Thursday, February 25, 2021

Google says ready to shut off search engine in Australia if forced to pay for news

No more 'Let me google that' for Aussies if the search behemoth forces Canberra to abandon its proposed new law

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Google says it will disable its search function in Australia if parliament passes a law to force it and Facebook to pay news providers for their journalism.

The proposed law follows a 12-month review into Google and Facebook by the Australian competition watchdog, echoing a push by many global governments to rein in the power of digital monopolies.

Australia is on course to pass the law that would make the Big Tech giants negotiate payments with local publishers and broadcasters for content.

Under the law, if the parties involved can’t strike a deal, a government-appointed arbitrator will decide the price.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Google Australia managing director Mel Silva told a Senate hearing on Friday that the proposed “news media bargaining code” remains “unworkable”, and the company is ready to exit the Australian market if necessary.

“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,” Silva told the inquiry.

She described her ultimatum as a “worst case scenario”, adding: “It’s not a threat. It’s a reality.”

She repeated Google’s long-running argument that the code would “break” Google’s business model by forcing it to pay news outlets for links to their news content – a move the trillion-dollar company claims undermines the concept of a free and open internet.

Reuters reports that the US government this week asked Australia to scrap the proposed law, which has 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 colossus reached a content-payment deal with some French news publishers.

Peter Lewis, director of the Australian Centre for Responsible Technology, said, “Google’s testimony is part of a pattern of threatening behaviour that is chilling to anyone who values our democracy.”

Google’s comments drew a sharp rebuke from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison who said the country makes its own rules for “things you can do in Australia”.

He told reporters “People who want to work with that in Australia, you’re very welcome. But we don’t respond to threats.”

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