Google threatens to remove search from Australia over new law

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Jan. 22 (UPI) — Google on Friday threatened to disable its search engine function in Australia if the government passes new regulations that would force large tech companies to negotiate with news organizations to present the content they produce.

Mel Silva, the vice president for Google Australia and New Zealand, on Friday told lawmakers in a public hearing of the Senate Economic Legislation Committee reviewing the proposed legislation that the new law is unworkable and would not only hurt Google if it goes into effect but also small publishers and businesses as well as millions of Australians.

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“The principle of unrestricted linking between websites is fundamental to Search,” she said. “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.”

The main issue, she said, is a requirement in the law that would require Google to pay to present links and snippets of news articles that its displays in response to a user’s query.

“This provision in the Code would set an untenable precedent for our business, and the digital economy,” she told the lawmakers. “It is not compatible with how search engines work, or how the Internet works.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded during a press conference later Friday, stating, “We don’t respond to threats.”

“Let me be clear: Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia,” he said. “That’s done in our Parliament. It’s done by our government and that’s how things work here in Australia.”

The bill, called the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, was introduced into Parliament in December by the Morrison government to “address the bargaining power imbalance between news media businesses and digital platforms,” Paul Fletcher, the minister of Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, said in a statement.

“The Code will ensure that news media businesses are fairly remunerated for the content they generate, helping to sustain public interest journalism in Australia,” he said.

The new law will initially apply to Facebook and Google Search, who will be forced to negotiate with news organizations to publish their content while creating an independent arbiter to determine the appropriate renumeration. Other media companies can also be added to the law later, it states.