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Google threatens to remove its search service from Australia

Google threatens to leave Australia

In extensive news coverage, well at least here in Australia, it appears Google and the Australian government continue to square off against each other. Google has threatened to remove search services from Australia if the Australian government are successful in their desire to pass a law that will force the company to pay to link to news websites it lists in its search results.

Google's main concern with the governments proposal is that it would require payments simply for links and snippets just to news results in Search. Australia Managing Director of Google, Mel Silva has commented that, "The free service we offer Australian users, and our business model, has been built on the ability to link freely between websites,"

"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,"
"That would be a bad outcome not just for us, but for the Australian people, media diversity and small businesses who use Google Search."

Google's statement from Mel Silva, managing director, Google Australia and New Zealand :

“The latest version of the Code requires Google to pay to link to news sites, breaking a fundamental principle of how the web works, and setting an untenable precedent for our business, the internet, and the digital economy. This is not just Google’s view. Many other respected voices have raised similar concerns in their submissions to the Senate Committee. By introducing a flawed arbitration model and unworkable requirements for algorithm notifications, the Code exposes Google to unreasonable and unmanageable levels of financial and operational risk. If the Code becomes law, Google would have no real choice but to stop providing Search in Australia. That’s a worst-case scenario and the last thing we want to have happen—especially when there is a way forward to a workable Code that allows us to support Australian journalism without breaking Search. This workable solution would see Google pay publishers through News Showcase, a licensing program with nearly 450 news partners globally. By making News Showcase subject to the Code, Google would pay publishers for value, and reach commercial agreements with publishers, with binding arbitration on Showcase. In addition, we’ve also proposed amendments to the arbitration model that will bring it in line with widely accepted models and lead to fair commercial outcomes, and algorithm notification requirements that are workable for Google and useful for news publishers.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made his feelings clear and has defended his support of the law.

"Let me be clear. Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia. That's done in our parliament. It's done by our government and that's how things work here in Australia and people who want to work with that in Australia, you're very welcome .....But we don't respond to threats."

All this comes after Google signed an agreement with French publishers to pay for some content so there has been an interesting precedence set that could change the internet as we know. The L’Alliance de la Presse d’Information Générale (APIG) said the deal

"establishes a framework within which Google will negotiate individual licensing agreements with IPG certified publishers within APIG’s membership while reflecting the principles of the law,”.

However, just two years prior Google was saying it would not pay French publishes for content and instead limited how the snippets were displayed in the search engine results.

There was restrictive copyright rules in Spain and Germany several years ago where Google restricted these snippets that resulted in a decline in search traffic to the news sites in these countries.

Now, Australia is a relatively small market for Google compared to the likes of Europe and USA so it looks doubtful similar threats will be voiced in these markets but the impact will go much deeper affecting those who work in the industry in an already fragile and almost none existent Australian Digital Economy.

Australia has a large expat digital community and has struggled with leaders of the country not applying the correct investment into becoming a digital economy. For instance digital drivers licences are fairly new here and even so do not link correctly to other services, Australian is woefully behind the likes of the UAE who have invested heavily in their digital economy and are now one of the most advanced by building robust frameworks into their very infrastructure. It is pretty evident that the Australian government is lacking in digital literacy and has been for some time.

Coupled with the ongoing affects of COVID on the ability to build strong digital capability here in Australia the future could be very bleak and the industry could suffer greatly as a result of these decisions.

Google is used by 19 million people in Australian daily, if they are successful in carrying out this threat and remove themselves as a search engine in Australia the impact extends further than Australians needing to look to alternative search engines such as Bing.

The true losers if Google do pull out would be the small businesses in Australia who have invested in being visible on Google and YouTube, they rely on Google Search to drive traffic and business to their websites, essentially overnight they could become invisible .


Google has not been a friend to the Australian government for some time and many disputes over their taxable contribution to the country have certainly raised the heckles of those in office who feel "Big Tech" companies should be looking to contribute more to the countries they choose to reside after it has come to light on the amount of tax companies like Google and Facebook pay due to tax minimisation schemes. The latest conversations on how to get Google to subsidise journalism and news content is not a new one, many believe due to Google's dominance in online advertising it mean news and media publications struggle to get visibility.

As mentioned in Mel Silva's statement, Google has made accommodations to support new and media outlets with the launch of News Showcase last year which hopes to see $1 billion paid to publishers over the next three years but it does feel that Australian government may be slightly over playing their hand here and need to really consider the consequences if common sense is not applied.

The likelihood of Google following through with their threat is hopefully slim as it will have an impact on other Google products, services and logins etc so it would be a tricky infrastructure to unpick.

The consequences of the Australian government and Google not coming to an agreement is more far reaching than just Google pulling out of a small market, it should serve as a warning to larger markets that this can happen but will change the way the world uses search engines and the web as we know it. Here is hoping that there is a compromise to be had here.

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