Many were, let’s say, displeased with Google when they admitted to blocking most Australian news websites from the SERPs last week.
However, the country may face even more heartbreak as the tech giant threatens to pull Australia from the search engine entirely.
The Story so Far
Last week, Matt Southern reported that Google is running an experiment that essentially only shows 1% of Australian news stories.
This was seen as the company flexing their muscles in response to the country attempting to impose a world-first law – the News Media Bargaining Code – that would force both Google and Facebook to share royalties with news publishers.
Google’s Response & the Impact on Australian News
In a Senate hearing that took place on Friday, Mel Silva, Google Australia’s Managing Director, called the law that would force them to pay for the news content they use “unworkable,” stating that:
“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.”
Whether this includes all Google services, such as Gmail and the like, is currently unclear.
She also said:
“We do not see a way, with the financial and operational risks, that we could continue to offer a service in Australia.”
With 75% of advertising revenue declining for Australian newsprint since 2005, Google’s comments on withdrawing them from the SERPs comes as an additional blow, as Google is the dominant search engine with little market competition.
It Isn’t Just Google
While a lot of the focus has been on Google’s reaction to the News Media Bargaining Code, Facebook has made a threat of its own.
In the same Senate hearing Ms. Silva attended, the social platform vowed to block Australian-based users from posting and sharing news links should the bill be passed, stating that there is no commercial benefit to them showcasing this type of content.
Both tech giants argue that they are providing a service to the media industry through referral traffic and that the new law would cause operational and financial risk of unmanageable proportions.
Is It Really About Sharing Royalties?
While Google was leveraging its threats to Australia, it was also completing an agreement with France to negotiate license agreements on an individual basis for general and political information.
In this case, Google has a level of control over what they pay these publishers based on established metrics such as audience size and publication volume.
If a dispute does occur, it could take years to be resolved in court, delaying any payments being made.
Whereas in Australia’s case, if an agreement cannot be reached on how much news content is worth, the decision would land on an independent arbitration body.
It could be viewed that Google is more concerned with losing control over who makes these monetary decisions rather than paying news publishers a fair wage for giving them access to the latest news.
The main architect of the code stated that:
“Indeed, discussions we are aware of have focused on paying upfront lump sum amounts, not per click.”
Which further backs up the theory that Google wants to dictate how much they pay based on measurable metrics.
Forced Sharing of Algorithm Information
Another sore point of the proposed legislation is the demand that Google and Facebook provide media outlets with notice of any deliberate algorithm changes that could significantly impact their businesses 14 days before the changes occur.
Google is notoriously secretive about their algorithm, so this is just another aspect of the new law that they will undoubtedly want to fight.
As there has been no resolution to the conflict as of yet, it’s clear that Australia, and any other countries that attempt to make similar demands, may have to prepare themselves for a world without access to Google and Facebook.