Google threatens to suspend its search engine in Australia

Posted on Jan 22, 2021 8:46 AMUpdated Jan 22, 2021, 8:47 AM

Google is toughening up the tone. For the first time this Friday, the Californian giant threatened to block its search engine in Australia. Google is fiercely opposed to Canberra’s plan to force it to pay the media for their content.

The Australian government is working on a “binding code of conduct” supposed to govern relations between media in great financial difficulty and the giants that dominate the internet, foremost among which Google and Facebook, which capture a significant share of advertising revenue. This project provides for penalties of several million euros in the event of an infringement. It targets Facebook’s “news feed” and Google searches.

A version of the “code of conduct” which divides

The chief executive of Google Australia, Mel Silva, estimated, this Friday during a hearing in the Australian Senate, that the “worst case scenario” would be that the draft code passes as it is. “If this version of the code became law, it would leave us with no real choice but to suspend Google Search in Australia,” she said.

A threat to which Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison curtly responded. “Australia makes the rules as to what can be done in Australia. It is our Parliament that decides, ”he replied. “People who are willing to work in this setting in Australia are welcome. But we do not bow to threats. “

The Australian initiative is being followed closely around the world at a time when the media are suffering in a digital economy where ad revenue is increasingly captured by Facebook, Google and other big tech firms. The media crisis has been made worse by the economic collapse linked to the pandemic. In Australia dozens of newspapers have been closed and hundreds of journalists fired.

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Facebook also opposed to the project

The draft code provides for Google and Facebook to remunerate Australian media, be it public group ABC or the titles of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp group, for the recovery of their content. Canberra has decided to target only Facebook and Google, but not other very popular platforms like Instagram or YouTube.

One of the most controversial aspects is that Google and Facebook should enter into binding arbitration with each media, for lack of amicable agreement. The arbitrator would decide between the position of the media and the tech giants on the amount of compensation. “This provision of the code would set an untenable precedent for our sector and the digital economy,” said Mel Silva. “It’s not compatible with the way search engines or the Internet work. “

The general manager of Google Australia ensures that the American group wishes to support the media and has suggested changes to the draft code which is to come into force this year. “There is a clear path to developing a fair code that we can work with, if we just make small amendments to it,” she said. Google recently argued that it could block content from Australian media sites from appearing in replies on its search engine. He has even started testing this measure with a small number of Internet users. Facebook also rejected the code in its current form, saying it would stop posting Australian media content if it came into effect.