Google’s shock threat to Aussies



Tech giant Google is sending an "open letter" to millions of Australian users today, warning that their search results, personal data, and free services will be put at risk by a ruling from Australia's competition watchdog that would see the company pay for the news it uses.

The multibillion-dollar tech firm's missive claims internet and video search results would be made "dramatically worse" by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's news bargaining code, handed down two weeks ago, and claimed "the way Aussies search every day on Google is at risk".

The company appeared to stop short of threatening to pull out of Australia, however, or stop showing Australian news in its search results as some experts predicted.

ACCC Chair Rod Sims alleges Google misled Australians over privacy changes. Picture: Zak Simmonds
ACCC Chair Rod Sims alleges Google misled Australians over privacy changes. Picture: Zak Simmonds

Both Google and Facebook face changes as part of the ACCC's news bargaining code, which followed an 18-month investigation into digital platforms in Australia and their impact on journalism and advertising.

But Google Australia slammed proposed changes today, with managing director Mel Silva claiming the mandatory code would be unfair to the company and would change the way it delivered services.

Ms Silva said the company could "no longer guarantee" accurate search results, that news organisations could "artificially inflate their ranking" online, and that Google services could change.

She said the law could allow "big media companies" to "make enormous and unreasonable demands that would put our free services at risk".

"We're going to do everything we possibly can to get this proposal changed so we can protect how search and YouTube work for you in Australia and continue to build constructive partnerships with news media businesses; not choose one over the other," she wrote.

Google Australia made $4.8 billion in revenue last year, including $4.3 billion in advertising, an increase of 16 per cent on the previous year.

As part of the news code, the ACCC recommended tech giants share revenue obtained "directly or indirectly" from news content used on their sites, in a move Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said would create a "level-playing field" for Australian media businesses forced to work them.

The mandatory code of conduct would require Google and Facebook to compensate commercial news organisations for their content, give them warning before changing how their content is shown, and share information about how news content was used on their sites, such as how long readers spent on each article.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the mandatory code was designed to ensure Australian news organisations received fair treatment.

"News content brings significant benefits to the digital platforms, far beyond the limited direct revenue generated from advertising shown against a news item," he said. "News media businesses should be paid a fair amount in return for these benefits."

Negotiations and mediation between Google, Facebook and news organisations are due to be settled within three months.




Originally published as Google's shock threat to Aussies