Tackle Big Tech’s self-handling

Tackle Big Tech's self-handling 1

News Corp. chief executive Robert Thomson said on Wednesday that if governments don’t act now to curb so-called “self-preference” online, the opportunity could be gone forever.

Two pieces of legislation now passing through Congress target the ability of companies that both market products and provide a sales platform to push their own goods to consumers while sidelining their competitors. For example, Amazon is able to promote Amazon-branded T-shirts in front of competitors when users search for T-shirts on the e-commerce giant’s site.

Speaking to WPP CEO Mark Read at WPP Beach, Thomson said the big risk is that without better oversight, e-commerce platforms could circumvent existing antitrust laws by setting up algorithms that “take advantage of [their] market power, meaningful but imperceptible.”

He later added, “We’re getting to the point where unless we solve these problems now, five years from now that ability to manipulate will be as real as it once has been, but virtually unprovable.”

“Why I support the debate is that it provides more knowledge about how they work. They are not mysterious, self-perpetuating mechanisms,” he said, “They have parameters set by humans.”

He said that one way News Corp. — which owns the Big Five book publisher HarperCollins — is vulnerable is that Amazon publishes audiobooks, but also owns the audiobook e-commerce platform Audible.

“95% of audiobooks in the US are sold through Audible,” he said, “The temptation to self-prefer is huge.”

Thomson and Read also discussed the prospects for Mark Zuckerberg’s comprehensive “Metaverse” project.

Thomson said its success depends on how eager the Facebook mogul is to shield it as his company’s own online fief, and how willing he is to let other companies interact with it. “Will it be the Merchverse or the Perverse,” he joked.

“The question is, how do you separate the hype from the reality,” said Read, who said excitement over the project may resemble crypto craze, which has been halted by the crypto market’s recent tanking.

Leave a Comment