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Canberra’s fight with Facebook is nothing new

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Ian Martin

Governments have been balancing disruptive technologies and established interests since the telegraph arrived.

Ian MartinContributor

The willingness of the Australian government to take on global social media giants in defence of diversity in Australia’s commercial media might have surprised some people. However, there is a long history of Australian governments working to balance global communications interests with domestic communications policy.

In 1853 a young Canadian, Samuel McGowan, arrived in Melbourne with Australia’s first electronic communications investment including telegraphy kit, telegraphy experts and a business plan to connect Victoria’s goldfields to Melbourne and the other colonies.

Telstra’s Sol Trujillo was bypassed when he took on the Rudd government over broadband.  Getty

Media interests of the day were enthusiastic but wary of the disruptive role private telegraphy might play. The Victorian Legislative Council quickly passed the Electric Telegraphy Act 1854, which reserved telegraphy service to the government.

Following its assent, lieutenant-governor Charles La Trobe reported to the council: “It is with some degree of pride that I claim for Victoria the first successful application of the system of Electric Telegraph communication within the southern hemisphere.” There was no mention of McGowan, although he was subsequently hired to run the new Victorian electric telegraph department.

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Electronic communications became so important to the cohesion of the Australian colonies by the time of Federation that it had taken a prime position in section 51 of the constitution in terms of parliamentary powers, alongside trade and commerce, taxation and defence.

And the recurring theme of balancing global communications technology investment with local commercial and media interests played out numerous times through the 20th century. The response of the new Commonwealth government to the Marconi Company’s offers was to pass the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1905 reserving wireless services to the government, and similar stories followed.

The model changed substantially in the 1990s when the Hawke government recognised that a well-regulated access regime could deliver the service benefits without discouraging investment in new technology and infrastructure. It licensed several overseas telecoms companies to offer services within a regulated access model.

The news media and digital platforms mandatory bargaining code follows a similar economic logic. It aim to rebalance bargaining power between social media platforms with great market power, and smaller service providers who gain from getting their content hosted on the platform.

Look no further than the response to Telstra a decade ago when it stood in the way of the Rudd government’s broadband vision.

Social media is another chapter in a long history of getting the gains from a rapidly growing global communications technology, while ensuring workable economics for the domestic markets that have to rely on the technology. There is also a need to make sure that enough media businesses survive to preserve diversity in the sector.

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So now, well into the 21st century, with the internet established as a disruptive communications force in media and much of the rest of the economy, how far will the government go to ensure these technologies don’t further undermine media and other services? Look no further than the response to Telstra a decade ago when it stood in the way of the Rudd government’s vision for a national broadband network.

Telstra at that time was run by another American keen to make a point about commercial interest in technology deployment, its CEO Sol Trujillo. He had a good point in that the NBN could only be built with the use of Telstra’s $32 billion copper network.

All of the rival bidders for the NBN project in November 2008 expected to co-opt that network at no cost to themselves, but potentially leaving the government with a massive compensation bill. Telstra’s NBN bid was ruled out of contention when it withheld substantial parts of its bid while it sought assurance over its structure and commercial interests.

With its NBN plans in disarray, the Rudd government decided in April 2009 that it would bypass Telstra and build its own full fibre network at a cost of $43 billion – a massive underestimate, as it turned out.

Of course it was easier for government to make those open-ended commitments 10 years ago, when it carried little debt, and it may now be less willing to invest substantially to support rival social media platforms. On the other hand, they would be a lot cheaper to support financially than the NBN.

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In any case, it’s not the support of rival platforms that is the issue in this case but, rather, the establishment of a model supported by regulation in which interests are sufficiently balanced to deal commercially with news companies in Australia.

Again, look at how far the Australian government and the competition regulator were prepared to go 10 years ago to encourage Telstra to see the merits of the NBN policy.

The lesson is to align interests

As it turned out, even with a full-fibre network, NBN Co still needed Telstra’s support to migrate customers from copper to fibre and to provide essential infrastructure.

To ensure it got that support, Parliament passed legislation in 2010 that would allow the minister to withhold spectrum from Telstra and apply punitive regulation if it didn’t reach a commercial agreement with NBN Co. And the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission helpfully dropped its valuation of the copper network to $17 billion. And that was an Australian company with 1.3 million shareholders.

If the social media companies want an outcome that works in their best long-term interest, they should study Telstra’s response after it had sent Trujillo home and established a more conciliatory management team. Co-operate, align your interests with government policy, get a long-dated agreement, and get it in writing, because the contract is protected by the constitution.

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Faced with an implacable government and opportunistic regulation, Telstra was in a weak bargaining position in 2010. In those circumstances it negotiated a remarkable agreement that protected much of the shareholder investment threatened by the NBN. The outcome hurt Telstra financially as NBN migration peaked, but there is substantial ongoing value largely unrecognised in Telstra’s long-term NBN agreement.

Social media companies would do well to learn these lessons if they intend to continue to invest in the Australian communications market.

There is a well established history of government intervention to balance global and local interests, and the interests that have prospered over the years are those that have best recognised the required balance and worked towards it.

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Ian Martin is a senior telecommunications analyst at New Street Research.

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Updating Special Ad Audiences for housing, employment, and credit advertisers

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On June 21, 2022 we announced an important settlement with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that will change the way we deliver housing ads to people residing in the US. Specifically, we are building into our ads system a method designed to make sure the audience that ends up seeing a housing ad more closely reflects the eligible targeted audience for that ad.

As part of this agreement, we will also be sunsetting Special Ad Audiences, a tool that lets advertisers expand their audiences for ad sets related to housing. We are choosing to sunset this for employment and credit ads as well. In 2019, in addition to eliminating certain targeting options for housing, employment and credit ads, we introduced Special Ad Audiences as an alternative to Lookalike Audiences. But the field of fairness in machine learning is a dynamic and evolving one, and Special Ad Audiences was an early way to address concerns. Now, our focus will move to new approaches to improve fairness, including the method previously announced.

What’s happening: We’re removing the ability to create Special Ad Audiences via Ads Manager beginning on August 25, 2022.

Beginning October 12th, 2022, we will pause any remaining ad sets that contain Special Ad Audiences. These ad sets may be restarted once advertisers have removed any and all Special Ad Audiences from those ad sets. We are providing a two month window between preventing new Special Ad Audiences and pausing existing Special Ad Audiences to enable advertisers the time to adjust budgets and strategies as needed.

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For more details, please visit our Newsroom post.

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Impact to Advertisers using Marketing API on September 13, 2022

For advertisers and partners using the API listed below, the blocking of new Special Ad Audience creation will present a breaking change on all versions. Beginning August 15, 2022, developers can start to implement the code changes, and will have until September 13, 2022, when the non-versioning change occurs and prior values are deprecated. Refer below to the list of impacted endpoints related to this deprecation:

For reading audience:

  • endpoint gr:get:AdAccount/customaudiences
  • field operation_status

For adset creation:

  • endpoint gr:post:AdAccount/adsets
  • field subtype

For adset editing:

  • endpoint gr:post:AdCampaign
  • field subtype

For custom audience creation:

  • endpoint gr:post:AdAccount/customaudiences
  • field subtype

For custom audience editing:

  • endpoint gr:post:CustomAudience

Please refer to the developer documentation for further details to support code implementation.

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Introducing an Update to the Data Protection Assessment

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Over the coming year, some apps with access to certain types of user data on our platforms will be required to complete the annual Data Protection Assessment. We have made a number of improvements to this process since our launch last year, when we introduced our first iteration of the assessment.

The updated Data Protection Assessment will include a new developer experience that is enhanced through streamlined communications, direct support, and clear status updates. Today, we’re sharing what you can expect from these new updates and how you can best prepare for completing this important privacy requirement if your app is within scope.

If your app is in scope for the Data Protection Assessment, and you’re an app admin, you’ll receive an email and a message in your app’s Alert Inbox when it’s time to complete the annual assessment. You and your team of experts will then have 60 calendar days to complete the assessment. We’ve built a new platform that enhances the user experience of completing the Data Protection Assessment. These updates to the platform are based on learnings over the past year from our partnership with the developer community. When completing the assessment, you can expect:

  • Streamlined communication: All communications and required actions will be through the My Apps page. You’ll be notified of pending communications requiring your response via your Alerts Inbox, email, and notifications in the My Apps page.

    Note: Other programs may still communicate with you through the App Contact Email.

  • Available support: Ability to engage with Meta teams via the Support tool to seek clarification on the questions within the Data Protection Assessment prior to submission and help with any requests for more info, or to resolve violations.

    Note: To access this feature, you will need to add the app and app admins to your Business Manager. Please refer to those links for step-by-step guides.

  • Clear status updates: Easy to understand status and timeline indicators throughout the process in the App Dashboard, App Settings, and My Apps page.
  • Straightforward reviewer follow-ups: Streamlined experience for any follow-ups from our reviewers, all via developers.facebook.com.

We’ve included a brief video that provides a walkthrough of the experience you’ll have with the Data Protection Assessment:

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The Data Protection Assessment elevates the importance of data security and helps gain the trust of the billions of people who use our products and services around the world. That’s why we are committed to providing a seamless experience for our partners as you complete this important privacy requirement.

Here is what you can do now to prepare for the assessment:

  1. Make sure you are reachable: Update your developer or business account contact email and notification settings.
  2. Review the questions in the Data Protection Assessment and engage with your teams on how best to answer these questions. You may have to enlist the help of your legal and information security points of contact to answer some parts of the assessment.
  3. Review Meta Platform Terms and our Developer Policies.

We know that when people choose to share their data, we’re able to work with the developer community to safely deliver rich and relevant experiences that create value for people and businesses. It’s a privilege we share when people grant us access to their data, and it’s imperative that we protect that data in order to maintain and build upon their trust. This is why the Data Protection Assessment focuses on data use, data sharing and data security.

Data privacy is challenging and complex, and we’re dedicated to continuously improving the processes to safeguard user privacy on our platform. Thank you for partnering with us as we continue to build a safer, more sustainable platform.

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Resources for Completing App Store Data Practice Questionnaires for Apps That Include the Facebook or Audience Network SDK

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Resources for Completing App Store Data Practice Questionnaires for Apps That Include the Facebook or Audience Network SDK

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