Global digital platforms Google and Facebook will be forced to pay for news content in Australia, the government said Monday, as the coronavirus pandemic causes a collapse in advertising revenue.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission would release in late July draft rules for the platforms to pay fair compensation for the journalistic content siphoned from news media.
Frydenberg said he believed that Australia could succeed where other countries, including France and Spain, had failed in making Google and Facebook pay.
"We won't bow to their threats," Frydenberg told reporters. "We understand the challenge that we face. This is a big mountain to climb. These are big companies that we are dealing with, but there is also so much at stake, so we're prepared for this fight."
The ACCC had attempted to negotiate a voluntary code by which the global giants would agree to pay traditional media for their content.
But the parties couldn't agree on "this key issue of payment for content," Frydenberg said.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said Australia would take a different approach to Europe, relying on competition law rather than copyright law.
Google and Facebook said they had been working to the ACCC November deadline to negotiate a voluntary code.
"We're disappointed by the government's announcement, especially as we've worked hard to meet their agreed deadline," Facebook Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand Will Easton said in a statement.
"COVID-19 has impacted every business and industry across the country, including publishers, which is why we announced a new, global investment to support news organisations at a time when advertising revenue is declining," he added, referring to a $100 million investment in the news industry announced in March.
Google said said it had engaged with more than 25 Australian publishers to get their input on a voluntary code.
"We have sought to work constructively with industry, the ACCC and government to develop a code of conduct, and we will continue to do so in the revised process set out by the government today," a Google statement said.
ACCC Chairman Rod Sims played down the prospect of Google shutting down its Australian news platform rather than pay for content as it had done in Spain.
"Around 10% of search results are media stories. This will seriously affect the usefulness, for example, of Google Search, so I think we have to understand that there's value both ways here and I think it will be hard for Google and Facebook just to say we won't have any contact with news media at all," Sims told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Michael Miller, Executive Chairman Australasia of News Corp. Australia, the nation's largest newspaper publisher, said, "We are looking for a fair payment and at the same time a substantial payment."
Frydenberg declined to estimate how much Google and Facebook would pay news media, other than to say it would amount to millions of dollars.
Google was netting 47% of online advertising spending excluding classified ads in Australia, and Facebook was claiming 24%, he said.
Media companies have stopped printing dozens of newspaper mastheads across Australia because the pandemic shutdown has caused advertisers to stop spending.
Social media app TikTok is committing more than 250 million U.S. dollars to support frontline medical workers, educators, and local communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the company said Thursday.
TikTok will support medical staffing, supplies, and hardship relief for health care workers through the provision of 150 million dollars under the name Health Heroes Relief Fund, TikTok's president Alex Zhu said in a statement.
"We will be providing 50 million dollars in grants to educators to help spread educational information in distance learning format," he added.
TikTok, a video sharing app owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance, is also working with global and local partners to distribute masks and other personal protective equipment to hospitals across hard-hit countries such as India, Indonesia, Italy, South Korea, and the United States, according to the statement.
"We're partnering with the CDC Foundation to donate 15 million dollars toward supporting surge staffing for local response efforts ... We're also looking to assist global health workers, including our 10-million-dollar contribution to the WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund," said Zhu.
TikTok is also providing a community relief fund worth millions of dollars to support school lunch programs across the United States, as well as to help artists whose livelihoods are being severely impacted by the pandemic.
Additionally, the company is pledging 125 million dollars in advertising credits to help organizations and businesses recover.
"Together, we will persevere through this time of crisis and emerge a better community and part of a world that we fervently hope will be more united in common purpose than it was before," Zhu said.
Singapore has suspended the use of Zoom for online education after hackers hijacked a lesson and showed obscene images to students.
In what is known as "Zoombombing," two hackers interrupted a geography lesson a day after Singapore closed schools on Wednesday in partial lockdown measures to help curb local transmissions of the coronavirus.
Lessons have moved online, with some teachers using video conferencing tools like Zoom.
Singapore's Ministry of Education said it was investigating the "serious incidents" and may file police reports.
"We are already working with Zoom to enhance its security settings and make these security measures clear and easy to follow," said Aaron Loh, director of the ministry's Educational Technology Division.
"As a precautionary measure, our teachers will suspend their use of Zoom until these security issues are ironed out," Loh said.
Singapore is not the only country to be affected by the teleconferencing disruptions. The FBI issued a warning on March 30 advising users to avoid making Zoom meetings public after it received multiple reports of teleconferences and online classrooms being disrupted by hackers displaying hate messages or shouting profanities.
Part of the "Zoombombing" problem occurs because users tend to create public meetings out of convenience. That allows anyone to join a meeting as long as they have a link for it, according to Michael Gazeley, managing director and co-founder of cybersecurity firm Network Box.
"Details of conferences are often given out in a public manner, because organizers want as many attendees as possible," said Gazeley.
"With Zoom, it was possible to set up meetings without passwords, so of course many people did just that. Whenever humans are given a choice between convenience and security, convenience almost always wins," he said.
Zoom implemented stronger security measures last week, such as enabling passwords and virtual waiting rooms for users.
"We have been deeply upset by increasing reports of harassment on our platform and strongly condemn such behavior," a Zoom company spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
"We are listening to our community of users to help us evolve our approach and help our users guard against these attacks."
Security researchers previously found software vulnerabilities in Zoom, particularly for Mac users, where hackers could take over a user's webcam feed. Zoom has since fixed the issue.
Major social media companies are taking aim at Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's dismissal of social distancing, joining others in the country who have lined up against his controversial stance regarding the new coronavirus.
Facebook and Instagram removed posts by the far-right leader Monday night that showed Bolsonaro walking around outside capital Brasilia on Sunday and mingling with groups. It was yet another affront to World Health Organization recommendations to self-isolate as a means to contain the pandemic. The companies' move came one day after Twitter also removed some Bolsonaro posts.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, said in a statement that it removes content "that violates our community standards, which do not allow disinformation that might cause real damage to people."
Twitter justified its decision by saying in a statement that its rules prohibit content that runs "against public health information given by official sources and can put people at greater risk of transmitting COVID-19."
Bolsonaro is one of few world leaders who say the virus itself will cause less harm than shutting down the economy. In a national address Tuesday night, while repeating that same argument, he changed his rhetoric, calling the pandemic he once described as "a little flu" as "the biggest challenge of our generation." His speech was met with pot-banging protests for the 15th night in a row.
His defiance has received vocal backing from supporters — both on social media and in several cities where they staged demonstrations demanding life return to normal — but his attitude has also been rejected by mayors, state governors and judges. Even some members of Bolsonaro's own administration have insisted on broad lockdown measures that run contrary to his statements.
Last Thursday, Bolsonaro issued a decree that added religious activities to the list of "essential services," meaning churches could remain open even though governors had banned large gatherings. The decree was overruled by a federal court the following day.
Supreme Court Justice Marco Aurélio Mello authorized an opposition lawmaker's request for Bolsonaro's own prosecutor general to investigate an alleged crime committed by the president, the Supreme Court's website said Tuesday. The allegation of endangering the public is based on Bolsonaro encouraging people to disobey isolation measures, calling concern over the pandemic "hysteria" and characterizing the virus itself as "a little cold." The judge's action requires the prosecutor general to issue a legal opinion.
In an interview with the newspaper O Globo, Prosecutor General Augusto Aras said that Bolsonaro is free to express his opinion and go out in public so long as he doesn't issue any official decrees that counter broad lockdown guidelines, which could tread into territory that requires legal evaluation.
Despite the president's open skepticism, senior members of his own Cabinet have insisted on hewing closely to guidelines recommended by international health authorities. "Always technical, always scientific, always doing the maximum we can to preserve lives," Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta told reporters on Monday.
On Tuesday, Brazil's health ministry reported 5,717 cases of Covid-19 and 201 deaths, the largest figures in Latin America. That included more than 1,100 new cases since the prior day — by far Brazil's biggest single-day increase yet.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially the elderly and people with preexisting health conditions, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Bolsonaro has 12 million followers on Facebook, almost 16 million on Instagram and more than 6 million on Twitter. Social media was key for his election victory in 2018.
Twitter recently deleted posts from Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro for sharing speculation about possible unusual cures for Covid-19.
Facebook says a bug in its anti-spam system is blocking the publication of links to news stories about the coronavirus. Guy Rosen, Facebook's vice president of integrity, said on Twitter Tuesday that the company is working on fixing the problem.
Users are complaining that links to news stories about school closings and other information related to the virus outbreak being blocked by the company's automated system.
Rosen said the problems are unrelated to any changes to its content moderator workforce. The company reportedly sent its human moderators home this week.
A representative for Facebook did not immediately respond to questions on the status of Facebook's content moderators, many of whom do not work directly for the company and are not always able to work from home.