Google warns Australia competition laws put free internet search at risk

Christel Deskins

Google - KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP
Google – KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP

Google has claimed that new competition laws in Australia could put its free internet search service at risk, saying the rules would lead to a “dramatically worse” offering in the country.

In an open letter signed by Google’s Australian managing director Mel Silva, the US tech giant hit out at planned laws to make it pay for news stories, which it argued would provide “unfair advantages to large news organisations”, including pushing them higher on search rankings. 

Ms Silva said the laws “would force us to provide you with a dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube, could lead to your data being handed over to big news businesses, and would put the free services you use at risk in Australia”.

The public rebuke comes weeks after Australia unveiled its plans to introduce a new royalty-style system, which would require Google and Facebook to share the revenue they generate from advertising alongside news content.

Under the draft law, which is expected to be introduced later this year, the tech firms could face fines totalling hundreds of millions of Australian dollars if they do not pay to feature the news articles.

It was slated as an effort to provide a “fair go for Australian news media businesses”, with many having been forced to shed jobs due to plunging advertising spend.

Countries, including the UK, have become increasingly concerned about what has been termed an “advertising duopoly” between Google and Facebook, and what their dominance in online advertising means for independent journalism.

The UK competition watchdog last month urged the Government to introduce new legislation to rein in their control over the space. 

Digital duopoly | Online ad share
Digital duopoly | Online ad share

In the past, however, efforts by countries to force the two tech giants to pay media firms have had little success, with Google having pulled its Google News service in Spain and having stopped showing news snippets in France after they ramped up pressure. 

The Financial Times said Google had not yet ruled out withdrawing from Australia completely, due to the new laws. 

In the open letter, the company had attempted to appeal to users, saying they had “always relied on Google Search and YouTube to show you what’s most relevant and helpful to you”.

“We could no longer guarantee that under this law.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Rod Sims claimed Google’s letter contained misinformation.

He said Google would “not be required to charge Australians for the use of its free services such as Google Search and YouTube, unless it chooses to do so” and would “not be required to share any additional user data with Australian news businesses unless it chooses to do so”.

The law would instead “allow Australian news businesses to negotiate for fair payment for their journalists’ work that is included on Google services”.

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