Google’s Fight With Australia, Explained

Published on January 22, 2021

Australia and Google are going at it. Google is threatening to shut down its search engine in the country. If a polarizing bill that benefits the media becomes a law, Google will shut down in Australia. The law would allow media outlets to earn money from Google or Facebook simply from searches and likes. 

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is behind the polarizing new proposed legislation. During a Senate hearing in Canberra, the company’s Australia’s managing director, Mel Silva, called the law “unworkable.” “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,” she said. “That would be a bad outcome not just for us, but for the Australian people, media diversity and small businesses who use Google Search.” Silva added the law “would require payments simply for links and snippets just to news results in Search.”

Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, laid into Google. “Let me be clear,” the prime minister said. “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 and people who want to work with that in Australia, you’re very welcome. But we don’t respond to threats.”

Around the time of its introduction, the company even put a warning on its homepage about the bill. It would, as the warning stated, even lead to consequences for Google-owned YouTube. YouTube has 470 jobs in Australia, not to mention users making a living on the platform in the country. 1,700 Google employees are based in Australia, too. 

The YouTube-owner proposed three changes, such as how it could compensate media outlets. Google does already, in fact, pay seven major media outlets in the country. To combat the legislation, Google has made suggestions. One suggestion is notifying publishers about alterations in its algorithms “to make sure publishers are able to respond to changes that affect them.” “There is a clear pathway to a fair and workable Code,” added Silva. “Withdrawing our services from Australia is the last thing that I or Google want to have happen—especially when there is another way forward.”

Facebook’s representatives continue to fight alongside Google, as well. Simon Milner, who’s Facebook’s vice president of public policy for the Asia Pacific, issued a warning as well. The social media company could start blocking media content on their site, he said. However, Milner stated the social media company doesn’t want to take such a drastic step. 

In Australia, some oppose the bill based on who it would benefit. Fox giant Rupert Murdoch, for example, owns a considerable amount of Australia’s media. Google would pay fees that would go into Murdoch’s billionaire dollar news empire. On the other hand, the bill would benefit local and struggling media outlets, not only news giants such as Murdoch and The Guardian. Advertisers have moved to online platforms, creating a consistent drop in ad revenue over the last decade for Australia’s news outlets and beyond. Many of these outlets simply want payment for their content on Google and Facebook’s platforms, which both companies do profit from.

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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