Google Threatens to Pull Search Engine From Australia Over Upcoming Law

Faced with new legislation in Australia that would force it to pay for news stories it now scrapes for free, Google says it could pull its search engine from the country.

Australia’s proposed media bargaining code has enraged Google since it was first proposed, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. Now the search and advertising behemoth is threatening to pull one of its key products, search, from the Australian market entirely if the code becomes law.

Google Australia’s managing director Melanie Silva informed the Australian Senate that the code poses risks to the company’s operations and could set a precedent. The purpose of the media bargaining code is to bring Google’s power into check and have digital platforms, including Facebook, give financial compensation to media publishers for their content.

“Google is committed to achieving a workable News Media Bargaining Code,” Google vice president Mel Silva said in an appearance at a public hearing of the Australian Senate Committee that is reviewing the proposed new law. “In its current form, the Code remains unworkable and if it became law would hurt not just Google, but small publishers, small businesses, and the millions of Australians that use our services every day. There is a way forward that allows Google to pay publishers for value, without breaking Google Search and our business in Australia.”

Under the terms of the proposed law, social media companies would need to agree on the price of using content with the media companies that create it. If they cannot agree, a governmental arbitration board will determine the price for them, a move that would clearly benefit the content creators and not the content stealers.

“The aim of the code is to address the uneven bargaining position between Australian news media businesses and the big digital platforms who have clear market power,” Australian consumer protection regulator Rod Sims said.

“The free service we offer to Australian users and our business model has been built on the ability to link freely … this is a key building block of the internet,” Silva responded. “Withdrawing our services from Australia is the last thing that I or Google want to have happen, especially when there is another way forward.”

Senators referred to Silva’s remarks as blackmail and while she did not deny such a thing, she said pulling Search is the “worst case scenario”.

“We, like any rational business, needs to assess the impact of any legislative change on our business, our product, and our operations. It is the only rational choice if this law were to pass, for us,” she said.

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