Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. leads charge against Facebook, Google in Australia probe

News Corp, the Australia’s main newspaper group, led the charge in arguing that Facebook and Google’s dominance of digital advertising significantly undermined the news industry. (AFP)
Updated 03 May 2018

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. leads charge against Facebook, Google in Australia probe

  • Murdoch and other executives from the company have long led calls for Facebook and Google to “level the playing field” and pay news companies for their content
  • Facebook opposed calls for tighter regulation, saying the rapidly changing digital landscape made the platforms “a challenging subject for regulatory intervention”

SYDNEY: Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation accused Facebook and Google of “anti-competitive practices” in one of dozens of submissions to a probe of the tech giants released Thursday by Australia’s competition watchdog.
A total of 57 media companies, advertisers and journalist groups put forward their cases for changes in the operations of the Internet titans, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) reported.
News Corp, the country’s main newspaper group, its main competitor Fairfax Media and commercial broadcasters led the charge in arguing that Facebook and Google’s dominance of digital advertising significantly undermined the news industry.
“A number of digital platforms possess substantial market power and are engaging in anti-competitive practices that prevent publishers such as News Corp. Australia from competing on the merits,” the company said in a 144-page submission.
“These practices have the potential to profoundly damage the creation, distribution and consumption of news and journalism in Australia.”
Murdoch and other executives from the company, which also owns The Wall Street Journal and the Times of London, have long led calls for Facebook and Google to “level the playing field” and pay news companies for their content.
But The Australian newspaper said the ACCC submission, by alleging market abuses by the two companies, “represents a dramatic escalation of hostilities.”
The group stopped short of demanding regulation of Facebook and Google, saying “current laws may be sufficient to deal with our concerns.”
“However, it may also be the case that some further legislative, regulatory and/or policy intervention or changes are required.”
Fairfax complained that its main mastheads had seen their advertising revenue fall from A$800 million ($600 million) in 1999 to just A$225 million ($169m) in 2017 as Google and Facebook gobbled up digital advertising dollars. As a result, the group has shed hundreds of jobs.
But it also stopped short of demanding new regulations, saying this should be “a last resort,” and argued instead for the digital platforms to work collaboratively on solutions for the news media.
Distancing itself from News Corp, Fairfax also opposed making platforms pay for news content, saying this would be “impractical” and post risks for editorial independence.
Australia’s main television broadcasters — Seven, Nine and Ten — demanded some combination of revenue sharing and tighter regulation of the tech companies’ advertising activities.
“The ACCC must intervene to ensure that the competition for advertising revenue is occurring in a fair and effective manner,” said the Ten Network, recently purchased by US broadcaster CBS.
In its own submission to the ACCC made public last month, Facebook opposed calls for tighter regulation, saying the rapidly changing digital landscape made the platforms “a challenging subject for regulatory intervention.”
“Consumers often have the most to gain from market disruptions caused by technological change and the most to lose from interventions that are designed to protect particular business models from the effects of those changes,” it said.
Google added in its submission that “changes in consumer and marketing behavior have profound implications for traditional news business models. But they do not mean the death of journalism.”
The competition commission is expected to publish a preliminary report in December, and a final report next year.


US media questions Bezos hacking claims

Updated 25 January 2020

US media questions Bezos hacking claims

  • Experts said while hack “likely” occurred, investigation leaves too many “unanswered questions”
  • Specialists on Thursday said evidence was not strong enough to confirm

LONDON: An investigation into claims that the phone of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was hacked has been called into question by cybersecurity experts and several major US media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the Associated Press (AP).

Specialists on Thursday said evidence from the privately commissioned probe by FTI Consulting is not strong enough for a definitive conclusion, nor does it confirm with certainty that his phone was actually compromised.

The Wall Street Journal reported, late on Friday: “Manhattan federal prosecutors have evidence indicating Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend provided text messages to her brother that he then sold to the National Enquirer for its article about the Amazon.com Inc. founder’s affair, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Experts said while a hack “likely” occurred, the investigation leaves too many “unanswered questions,” including how a hack happened or which spyware program was used, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Steve Morgan, founder and editor-in-chief of New York-based Cybersecurity Ventures, said the probe makes “reasonable assumptions and speculations,” but does not claim 100 percent certainty or proof.

UK-based cybersecurity consultant Robert Pritchard said: “In some ways, the investigation is very incomplete … The conclusions they’ve drawn, I don’t think, are supported by the evidence. They veered off into conjecture.”

Alex Stamos, former chief security officer at Facebook, wrote that the FTI probe is filled with “circumstantial evidence but no smoking gun.”

Matt Suiche, a Dubai-based French entrepreneur and founder of cybersecurity firm Comae Technologies, told AP that the malicious file is presumably still on the hacked phone because the investigation shows a screenshot of it.

If the file had been deleted, he said the probe should have stated this or explained why it was not possible to retrieve it. “They’re not doing that. It shows poor quality of the investigation,” Suiche added.

Reports on Wednesday suggested that Saudi Arabia was involved in the phone of Bezos being hacked after he received a WhatsApp message sent from the personal account of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Saudi Embassy in the US denied the allegations, describing them as “absurd.” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan called the accusations “purely conjecture” and “absolutely silly,” saying if there was real evidence the Kingdom looked forward to seeing it.

A Wall Street Journal report quoted forensics specialists as saying the FTI investigation’s claims that Saudi Arabia was behind any possible hacking of the phone “appeared to forgo investigatory steps.”

CNN reported that critics of the probe highlighted a “lack of sophistication” in it, quoting Sarah Edwards, an instructor at the SANS Institute, as saying: “It does seem like (FTI) gave it a good try, but it seems they’re just not as knowledgeable in the mobile forensics realm as they could have been.”

The New York Times said the probe tried to find links between the possible hacking of the phone and an article in the National Enquirer about the Amazon CEO’s extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez, but any link remains “elusive.”

National Enquirer owner American Media said in a statement regarding the source of the leak on Sanchez’s involvement with Bezos: “The single source of our reporting has been well documented, in September 2018 Michael Sanchez began providing all materials and information to our reporters. Any suggestion that a third party was involved in or in any way influenced our reporting is false.”