Could Google really pull its search engine from an entire country?

Last year we were tracking developments involving the Australian government and Google, who were at a loggerheads with regard to the News Media Bargaining Code that the former was proposing. The Code would seek for news publishers in the country to have more say over how content is distributed, as well as their share of the profits.

More specifically that advertising links on stories and content are paid for by Google.

Google, however, argues that the Code will also involve data sharing and a potentially unfair advantage for larger publishers compared to smaller ones. This is something that the Australian government has since denied, confirming that no data sharing will take place.

Now the company is saying that if Australia moves ahead with the law, it will be forced to remove its services as a result.

“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,” noted Google Australia and New Zealand VP, Mel Silva, during a Senate Economics Legislation Committee meeting this week.

She also stated that the ultimatum was not a threat, but rather that is a, “worst-case scenario.” “It’s not a threat. It’s a reality,” Silva added.

The VP pointed out that such a law would break Google’s business model, making it nearly untenable to operate in the region under those circumstances. Interestingly, she added that news queries only made up 1.25 percent of all searches, but if they continue on this road, the decision could create an international precedent for the big tech firm.

The argument from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which drafted the Code last year, is that Google is disproportionately benefiting from online advertising.

This has shed new light on the media and publishing industry in the region as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen hundreds of smaller local publishers close and even more journalists lose their jobs. As stated earlier, the Code would seek to address this imbalance by giving publishers greater bargaining power with a large entity like Google.

It also adds that Google does not need to begin charging citizens for use of its free services, with any decision to do so, taken purely by the big tech firm itself and not influenced by the proposed Code being put into law.

From Google’s perspective, if payments to publishers were to be made, it would need to be done via its dedicated News platform, which has launched in countries like Germany, Brazil and Australia too, in June of last year.

At this stage, we sit an an impasse, with neither side looking to budge from its position.

While Google says that removing its services, and search in particular, from the region is a last resort, threatening to do so is indeed a shot across the bow for the Australian government. Either way this continued disagreement could indeed cause the international precedent that Google warns of.

[Image – Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash]


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