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Google threatens to remove its search engine from Australia
Google Australia and New Zealand Managing Director, Mel Silva. Source: Google Australia
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  • Google has threatened to pull its search function from Australia completely if the Federal Government moves forward with its new media code that would force big tech companies to pay for Australian news content
  • The New Media Bargaining Code was drafted in July 2020 to give Australian traditional news media more bargaining power with tech giants
  • However, Google and Facebook have avidly opposed the legislation, with Facebook previously claiming it would ban Australian news from its platform if the code became law
  • Now, Google is saying the code breaks the way search engines work, and as such it has no choice but to stop Australians from using Google Search
  • The trillion-dollar digital giant offered an alternative in the new Google News Showcase, however, which Google Australia and New Zealand Managing Director Mel Silva said would support journalism
  • The Federal Government has not yet responded to the alternative suggestion

Google has threatened to pull its search function from Australia completely if the Federal Government moves forward with its new media code that would force big tech companies to pay for Australian news content.

As the stand-off between the competition watchdog and big tech escalates, Google Australia and New Zealand Managing Director Mel Silva told a senate committee hearing the trillion-dollar digital giant would have "no real choice" but to remove its search engine from Australia if the proposed media changes become law.

Essentially, the News Media Bargaining Code would see Facebook and Google start paying to publish Australian news content on their platforms.

When the first draft of the bill was announced in July 2020, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chair Rod Sims said the laws were designed to give Australian traditional news media more bargaining power with the tech giants.

Facebook and Google are avidly opposed to the changes.

Google: "This is our worst-case scenario"

The Google Australia and New Zealand head took the harshest stand so far against the news laws, claiming the media code is "untenable" for the company.

"The principle of unrestricted linking between websites is fundamental to search," Mel told the senate.

"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.

"This is our worst-case scenario. We do not want to be in this situation. We would love to get an outcome where there is a workable outcome for all parties."

In a YouTube video accessible from Google's home page, Mel said the new code would "break how Google Search works in Australia".

"When you put a price on linking to certain information, you break the way that search engines work, and you no longer have a free and open web," she said.

Google's alternative solution

Outside of just lambasting the News Media Bargaining Code, Google's boss said the company has a fair solution to satisfy all parties.

"We're not against a new law, but we need it to be a fair one," she said.

As such, Mel suggested Google News Showcase as an alternative to the new code.

Essentially, Google News Showcase is alternative platform to a basic default search that will see Google pay publishers for high-quality news content. This means the platform can operate under the new laws, but Google Search won't be affected.

Mel said the new initiative would support Australian journalism without "breaking how Search works".

The Australian Government is yet to respond to the proposal of the Google News Showcase Alternative.

Facebook's threats

Google's comments on the code follow Facebook's threats to remove Australian news from its platform completely, made back in September 2020.

Facebook Australia and New Zealand Managing Director Will Easton said this would be the only way to protect against an outcome that will hurt, not help, Australia's news media sector.

Will accused the ACCC and the Treasurer of misunderstanding the dynamics of the internet and said the new code would damage the very industry the government is trying to protect.

As such, Facebook would ban all Australian news content from its platform if the code is made law.

ACCC Chair Rod Sims brushed off Facebook's threats, claiming the tech giant would shoot itself in the foot if it banned Aussie news.

He argued that Facebook users will simply turn to other platforms for their news, driving traffic away from the social media giant.

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