The UK's Cairncross Review calls for Google, Facebook to be regulated – and life support for journalism

An Arts Council for news?

A UK government-backed review has decided against a punitive tax on Google and Facebook – but called for competition authorities to investigate their core business. It also wants a new news quango.

The review – chaired by Dame Frances Cairncross, a former senior ed at The Economist – was set up to investigate the viability of the news market, the role of search engines and social media, and the digital ad biz ("fake news" was beyond its remit). The report, published today, has come up with largely bland (but implementable) recommendations (PDF).

Several countries have considered a tax to fund journalism, particularly local journalism, and France imposed a levy on the tech giants from 1 January. The review, however, demurred.

Map of Europe, with lock symbolizing GDPR

GDPR stands for Google Doing Positively, Regardless. Webpage trackers down in Europe – except Big G's


Instead it has asked for the Competition and Markets Authority to probe whether Facebook and Google have too much power and harm consumers. The duopoly accounts for a large proportion of ad spending (84 per cent of all spending outside China), and almost all new ad spending. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has actually cemented Google's position, a study has found.

The review recommended that the Competition and Markets Authority uses its information-gathering powers to conduct a market study into the online advertising industry.

"By looking more closely into the position of different players, their roles, costs and profitability, the CMA will be able to identify how efficiently the online advertising market is working, and what remedies, if any, are needed," it said.

Google and Facebook's handling of news should be formally scrutinised by a regulator "with powers to insist on compliance". And a new quango – the "Institute for Public Interest News" – will be set up to divert funds to worthy news projects.

The fund "should focus on innovation that will not just benefit the recipient, but be sufficiently generous and well-managed to make an industry-wide difference".

"The Institute might become a rough equivalent to the Arts Council, channelling a combination of public and private finance into those parts of the industry it deemed most worthy of support," the review mused.

The UK's public service broadcaster, the BBC, came under fire from commercial rivals for publishing "soft news", such as features about ITV reality show Love Island. The Beeb responded that someone drawn to a page for Love Island would stay for the hard-hitting, public-interest journalism. A bold argument, we reckon. ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading
  • Utility biz Delta-Montrose Electric Association loses billing capability and two decades of records after cyber attack

    All together now - R, A, N, S, O...

    A US utility company based in Colorado was hit by a ransomware attack in November that wiped out two decades' worth of records and knocked out billing systems that won't be restored until next week at the earliest.

    The attack was detailed by the Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) in a post on its website explaining that current customers won't be penalised for being unable to pay their bills because of the incident.

    "We are a victim of a malicious cyber security attack. In the middle of an investigation, that is as far as I’m willing to go," DMEA chief exec Alyssa Clemsen Roberts told a public board meeting, as reported by a local paper.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021