Aug 17, 2020

News | Tech | Google's Australia Warning: Google says Australian news rule threatens free search services

Jamie Smyth 

Google has warned that a landmark Australian proposal to make it pay for news content could threaten its free search services in the country, as it vowed to fight the regulation.
The US company has also suspended a news licensing scheme it agreed with some Australian publishers this year, as it seeks to blunt what the government has described as “world leading” and necessary legislation aimed at creating a sustainable news media.
“We need to let you know about new government regulation that will hurt how Australians use Google Search and YouTube,” Google wrote in an open letter signed by its Australia managing director, Mel Silva, posted online on Monday.
Ms Silva added that the proposed regulation “would force us to provide you with a dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube, could lead to your data being handed over to big news businesses, and would put the free services you use at risk in Australia”.
Last month Australia’s competition regulator published a draft law intended to force Google and Facebook to pay media groups in exchange for carrying their content. It comes as digital platforms face increasing scrutiny globally over their market dominance and potential to impact elections.
The Financial Times has learnt that Google is also “pausing” a news licensing programme as a result of the law. The scheme, which was introduced to much fanfare in June, involves Google paying Australian publishers, including InQueensland and InDaily, for news content. Similar schemes in Brazil and Germany will not be affected.
Google’s decision to appeal to the Australian public over the law could set the scene for a massive lobbying campaign, analysts said. That would be likely to pit the Silicon Valley groups against Australia’s mainstream media and the country’s regulator as MPs consider the draft law in the coming months.
“There is a lot more concern about the power of News Corp, and how it is used, than about the power of Google,” said Terry Flew, professor of communications at Queensland University of Technology. He added that many young Australians view mainstream publishers as out of touch.
With its open letter, Mr Flew said Google appeared to be testing the waters to determine the strength of opinion on the issue.
Google has not ruled out withdrawing its news service from Australia entirely, echoing its 2014 move in Spain when the government similarly sought to make the company pay for news content.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission criticised Google’s open letter, saying it “contains misinformation” about the draft law.
“Google will not be required to charge Australians for the use of its free services such as Google Search and YouTube, unless it chooses to do so,” said Rod Sims, ACCC chair. “Google will not be required to share any additional user data with Australian news businesses unless it chooses to do so.”
Mr Sims added that it would “address a significant bargaining power imbalance” between Australian news media and internet groups. “A healthy news media sector is essential to a well-functioning democracy,” he said.

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