News Corp. Chief executive Robert Thomson said Wednesday that if governments do not take action now to curb so-called “self-preferencing” online, the opportunity may be gone forever.
Two pieces of legislation are now going through Congress targeting companies of ability that both market products and also provide a sales platform to push their own products in front of consumers while sidelining their competitors. For example, Amazon is able to promote Amazon-branded T-shirts ahead of rivals’ when users search the e-commerce giant’s site for T-shirts.
In a conversation with WPP CEO Mark Read at WPP Beach, Thomson said the big risk is that without better oversight, e-commerce platforms could skirt existing antitrust laws by setting algorithms that “take advantage of [their] market power, meaningfully but imperceptibly. “
He added later, “We’re getting to that point where, unless we resolve these issues now, in five years time that ability will be manipulated as real as it ever is, but virtually unprovable.”
“Why I support the debate is that it brings more knowledge about how they work. They’re not mysterious, self-perpetuating mechanisms, “he said,” They have parameters set by people. “
He said that in a way in which News Corp. – which owns the Big Five book publishing house HarperCollins – is vulnerable, that Amazon publishes audiobooks but also owns audiobook e-commerce platform Audible.
“95% of audiobooks in the US are sold through Audible,” he said, “The temptation to self-preference is enormous.”
Thomson and Read also discussed the prospects for Mark Zuckerberg’s all-encompassing “Metaverse” project.
Thomson said its success may hinge on how much Facebook wants to mogul it off its company’s own online fiefdom, and how willing it is to allow other companies to interact with it. “Is it going to be the Merchverse, or the Perverse,” he quipped.
“The question is, how do you separate the hype from the reality,” said Read, who said that the excitement about the project might be like crypto craze, which has been stopped in its tracks by the recent tanking of the crypto market.
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