Google has threatened to block Australians from using their search service unless the government changes their legislation which asks the internet giant to pay news outlets for their content.
Mel Silva, Google Australia managing director, warned a Senate committee that the never-heard-of-before media law was ‘unworkable’ and would undermine the functioning of the internet. Silva shared, ‘If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia’.
The law was introduced last year as a way of forcing Google and Facebook to pay local media organisations for their news content, or else face millions in fines in one of the most hostile moves globally to keep the power of US tech giants in-check.
Basically, the firms would be required to reimburse Australian media outlets, ranging from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp to public broadcasters like ABC, for publishing extracts of their content in search results. The law would also entail Google and Facebook to enter a compulsory settlement with media companies if they cannot reach an agreement over the value of their content within three months – hence the controversy…
Silva stated, ‘This provision in the code would set an untenable precedent for our business and the digital economy. It is not compatible with how search engines work or now the internet works.’
Platforms would also be required to give the news businesses two weeks’ notice of algorithm changes affecting the distribution of content and include retaliatory clauses to halt firms from blocking content to avoid payment. This initiative has been closely watched worldwide. Europe has confronted giant tech firms mainly through copyright law but the Australian law relies on antitrust provisions and aims for a far-reaching financial impact on Google and Facebook.
Facebook responded in a statement, ‘The great majority of people who are using Facebook would continue to be able to do so, but we would no longer be able to provide news’. Both companies also stressed that they were willing to pay media companies for content through direct arrangements like Google News Showcase and proposed many amendments to the draft Australian legislation.
Currently, the companies demand Australia drop the compulsory arbitration process in favour of mediated consultations with individual news organisations.