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Google, Facebook lock horns with Australian govt over 'pay-for-content' digital news code

If removed, 19 million Google users and 17 million Facebook users would not be able to access news services. However, Australian government has said it does not respond well to threats

twitter-logoBusinessToday.In | January 23, 2021 | Updated 23:48 IST
Google, Facebook lock horns with Australian govt over 'pay-for-content' digital news code

Google has threatened to remove its search engine from Australia if the new digital news code that makes tech giants pay for content comes into action. Facebook too has threatened to remove news from its feed for all Australians. If the tech giants remove these services, it would mean that 19 million Google users and 17 million Facebook users would not be able to access the said services. However, that has not deterred the Australian government which has said it does not respond well to threats.

The new legislation currently before the parliament would force these tech giants into negotiations with news media companies to pay for content. If no agreement is reached between the parties then an arbiter would decide the payment amount.

Google which recently signed an agreement with 300 French publications to pay them for content appearing on search results, gave an ultimatum to the Australian government on Friday. Calling paying for links a 'dangerous precedent', Google said it would not be viable to continue offering search in Australia if the code comes to force.

Google Australia Managing Director Mel Silva told a Senate committee, "The principle of unrestricted linking between websites is fundamental to search and coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk 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 the company wanted to make changes to the code to make it 'workable'.

Meanwhile, representatives from Facebook said that they would pull news content from user feeds if the code goes ahead. Facebook's head of public policy in Australia Josh Machin said that the company would potentially prevent not just news companies from posting links to news articles on Facebook but all users based in Australia. Machin said that news articles make up under 5 per cent of what users see on their feed and that there was not much commercial benefit from it, as mentioned in a report in The Guardian.

They have also called the code 'unworkable' and have asked for digital platforms to be given six months so that they can negotiate deals with news companies before the come comes into force.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, responding to the ultimatums, said at an interview in Brisbane, "Let me be clear. 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."

South Australian Senator Rex Patrick said, "Sorry Google, but we will decide which search engines come to this country and the circumstances in which they come."

Echoing Morrison, Reset Australia that is lobbying for the regulation of big tech companies said that Google's threats show that it has the body of a behemoth but the brain of a brat. "When a private corporation tries to use its monopoly power to threaten and bully a sovereign nation, it's a surefire sign that regulation is long overdue," said Executive Director Chris Cooper to The Guardian.

Australia's competition watchdog, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, that developed the code said that the payment model is not per-click but an upfront lumpsum.

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