new feature that allows people to send direct messages with voice recordings up to 140 seconds long. The test is only available on iOS devices in India, Brazil, and Japan. The feature comes as Clubhouse, an audio-based social network, continues to gain popularity. Even Facebook is eying the space as it reportedly works on Clubhouse rival

Post-election interference? Nearly 90% of all news links posted on conservative social media service Parler the week before the U.S. Capitol riot led to misinformation, according to news rating firm NewsGuard and digital media analytics firm PeakMetrics. Misinformation links that were shared the most came from American Conservatives Today, which reportedly appeared to be run out of Macedonia, Protocol reports. Misinformation links on the service also led to a network of Islamophobic sites reportedly run out of Israel.

A critical hire. Uber has hired one of its biggest critics who, for years, wrote about how the company fails to be transparent with pay, surveils its drivers, and creates discriminatory systems. Alex Rosenblat, a labor researcher and author, joined the ride-hailing giant last month and is serving as the company’s head of marketplace policy, fairness, and research, according to Bloomberg. Uber’s goal in hiring Rosenblat: Improve its rocky relationship with drivers.


A researcher at the University of Texas at Austin may have a solution that would help pharmacies, drugmakers, and medical professionals keep the coronavirus vaccine from spoiling. The current vaccines have to be stored at certain temperatures—Pfizer’s being the most extreme at -94 degrees Fahrenheit. But Dr. Maria Croyle and her team have created a new way to not only store the vaccine but also administer it. They’ve turned it into a thin film that could be taken by mouth and preserved at less extreme temperatures, according to Texas Monthly. The technology has already been licensed to Jurata Thin Film, which plans to use the technology to distribute various vaccines and therapeutics globally.

“Jurata is in talks with several pharmaceutical developers, including COVID-19 vaccine producers who are interested in the company’s technology, with hopes of going to clinical trials sometime over the next two years. While this means that it almost certainly won’t be used in the first round of COVID-19 vaccines, Croyle is aiming for the technology to be available in the rounds of vaccines that would be administered over the next couple of years. Experts estimate that about a quarter of the world’s population may not get a COVID-19 vaccine until 2022,” writes Julissa Treviño.



COVID aid is coming to help people pay for Internet service. Here’s who qualifies. By Aaron Pressman

Someone—or something—has amassed over $2 billion in Dogecoin By Chris Morris

4 steps companies can take to prepare for a return to the office By Greg Montana

Atelier Ventures wants to bring more influencers and creators into venture capital By Lucinda Shen

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In a previous Data Sheet, I shared a story about how chefs were adapting to the new coronavirus environment, creating ever-changing, limited menus that they advertise on Instagram. Well, it appears pastry chefs are similarly finding ways to drum up new business.

Pastry chefs and bakers in New York City, many of whom have been out of work during the pandemic, are cooking up creative concoctions from their homes, The New York Times reports. They’re selling boxes of goodies by posting delectable photos on Instagram, then hand-delivering the items or inviting customers to pick up orders.

And New York is not alone. I personally know of a pair of pastry chefs doing the same thing in San Francisco. Instagram is becoming quite the tasty destination.