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(Image: Unsplash/Con Karampelas)

There’s an industry secret buried in the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) concepts paper on the proposed mandatory code between big media and big tech platforms released yesterday: big media wants the proposed code to give them access to the deep data that the big tech platforms have on news users.

Given media’s continued reliance on advertising, this ask is potentially more significant than their more-publicised request for a pay off from big tech platforms for using news snippets in search results and feeds.

The concepts paper seems to agree with big media, stating “as digital platforms obtain a benefit from the data they collect due to users’ interactions with news content published or distributed on their services, it may be reasonable for digital platforms to share this data with relevant news media businesses”.

News Corp, like most big media, has been attempting to build a broader, data-based understanding of its audience by aggregating what it knows about readers. This “first party data” is aggregated in its ad platform News IQ.

In announcing News IQ in December 2017, the company said it was integrating “all its first party data, premium media properties and data science tools into one unified advertising solution”. It’s all about capturing part of the ad-tech supply chain which, as Crikey reported this week, now absorbs half of all digital advertising dollars.

Google and Facebook have far deeper data about you than publishers do, including your interactions with websites, apps and platforms. Providing publishers with access to some or all of this data would, the publishers believe, give them greater ability to sell and target ads.

The ACCC concepts paper acknowledges concerns about privacy and user consent, but suggests this could be resolved through anonymisation. It also recognises that this sort of data access will benefit big media, potentially at the expense of smaller players.

Still, after the reporting that the media has done on tech platforms’ abuse of private data (hello, Cambridge Analytica), some seem to have shifted to “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mode.

Big media’s push for payments from tech platforms may be challenged by the biggest story about news in Australia: off the back of the bushfires and COVID-19, readers are increasingly abandoning News Corp for the ABC.

According to background data, news.com.au — once regularly a first or second site of choice — is slipping into third or fourth place. And after jumping into the lead over the summer, the ABC is consistently the news source of choice across almost all demographics.

Its lead is understood to be particularly strong among women — that audience most sought after by advertisers.

Meanwhile, there are increasing signs that behind-the-scenes talks may lead to the tech platforms agreeing to make some payment to news media, much as Facebook agreed to pay News Corp for content on its trial news tab in the US — still apparently in tests six months after launch.

Big issues still need to be thrashed out, as the concepts paper indicates: what counts as news? What about links that hit a paywall? What to do about related platforms like YouTube and Instagram?

And most importantly for companys’ revenues: what’s the value of news to Google and Facebook  — and what’s the offsetting return value in traffic that the platforms send the way of the publishers?

The net figure is likely to be significantly less than the $600 million to $1 billion tossed around by the publishers. The trick is to find a point that both sides can live with.

A guess? Somewhere north of $100 million shared across news media.

The potential winner? Maybe the ABC! That’ll please News Corp.

But Google, at least, may have bigger worries. Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal is reporting that Trump’s Department of Justice is planning anti-trust action against the platform.

The justification is thought to be over its attempt to dominate display advertising through its ad tech, much as it already dominates search.

It’s a further sign that the fight over data — not news — lies at the heart of the fight over the future of online media.

How do you feel about News Corp and other media going after your data? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section.