Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of marketing services giant WPP, slammed Google, Facebook, AOL, and Yahoo over their refusal to be take editorial responsibility for their content they publish.
In a video interview with Mark Sweney at The Guardian newspaper, (1.08 minutes) he says that by calling themselves "tech companies," rather than media companies, they are hiding.
"If you have responsibility for the pipe, you can't ignore the responsibility for the editorial content… you can't abrogate responsibility."
Will regulators also start to see these US media-tech giants as media companies? If they did and took away their legal protection, which is the same as that given to telecommunications companies, it would result in a massive jump in business costs. They would have to hire tens of thousands of workers to monitor content before it is published.
It's unlikely that this would happen in the US but it could happen in other countries. In 2010 Italian courts ruled that Google was responsible for child abuse videos hosted and promoted on the Italian version of Youtube. It indicted three senior Google executives and sentenced them to six months prison terms, suspended.
The New York Times reported that this verdict had "sweeping implications."
It suggests that Google is not simply a tool for its users, as it contends, but is effectively no different from any other media company, like newspapers or television, that provides content and could be regulated.
This is the danger US tech media companies face in Europe that they could become regulated as media companies. It would certainly level the playing field with older media companies.
Google isn't very popular around Europe these days because of its massive-but-legal tax evasion in the UK; numerous European data privacy law violations; lawsuits over its mass book copying; and more. Google's unpopularity could sink the entire group: Yahoo, AOL, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and even Amazon -- if European regulators were to feel it would be in the public interest to classify Google as a media company. It would spill over to the other "tech companies."
If that happened it would also expose them to civil suits from individuals and companies claiming to be harmed by content that they published.
Sir Martin clearly sees them as media companies and that's not good for these US giants. WPP's $16.1 billion in revenues relies heavily on media buys with traditional media companies. It's a far more profitable line of business than running Google AdWord campaigns for clients.
Slowing down the disruption in the media sector would be a very good thing for WPP and its shareholders. It might even make to use of its own services, its very effective machinery of influence, to make sure these companies are treated as media companies under European laws.