The world’s largest and most powerful technology companies are getting used to pushback from governments and regulators around the world. Yet the evisceration they received when home affairs minister Peter Dutton took to the stage at the National Press Club in October last year may have taken them by surprise.

In a speech crafted to hit the US-based giants where it hurt, a pugnacious Dutton asked why the companies were opposing his government’s request for access to decrypted messages carried by services such as Signal and Facebook’s WhatsApp, given they had few qualms about doing business with the world’s most repressive regimes.

These companies were operating “in less democratic countries and accepting… a compromise on privacy to allow their presence in these growth markets,” he said, without naming his targets — although Google’s work on a censored search engine in China can’t have been far from his mind. They are “the same companies that need to be hounded to pay tax in Australia and other jurisdictions,” he added, “and the same companies who have misused personal data to commercial advantage.”

As knife twisting goes, Dutton was in top form. The “misuse of personal data” line was a reference to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which Facebook revealed it had allowed a British political consultancy to harvest the data of millions of users — including more than 300,000 Australians — without their consent. As for tax dodging, he was obviously alluding to Apple, Facebook and Google sidestepping European Union tax regimes by moving their profits to Luxembourg, Ireland, Malta and other zero- or low-tax jurisdictions.

Why the sudden antagonism? What had the tech companies done to deserve this broadside from one of the government’s most powerful members?

Read the full article on Inside Story.

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