Explained: Why Google might remove its search engine in Australia

The passage of the new code by Australia would mean that Google and Facebook would have to pay news websites whose links show up their platforms. (Source: Bloomberg)

Google said Friday that it might remove its search engine in Australia if the country’s government went ahead with its plans to make online tech companies pay for hosting news content.

So what’s this about?

This development is related to the News Media Bargaining Code, a mandatory code of conduct developed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to address bargaining power imbalances between the Australian news media businesses and digital platforms, including Google and Facebook.

The ACCC released a draft code in July 2020 allowing news media businesses to bargain individually or collectively with companies such as Google and Facebook over the payment for the inclusion of news on their services.

So far, the Australian government has said that the code will be applicable to Google and Facebook only, and other companies may be added in case they were found to hold a significant bargaining power imbalance with the Australian news media businesses.

This means that Google and Facebook would have to pay news websites whose links show up their platforms including Facebook News Feed, Instagram, Facebook News Tab, Google Search, Google News and Google Discover. “These services have been selected on the basis that they display Australian news, without typically offering revenue-sharing arrangements to all news media businesses that produce this content,” the draft code says.

The code has not become law yet.

What is Google saying?

Google says that while it supports the idea that the financial future of publishers needs to be supported, the way the government is trying to achieve this goal would break the way Google search works.

The tech giant has maintained that code remains to be “unworkable” since it says that the ability to link freely between websites is fundamental to any search engine. If the code is implemented then Google will have to pay publishers of certain news media outlets so that their links show up as search results.

Google has also said that the code requires the company to give news publishers special treatment, which means a notice period of 14 days informing them about algorithm changes and certain “internal practices”. “Even if we could comply, that would delay important updates for our users and give special treatment to news publishers in a way that would disadvantage everyone else,” Google has said.

Therefore, Google has said that if the code were to become law it will stop making Google Search available in Australia.

Previously, Facebook responded to the code becoming law by saying that the company would remove Australians’ ability to post news content on its platforms.

On the other hand, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has said that the government “does not respond to threats” and that the Parliament will decide what rules businesses must be allowed to follow in the country.

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