The hypocrisy of Google News

So Google News is effectively an aggregator. An aggregator that combs the Internet’s news publishers for news and stories and then presents them in a collected format.

It effectively reformats parts of the content and displays them on its own Google News site.

So why aren’t other sites allowed to do the same? According the Google News Terms of Service it’s an absolute no-no.

You may only display the content of the Service for your own personal use (i.e., non-commercial use) and may not otherwise copy, reproduce, alter, modify, create derivative works, or publicly display any content. For example, you may not use the Service to sell a product or service; use the Service to increase traffic to your Web site for commercial reasons, such as advertising sales; take the results from the Service and reformat and display them, or use any robot, spider, other device or manual process to monitor or copy any content from the Service. If you are uncertain whether your intended use of the Service is permissible, please contact us. In addition, Google shall have the right in its sole discretion to suspend or terminate the Service or your access to it.

Another example of Google having a rule for themselves, another for everyone else.

Let’s look at this …

You may only display the content of the Service for your own personal use (i.e., non-commercial use) – But Google can display the content of others for commercial use. Ok.

For example, you may not use the Service to sell a product or service; use the Service to increase traffic to your Web site for commercial reasons, such as advertising sales; take the results from the Service and reformat and display them, or use any robot, spider, other device or manual process to monitor or copy any content from the Service (ok – so you can’t basically do what Google do. Comb content. Redeistribute it and sell ads against it)

One rule for Goog, another for the rest of us. I guess Google are the smart ones here – stopping others from ripping their content (well … not their content … but content they’ve taken) and not paying for it … whilst the rest of the world welcomes them taking their content with open arms and a big thankyou.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not against aggregators. I like them and think they play a role … I think we need to look a lot more closely at how the aggregators compensate the creators of the content they aggregate. Because – and we should all remember this – without that content, the aggregator plays absolutely no purpose.

Edit: This story isn’t a new one (which was news to me as I only heard today via a friend). Techcrunch covered it over 2 years ago here . Still very relevant considering the debate around aggregation happening now.


15 responses to “The hypocrisy of Google News

  1. Hi Ben. While it would be great if Google were more permissive in this area, calling them hypocritical is a bit of a stretch. Google gives every news publisher a choice about whether they participate in Google News. They respect the right of the site choose. Google is exercising that right themselves.

  2. talkingdigital

    Google’s approach is more an assumption it’s okay, rather than asking for permission.

    Anyway, I thought it was interesting that they don’t allow people to comb their news site for commercial purposes, but the site itself is a collection of combed data/editorial. Another example of Google’s often one way approach to sharing info.

  3. ‘ere, ‘ere!

    I blogged about this early last year:

    “Does it have a commercial, even moral, obligation to support traditional media models (particularly when print-based media companies only really have themselves to blame for the mess they find themselves in)? Absolutely not. But perhaps it should ask itself just what news content it will aggregate as these companies shed journalists, cut back on original reporting, or simply fold altogether?”

  4. So it’s “do as I say” and not “do as I do”.

    It’s definitely a one-way street. That would probably pass muster as ‘hypocrisy’ in most people’s eyes.

  5. You’re confused about what the actual creative work here is. Google’s _compilation_ of news is the value they’re creating. copying that outright means you’re breaching their copyright in the compilation. It’s like the White Pages doesn’t own the copyright in “John Smith, (02) 1234 5678” but they do own the copyright in the compilation of Sydney phone numbers.

    Google taking headings and intro paragraphs of news is fair dealing. If they scraped the exact combination of stories on the front page of, that wouldn’t be on.

    Regardless, any Internet property who can’t make money from someone sending them loads of traffic is doing something badly wrong.

  6. talkingdigital

    hey simon,

    thanks for the comment.

    i don’t think there’s a heap of difference betwene the human and financial resources to create articles (ie copy and headlines) and the resource required to create technology to scrape. i think comparing it to the whitepages is a bit of a stretch – the two are different. The majority of numbers in the white pages are telstra clients using telstra infrastructure. Still – even if they are the same … it’s a bit dismissive to assume what Google is doing is fair but scraping their content (what if we just scraped the headlines and not the pics) is completely disallowed.

    Re “any Internet property who can’t make money from someone sending them loads of traffic is doing something badly wrong” … that’s a big statement. Given most internet properties struggle to make good money I guess they’re all doing something wrong. Maybe the something wrong is giving their content away for free and letting one company make loads of revenue with amazing margins whilst they all battle to even break even?

  7. Simon, poor analogy.

    Let me see. How long does it take to compile “John Smith, (02) 1234 5678”. Seconds.

    That is, the content is minor and to the public trivial. The aggregation is also relatively simple but does add value.

    So, would I be allowed to “appropriate” the Mona Lisa pixel by pixel and post that as my own work?

    Finally, your assumption that all traffic is of equal value is so ludicrously wrong that it is laughable. And by the way … around 20% of all traffic are crawlers, scrapers, bots and spiders … and guess who the majority of that is.

    For your sake, I just hope you never find yourself in the situation of having spent a big chunk of your career/life creating something bespoke and into which you invested lots of money as well as blood, sweat and tears to find it splattered everywhere with no payback to yourself.

  8. Jonathon Oake

    Here’s a thought: if Google are hypocrites, so are newspapers!

    Newspapers aggregate a LOT of third party content, then use it to make a LOT of advertising dollars: just like Google

    TV listings, sports results, weather reports … all of that is third party content created by TV networks, sports teams and meteorological institutes. Newspapers take it and use it to sell papers and hence advertising. And I haven’t checked, but I’m willing to bet Murdoch et al wouldn’t like it if I photocopied their TV listings page and sold it for 20 cents, even though the only value they’ve produced is through aggregation and distribution rather than creation…

  9. talkingdigital

    good point jonathon … something i was thinking about yesterday when news brands will cover stories other outlets are breaking and investing in (like tmz with mj, tiger woods etc)

    generally newspapers do pay for things like tv guides, horoscopes etc though.

  10. Here’s another thought Jonathan.

    AAP Reuters.

    I think you will find that most newspapers are members/subscribers to such syndicated news gathering services and PAY for that content.

    Newspapers PAY for programme listings. They DON’T pay for sports results, because their PAID reporter writes the story based around the game and the result of the game. To the best of my knowledge, they DON’T pay for meteorological information as that is a public domain service provided free by the government. They do PAY for cartoons, crosswords, puzzles, horoscopes et. al.

    I think your analogy to Google is crumbling rapidly.

  11. Jonathon Oake

    … not sure i agree! I realise newspapers syndicate content from 3rd party news agencies, as indeed Google recently announced an agreement with Associated Press for exactly the same thing …

    The key point is both Google and the newspapers operate as distributors in the same content economy, though obviously not to the same scale. Some of the content they pay for (such as Youtube’s deal with IPL cricket), and the bulk of it they don’t.

    I have a newspaper in front of me – the one I happen to work for – and a quick look through shows that about 3/4 is third party and 1/4 original. And that’s my real point – the opposition between ‘good’ creators and ‘bad’ distributors is a false one. The real problem for newspapers is not the stealing of content – it’s that Google are just much better and more efficient at distributing this content (paid or free) than they are.

  12. I’ll take your 75% syndicated vs 25% original break as pretty much on the money.

    I agree that the distribution costs are a significant issue, but salaries that relate to content creation are extremely substantial for both newspapers and magazines. That is a cost that an aggregator doesn’t have because they don’t create content – which is my very point!

    But further the ‘syndication costs’ for Google that you refer to are (i) very recent (ii) relatively minor in value (iii) simply place Google begrudgingly on the same basis as every other press publisher in the world. If Google’s syndication costs were in the same realm as print’s you would hear them scream blue murder.

    No-one is debating Google’s distribution efficiency. The debate revolves around the financial restitution (as opposed to financial opportunity) Google makes to the content creator. By all means Google can financially leverage their distribution efficiency – but not at the expense of those who created what was distributed.

  13. talkingdigital

    hey jonathon, has google signed the AP deal? from everything I’ve read this hasn’t been renewed and has expired … but there hasn’t been much on it the last few days.

    re the IPL deal … this feels to me like a really expensive trade marketing exercise for youtube to try and get large scale advertisers confident in youtube’s content quality. ie – sign a rights deal with a large scale sports event and promote this to advertisers as a display of youtube’s want to transform from the worlds funniest home videos UGC mess into some sort of orderly professional content distributor

  14. Jonathon Oake

    hi john, re: financial restitution … this is a much bigger and older debate, and i think we might need to agree to disagree!
    one thing we may agree on though is I would actually like to see Google pull the plug on the News service: they probably wouldn’t notice the drop in revenues (although some reports put the figure as high as $100m in ‘search referral’ revenue) and it would show they’re serious about working with publishers in new digital trading conditions.
    ben: google announced a deal with AP to host their content, but it’s apparently under discussion still so no new AP content has gone up yet

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