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Facebook Blocks News in Australia Over Proposed Media Compensation Law

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  • Australian leaders condemned Facebook on Thursday after it blocked all Australians from sharing domestic and international news on the platform and prevented all global users from sharing news by Australian publishers.
  • Facebook also wiped the pages of state health departments and emergency services that provide resources amid the pandemic and the ongoing fire season, though it later restored those systems.
  • The move comes as Australia prepares to pass a law that would require large tech companies to pay media organizations for content that appears on their platforms.
  • Facebook and Google have long fought against the legislation, but Google shifted its stance Thursday, saying it entered a three-year agreement to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for its content.

Facebook Escalates Battle With Australia

Facebook took the unprecedented step Thursday of blocking news access on the platform in Australia – a drastic escalation of a battle over a proposed regulatory law in the country.

Under the legislation, which is expected to pass in the next week, tech giants would be required to negotiate compensation with news organizations for the content that appears on their platforms.

Those who support the law argue that traditional media organizations have been steadily declining while big companies like Facebook and Google, which have become major distributors of news, continue to make billions of dollars from digital advertising. As a result, proponents believe that these companies have a responsibility to help support news organizations whose content they profit off of by driving traffic to the sites.

Facebook and Google, however, have fought hard against the law. They have said it is unworkable for a number of reasons and claimed it would incentivize the news organizations to jack up prices during negotiations.

Now that is all but certain Australia will approve the law soon, Facebook has reinforced its opposition efforts. Not only does Facebook’s current ban block Australians from sharing both domestic and international news sources on the platform, but it also prevents all Australian publishers from being seen on Facebook everywhere else in the world.

The ban also goes beyond the news. According to reports, pages for state health departments were also wiped clean just three days before the launch of a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination program. Emergency services were also taken out, including the Bureau of Meteorology, which has been providing essential weather data in the middle of fire season.

Pages for nonprofits and charities were also taken away, meanwhile, groups dedicated to spreading conspiracy theories about vaccines, 5G, Bill Gates, and the end of the world remained up.

Facebook, for its part, blamed the disappearances on the proposed legislation.

“As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted,” a spokesperson told reporters, though the company eventually agreed to revive the public service pages.

Facebook Slammed By Politicians

Facebook’s decision to ban all news in Australia — especially the blocking of essential service accounts — sparked outrage from leaders in the country.

Many politicians condemned Facebook for preventing access to health information in a pandemic and censoring news.

“The fact that there are organizations like state health departments, fire and emergency services… who have had their Facebook pages blocked, that’s a public safety issue,” Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told the Associated Press.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also took aim at Facebook in a post on the platform. 

“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” he said. “These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behavior of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them.”

Morrison went on to say that the government would not back down and urged Facebook to work constructively with them like Google, which has taken the opposite approach.

Google Strikes Deal With Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Shortly before Facebook imposed its block, Google announced that it had made a three-year agreement to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for its content in Australia as well as the U.S. and the U.K.

The search engine — which just a weeks ago threatened to make its products unavailable in Australia over the proposed law— has since changed its mind and instead struck several multimillion-dollar deals with other Australian publishers.

While many praised Google for its approach, some media watchdog groups are worried that these deals will only further the ability of large tech companies make news organizations beholden to them.

Others have also expressed concern over Google’s deal with Murdoch, who has been lobbying the Australian government to push tech companies to pay news organizations for years, and who The New York Times described as “quite cozy with Australia’s conservative government.” 

At the same time, other industry leaders have said this will be a net good for journalism and likely a model for other countries, including Microsoft, whose president wrote a blog post last week arguing that the U.S. should enact similar legislation.

See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Apple Raises Worker Pay as Unions Gain Ground

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The company’s vice president of people and retail was caught trying to dissuade employees from unionizing in a leaked video.


Labor Squeezes Apple into Submission

Apple announced Wednesday that its U.S. corporate and retail employees will see a pay increase later this year, with starting wages bumped from $20 per hour to $22, though stores in certain regions may get more depending on market conditions.

Starting salaries are also expected to increase.

“Supporting and retaining the best team members in the world enables us to deliver the best, most innovative, products and services for our customers,” an Apple spokesman said in a statement. “This year as part of our annual performance review process, we’re increasing our overall compensation budget.”

Some workers were told their annual reviews would be moved up three months and that their pay increases would take effect in early July, according to a memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, they were told the increased compensation budget would be in addition to pay increases and special awards already received within the past year.

Feeling squeezed by low unemployment and high inflation, tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have changed their compensation structures in recent weeks to pay workers more, and Apple is the latest to bend to market pressure.

Unions Gaining Traction

On Wednesday, The Verge received a leaked video of Apple’s vice president of people and retail, Deirdre O’Brien, explicitly dissuading employees from unionizing.

“I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship,” she said. “An organization that does not have a deep understanding of Apple or our business. And most importantly one that I do not believe shares our commitment to you.”

She vocalized more anti-union talking points, like the idea that the company will not be able to make important decisions as quickly with a collective bargaining agreement.

O’Brien has been personally visiting retail stores over the past few weeks in an apparent bid to combat budding union activity.

Apple stores in three locations — New York, Georgia, and Maryland — are currently pushing to unionize, with the latter two set to vote in elections on June 2 and 15, respectively. In response to these efforts, Apple has hired anti-union lawyers, given managers anti-union scripts, and held anti-union captive audience meetings.

In the United States, unionized workers make about 13.2% more than non-unionized workers in the same sector, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

As of Wednesday, Apple’s shares had fallen 21% since the start of the year, but sales grew 34% last year to almost $300 billion.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (CNBC) (The Verge)

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Employees at Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software Form First Union at a Major Gaming Company

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Organizers say the decision has the potential to upend labor practices in the gaming industry.


Raven Software QA Testers Win Union Bid

A group of 28 workers at Activision Blizzard subsidiary Raven Software voted to form the first-ever union at a major U.S. gaming company. 

While the Game Workers Alliance is a small union, organizers in the space say its formation represents a major shift for the gaming industry and will encourage others in the sector to follow suit.

The newly unionized workers are quality insurance (QA) testers working at the Wisconsin-based studio to develop “Call of Duty.” QA testers work to sort out any glitches in games, and the jobs are notoriously known for extreme crunch periods where staffers work long stretches of hours before a game’s release.

During crunch periods, employees are regularly given 12- to 14-hour shifts with just a few days off each month in order to meet release deadlines.

Many QA testers have said they are treated as second-class to others in the industry. They are paid much lower — often minimum wage or close to it — work on contract cycles and, as a result, feel disposable.

That particular sentiment was underscored for workers at Raven Software in December when the company ended the contracts of about a dozen QA testers. The decision prompted the remaining QA testers to hold a walkout and, shortly after that, they began organizing to form a union, which they dubbed the Game Workers Alliance.

Activision’s Battle Against Unionization Effort

Activision did not support the push for unionization and actively fought against it. The company refused to voluntarily recognize the union, and just days after the group filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, it moved QA testers to different departments across its properties.

Activision also announced it would convert over 1,000 temporary QA workers to full-time employees, give them a pay raise to $20 an hour, and provide more benefits. However, management said the move would not apply to the unionizing workers because, under federal law, they could not try to encourage workers from voting against unionization by offering pay hikes or benefits. Union leaders repudiated that argument.

Additionally, Activision fought against the union petition, arguing that any union would need to include all of the studio’s employees, but the Labor Board rejected the claim and let the effort proceed.

According to multiple reports, Activision management continued to push against the union in the weeks leading up to the vote. Some Raven employees told The Washington Post company leaders had suggested at a town hall meeting that unionization could hurt game development and impact promotions and benefits. The following day, the managers allegedly sent an email urging workers to “vote no.” 

On Monday, Labor Board prosecutors announced they had determined that Activision illegally threatened workers and enforced a social media policy that violated bargaining rights. Activision denied the new allegations.

The two parties will have until the end of the month to file an objection, and if none are filed, the union becomes official. It is currently unclear how Activision and Raven will respond, but they have signaled that they might not make the transition period easy for the union.

According to internal documents seen by Bloomberg, the company has repeatedly mentioned that it can take a while for a union to negotiate its first contract.

In a statement following the vote, an Activision spokesperson told The Post that the company respects the right of its employees to vote for or against a union, but added: “We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 of Raven employees. We’re committed to doing what’s best for the studio and our employees.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)

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Uber Forks Over $19 Million in Fine for Misleading Australian Riders

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The penalty is just the latest in a string of lawsuits going back years.


Uber Gets Fined

Uber has agreed to pay a $19 million fine after being sued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for making false or misleading statements in its app.

The first offense stems from a company policy that allows users to cancel their ride at no cost up to five minutes after the driver has accepted the trip. Despite the terms, between at least December 2017 and September 2021, over two million Australians who wanted to cancel their ride were nevertheless warned that they may be charged a small fee for doing so.

Uber said in a statement that almost all of those users decided to cancel their trips despite the warnings.

The cancellation message has since been changed to: “You won’t be charged a cancellation fee.”

The second offense, occurring between June 2018 and August 2020, involved the company showing customers in Sydney inflated estimates of taxi fares on the app.

The commission said that Uber did not ensure the algorithm used to calculate the prices was accurate, leading to actual fares almost always being higher than estimated ones.

The taxi fare feature was removed in August 2020.

A Troubled Legal History

Uber has been sued for misleading its users or unfairly charging customers in the past.

In 2016, the company paid California-based prosecutors up to $25 million for misleading riders about the safety of its service.

An investigation at the time found that at least 25 of Uber’s approved drivers had serious criminal convictions including identity theft, burglary, child sex offenses and even one murder charge, despite background checks.

In 2017, the company also settled a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for $20 million after it misled drivers about how much money they could earn.

In November 2021, the Justice Department sued the company for allegedly charging disabled customers a wait-time fee even though they needed more time to get in the car, then refused to refund them.

Later the same month, a class-action lawsuit in New York alleged that Uber charged riders a final price higher than the upfront price listed when they ordered the ride.

See what others are saying: (ABC) (NASDAQ) (Los Angeles Times)

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