Google threatens to suspend search function in Australia as ‘paid content’ spat worsens

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
Google
Representational Image

US-based tech giant Google warned it will disable its search function in Australia if the government proceeds with a media code that would force it and the social media firm Facebook to pay local media companies for sharing their content.

Australia is on track to pass laws that would make the ‘Big Tech’ giants negotiate payments with local publishers and broadcasters for content. If they can’t strike a deal, a government-appointed arbitrator will decide the price.

Google Australia managing director Mel Silva warned a Senate committee in Canberra that the world-first media law was “unworkable” and would undermine the functioning of the internet. “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,” Ms. Silva said, the first time the company has made such a threat after months of difficult negotiations over the draft law.

Pay for content

Australia announced the legislation last month after an investigation found Alphabet Inc-owned Google and social media giant Facebook held too much market power in the media industry, a situation it said posed a potential threat to a well-functioning democracy.

Under the laws, the firms would be required to compensate Australian media outlets, ranging from Rupert Murdoch’s giant News Corp to public broadcasters ABC and SBS, for publishing snippets of their content in search results.

The most controversial part of the law would require Google and Facebook to enter mandatory arbitration with media companies if they cannot reach agreement over the value of their content within three months. The arbiter would then choose between the payment proposal put forward by a news outlet and that coming from the tech firm.

The law would also require the platforms to give the news businesses two weeks’ notice of algorithm changes affecting the distribution of their content, and includes clauses to stop the firms from blocking content to avoid payment.

The United States government showed support to Google and Facebook by asking Australia to scrap the proposed laws, which have broad political support, and suggested Australia should pursue a voluntary code instead.

Google’s threat to limit its services in Australia came just hours after the internet giant reached a content-payment deal with some French news publishers.

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