Google Warns It May Withdraw Search Engine From Australia

Google and the Australian government continue on a collision course, over an incoming law that will force tech firms to pay local publishers for news and other content they utilise on their platforms.

A senior local executive warned that Google could remove its search engine from Australia over the matter, but the Australian government is refusing to back down.

This week the US Government even asked Australia to halt the incoming legislation, that will force Google and Facebook to negotiate payments with local publishers for content included in search results or news feeds. If they cannot strike a deal, a government-appointed arbitrator will decide the price.

Collision course

That came after an Australian government minister last week slammed Google after it had conducted an ‘experiment’ that saw the search engine giant block Australian news websites for some users.

“The digital giants should focus on paying for original content, not blocking it. That’s my message to those digital giants,” said Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg at the time.

Australia’s law is being strongly opposed by Google and Facebook, despite Australia touting the new law as a way to protect independent journalism.

Both tech firms have repeatedly warned they could withdraw services in Australia if this law is passed. The legislation is currently being reviewed by an Australian Senate committee, and a vote is expected early this year.

Google Australia and New Zealand managing director Mel Silva told a Senate hearing on Friday that the Australian law was “unworkable”.

“Coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk 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 was quoted by Reuters as saying.

It is reported that Google’s YouTube service could be exempted under revisions to the code.

News Showcase

Australia is pressing ahead with its law, despite Google in June 2020 announcing the ‘News Showcase’ scheme, which would have seen news publishers in Australia, Brazil, and Germany starting be compensated for the news they produce.

CEO Sundar Pichai pledged $1 billion (£778m) over three years to the scheme, which will be rolled out worldwide.

Google in November signed copyright agreements with six French newspapers and magazines, including Le Monde and Le Figaro.

And this week Google and a French publishers’ lobby agreed a copyright framework under which the US tech giant will pay news publishers for content online.

However Google’s scheme to compensate news publishers has been ‘paused’ in Australia, due its to disagreement with this new Australian law change.

Service withdraw

Facebook in September also bluntly warned Aussie users it will prevent them sharing local and international news, if Australia presses ahead with this law.

Facebook has previously labelled the Aussie law as ‘bad legislation’ and said the law “defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector.”

Google has also previously expressed its opposition to this Australia legislation and used its search web page in Australia to warn local users that it would harm their ability to search.

But Australia has not backed down, with the country’s top antitrust regulator, ACCC Chair Rod Sims, saying that it was tech firms call if they choose not to comply.

But it is increasingly likely Google will follow through on its threat and will withdraw its search engine for Australia.

It should be remembered that Google shut down its Google News service altogether in Spain back in 2014, when Spain required news aggregators (such as Google) to pay for a license to use news content.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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