In an open letter to the European competition commissioner earlier this month, News Corp CEO Robert Thomson was highly critical of Google.
Thompson began by speaking warmly of Google’s roots as a “wonderfully feisty” Silicon Valley startup, but that developed into warnings over its immense power today as an “often unaccountable bureaucracy”. And, as is so often the case with Google’s rivals, matters soon turned to Google’s attitudes towards online piracy.
“The shining vision of Google’s founders has been replaced by a cynical management, which offers advertisers impressively precise data about users and content usage, but has been a platform for piracy and the spread of malicious networks, all while driving more traffic and online advertising dollars to Google,” Thompson said.
The News Corp statement was never likely to go unanswered and today Google officially returned fire.
“Google has done more than almost any other company to help tackle online piracy,” said Rachel Whetstone, Google’s senior vice president of global communications.
“In 2013 we removed 222 million web pages from Google Search due to copyright infringement. The average take-down time is now just six hours,” she added.
The SVP also underlined Google’s earlier assertions that sites found to repeatedly violate copyright get downgraded in search rankings. It’s something the movie studios and record labels have being demanding for some time but although Google insists it delivers, few content creators appear pleased with the results.
On YouTube, however, things play out somewhat differently. Whetstone reminded News Corp that Google has spent tens of millions of dollars developing technology such as its ContentID, a system that not only combats piracy but enables creators to monetize their content.
And hitting back at the accusation that Google has been a platform for the spread of malicious networks, Whetstone said the company is committed to protecting its users’ security.
“It’s why we remove malware from our search results and other products, and protect more than 1 billion users every day from phishing and malware with our Safe Browsing warnings,” she said.
In response to News Corp accusations that Google undermines the business models of high quality content creators with “egregious aggregation”, Whetstone said that the days of news being controlled by a small number of media organizations were over.
“Today, people have far greater choice. That has had a profound impact on newspapers, who face much stiffer competition for people’s attention and for advertising Euros,” the SVP said.
“Google has worked hard to help publishers succeed online — both in terms of generating new audiences and also increasing their digital revenues. Our search products drive over 10 billion clicks a month to 60,000 publishers’ websites, and we share billions of dollars annually with advertising publishing partners.”
Finally, in a moment of comedy but with a serious point, Whetston held up a mirror to News Corp in response to its argument that Google’s actions could lead to “a less informed, more vexatious level of dialogue in our society” and only add to “the intemperate trends we are already seeing in much of Europe.”
By linking to an image of a front page published by Murdoch’s ‘The Sun’ tabloid, Google makes clear that if you’re going to criticize others, getting your own house in order should always come first.