Google has published an open letter about a newly proposed government regulation that would force it to pay media for news content. Australians who visit their local Google homepage receive an ominous popup warning that "the way Aussies use Google is at risk" and "new regulations are affecting their search experience". It's a bold lobby move that puts Google's arguments against the change in front of millions of Australians.
Australia's consumer watchdog pushed back, saying the letter "contains misinformation", adding that "a healthy news media sector is essential to a well-functioning democracy".
Australia's proposed News Media Negotiating Code Act, currently in draft and targeting Facebook alongside Google, follows a 2019 investigation in Australia that found the tech giant was a disproportionately large share of online advertising revenue has, although much of its content comes from there, media organizations. Since then, the news and media industry has been hard hit by the pandemic. The Guardian reports that over a hundred local newspapers in Australia have had to lay off journalists and either stop or stop printing as advertising revenues have fallen.
Google users in Australia are seeing a threatening warning.
"We need to inform you of new government regulations," said the letter from the popup from Mel Silva, Managing Director of Google Australia. Silva argues that the proposed regulation will "dramatically deteriorate Google search and YouTube, could cause your data to be shared with major news companies and put the free services you use in Australia at risk".
One of Google's arguments is that the law would give news publishers an "unfair advantage" by giving them information that could improve their rankings over the competition. The proposed law would mean that tech companies would have to notify the media organization of any changes to the algorithm that would affect their rankings. Only larger media companies are guaranteed to receive this information. The Guardian reports that eligible media companies must meet various requirements, including sales in excess of $ 150,000 per year, and have a specific focus on the Australian market. Google also says the law could put user data at risk.
"We will do everything we can to change this proposal."
The letter was pushed back by the Australian Competition and Consumers Commission (ACCC), the competition watchdog behind the proposed law. The proposed rules "will remove a significant imbalance in bargaining power between Australian news media companies and Google and Facebook," it said.
"Google does not need to share additional user data with Australian news companies unless it chooses to," said the ACCC. The code wouldn't require Google to charge for its services like Google Search and YouTube.
The letter from Google said the company had previously offered to pay for news content as part of an initiative announced in June. As part of the plans, Google has worked with publishers in Germany, Australia and Brazil to pay for news content for a "new news experience" to be released later this year. However, the Financial Times reports that plans in Australia have since been suspended due to the proposed law. The initiatives in Brazil and Germany are reportedly unaffected. Google did not respond to The Verge's question about the initiative's status.
"We will do everything possible to change this proposal," concludes the letter from Google. The company has not been afraid of receiving support from millions of users in the past. In 2018, notices regarding the EU copyright proposal were published on YouTube.
Google has also completely withdrawn services in certain countries due to new regulations. As early as 2014, the Google News service in Spain was shut down after it was asked to pay for the news snippets displayed.
This is not the first time Google has publicly responded to the proposed Australian regulations. Back in May, a blog post titled "A Fact-Based Discussion About Online News" was posted stating that it had not shown any ads in Google News or the News Results tab in Google Search and that it was Composing news-related queries A small percentage of total Google searches in the country. It is also said to direct millions of page views to Australian news publishers.
Update Aug 17th, 6:21 p.m. ET: Article updated with more detailed explanation from ACCC.