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Nigeria Ends Seventh-Month Twitter Ban as Company Agrees to Policy Changes

Report from the New York Times

In Brief – After a seven-month standoff during which the Government of Nigeria banned Twitter for content moderation decisions that culminated with the platform deleting a controversial tweet made by the country’s President, in which he threatened to punish secessionists, as well as temporarily freezing his account, the company has agreed to a series of in-country business operations changes and the service has been restored. Twitter commitments include establishing an office in the country, paying corporate taxes, and appointing a representative to engage with authorities. While Nigeria’s telecom companies implemented the government’s June order, largely blocking direct access to the platform, many Nigerians reportedly employed VPNs to bypass the domain restrictions. A September report had indicated that the government had ten demands to restore Twitter, three of which were not yet met.

Context – Nigeria’s Twitter ban has not been a standalone government effort to restrict the influence of social media in Africa. The Ugandan Government shutdown the entire Internet in the country for a week last January surrounding the country’s national elections, many social media sites remained blocked for nearly a month, and Facebook, which was widely used by the political opposition, was blocked through June. Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were also subject to a shutdown in Ethiopia. However, while government efforts to control disruptive social media sites are on the rise in Africa, it is simply in line with global trends. Look to RussiaTurkey, India and a collection of regimes in Central Asia, with all of them looking up to China as the model of comprehensive digital communications control. Finally, some free speech advocates are willing to point out that when Western governments regulate social media platform content moderation, such as through the proposed UK Online Safety Bill or EU Digital Services Act, it empowers repressive regimes to engage according to their tastes in online speech.

Google Offers to Drop the News Showcase Box from General Search in Germany

Report from Reuters

In Brief – In a unique twist to the global media payments saga, the Bundeskartellamt, the German competition authority, has reported that Google has offered to remove the Google News Showcase from its search engine results page. The Google News Showcase is a curated media content service created by Google in 2020 to help address criticism from media companies and their friends in government that its search and digital advertising dominance was unfairly harming the media industry. While media companies called for payment when their content appeared in search results, a process Google strongly rejected, the company pledged $1 billion to pay media companies to use content in specialized services, with its News Showcase as the highest profile example. While Google has signed up hundreds of media companies to the paid program, including in Germany, the Bundeskartellamt raised concerns that paying some media companies, but not all, could create a range of anticompetitive incentives, including that media companies might join the program in the hope of getting better treatment in Google search.

Context – The effort to squeeze payments for media companies out of Google (and now Facebook) goes back years because the Internet turned the media business model upside down early on. While France and Australia have been the most aggressive in recent years, Germany and Spain were unsuccessful early aggressors. Both Google and Facebook now operate large media services that pay for licensed content to forestall efforts to force payments for search results and user-posted links. Google’s experience with France, the first EU country to enact “neighboring rights” for media snippets, has been rocky, with France’s antitrust authority ordering Google to negotiate deals with publishers in April, and then fining the company 500 million euros in July for not negotiating in good faith. Facebook is now heading down the same path. And both companies threatened to shut down key services in Australia before a truce was engineered last year.

Federal Judge Allows Revised FTC Antitrust Case Against Facebook to Proceed

Report from CNBCIn Brief – Federal Judge James Boasberg, who shocked most legal and tech policy observers in June by granting Facebook’s motions to dismiss against the high-profile antitrust complaints filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a large coalition of State Attorneys General, has now ruled that the amended complaint from the FTC can proceed. Judge Boasberg rejected the State AGs authority to challenge the Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions so many years after the fact, but his criticism of the FTC focused on what he saw as a lack of substance and data to back up their claims. The FTC’s amended complaint put more heft behind the allegation that Facebook is a “personal social networking” company who’s top competitor is Snapchat, that giant platforms like TikTok, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest operate in different markets, and added data showing that Facebook has held at least an 80% share of that market since 2012. On other points, both sides suffered setbacks. The judge rejected Facebook’s argument that FTC Chair Lina Khan should be recused (certain to be analyzed by Amazon), while he did dismiss one of charges in the FTC case, ruling that the FTC couldn’t move forward with allegations that the company used strong-arm tactics to weaken competitors.Context – Judge Boasberg granting the initial motions to dismiss was always a bit out of left field and it never seemed he thought the FTC rejection would stand. Now, like in many antitrust cases, defining the market Facebook operates in will prove key. If the relevant market is “personal social networking,” which seems to read as being social media services designed like Facebook and not like TikTok or YouTube, then Facebook is dominant and the case flows from there. Facebook argues that their business is digital advertising and they compete with other social media giants for user attention and advertiser dollars. They claim they are not remotely dominant in that market. By the way, the State AGs are appealing their dismissal. The court process for all of this is expected to take years.

Apple Submits Payments Choice Plan in Korea (Shockingly, They Still Plan to Collect Fees)

Report from The Korea Herald

In Brief – The Korean Communications Commission (KCC) has announced that Apple intends to allow apps distributed through the App Store in South Korea to use payments alternatives to Apple’s service. The intention is to bring the company into compliance with the app payments law enacted last August that bans Google and Apple from forcing app developers to use their proprietary payments services for in-app purchases. Apple has indicated to the regulator that it plans to allow app developers to choose from alternative payment services and those apps will be charged a reduced commission compared with Apple’s current 15 or 30 percent rate. The level of the fee reduction has not been released. In addition, it is not yeat clear when Apple plans to have the new payments regime go into effect.

Context – It has become increasingly clear that Apple, like Google, would need to develop a new way to collect the commissions they charge app developers who generate revenue by making digital sales over their mobile operating systems. App developers, led by Epic Games, but including a handful of other large businesses, have focused their lobbying and legal efforts on overturning Apple and Google policies that require developers to use their proprietary payments services. However, a key point is that those payments services are the bill collection method used by the platform, not the reason for the fees. They allow both platforms to conveniently collect fees while avoiding circumvention, cheating and late payments. The developments in Korea are noteworthy because Google has announced that they will allow payments alternatives. But that does not mean an end to fees. Instead, they will reduce fees by 4 percent. For example, 26% rather than 30%. They will collect the rest in a new way. As we’ve been predicting for months, Apple now appears to be doing the same. Epic Games’ angry reaction to the new Google payments and fee policy illustrates that their goal is for courts or regulators to simply force lower fees. Apple creating an alternative fee collection system should make that even more clear.

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Platform Economy Insights aims to provide small-to-mid-sized digital platform business leaders, investors and firms that support industry growth, and public officials, staff and media who track the platform economy, with expert analysis of public policy trends impacting the digital platform industry globally. 

Executive Editor Brian Bieron and Senior Advisor Tod Cohen are recognized Internet, trade and platform policy leaders who have served as top global public policy experts to some of the Internet industry's leading platform businesses. They are now providing insights, analysis and reporting to wider audiences through a public policy platform that challenges the reach of all but the largest Internet industry public affairs teams.