With great power comes great responsibility, and also great scrutiny — just ask Google. The world's leading search engine may have to pay publishers in Australia if new legislation is passed by the government. In response, Google has threatened to disable Search in the country if the new code is passed, and the threat has understandably not gone down well down under.
To give you context, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in July 2020 drafted the News Media Bargaining Code at the behest of the government, stating that Facebook and Google hold too much power in the media industry. The code would require digital platforms to pay media organizations for the content they show in their search results.
The code hasn't been passed by the government yet, but Google is naturally unhappy with the prospect. This is what Mel Silva, managing director at Google Australia, told a Senate committee on the matter:
"The ability to link freely between websites is fundamental to Search. This code creates an unreasonable and unmanageable financial and operational risk to our business. If the Code were to become law in its current form, we would have no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia."
Additionally, Google also shared its thoughts on the proposed law in a blog post. It emphasizes the unworkability of the code if passed and how it undermines one of the basic principles of the free and open web — the ability to link between websites. As an alternative, the search giant suggests paying publishers through its upcoming Google News Showcase experience that aims to share curated news articles with users.
But it doesn't seem like the Australian government agrees with Google's stance. This is what Prime Minister Scott Morrison had to say:
"We don’t respond to threats. 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."
It's difficult to predict in which direction the wind will blow, but we'll keep tabs on the situation and update the story as it develops.