Friday 19 February 2021 3:01 pm

Time Out boss: Tech giants have destroyed internet freedom

The unbridled power of tech giants such as Google and Facebook has destroyed the concept of freedom on the internet, the chief executive of Time Out has said.

In an interview with City A.M., Julio Bruno said that while tech companies had given us “a lot of good things”, they now exerted too much control over how consumers used the internet.

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“If you think about it there is no freedom. There is a fog of misinformation that we are being subjected to, echo chambers of information… the algorithm decides what you should be watching or reading,” he said.

“To be honest, you have to really work hard to find contrasting information these days.”

The comments come after Facebook blocked access to news in Australia amid an escalating row over whether tech platforms should pay publishers for use of their content.

The move left users in the country unable to view or share articles from a range of news sources, including Time Out.

Bruno said his company was “blindsided” by the ban, describing publishers as the “collateral” in a feud between Big Tech executives and government ministers.

He also took aim at Facebook for not considering Time Out for inclusion in a licensing agreement signed with a number of newspapers and magazines, but subjecting it to the news blackout.

Read more: Screenshot: Will Facebook regret going nuclear over Australian news?

‘There is no playing field’

Bruno, who has led the FTSE-listed media group since 2016, dismissed suggestions that news outlets were simply looking for handouts from their deep-pocketed rivals in Silicon Valley.

“I don’t think publishers are saying: ‘Because my model is broken you have to pay me’… First, who broke the model?”

The Time Out boss called for new regulation to tackle the power of the so-called duopoly of Google and Facebook, which now take roughly 80 per cent of all digital ad spend in the UK.

In a report last year a House of Lords committee called for tough new laws to fix the “dysfunctional” ad market and address the “fundamental imbalance of power” between platforms and publishers.

“At the moment there is no playing field,” Bruno said. “Competition is essential, but unfair competition is not.”

However, Bruno stopped short of calling for a full break-up of Big Tech, acknowledging that the platforms did have some positive influence.

“We have to be careful. They have done a lot of good, but that doesn’t mean everything they do is good.”

Read more: Australian Facebook ban: A political gamble gone terribly wrong