Google has announced that its Google Search will no longer be available in Australia if it is forced to start paying media companies for sharing links and snippets of their content as Search results. The Australian government is considering voting a code into law which will force Google and Facebook to pay media companies in the country based on the value of each content.
Responding to the latest draft of the code, Google’s VP for Australia and New Zealand, Mel Silva said if this version of the code were to become law the company would have ‘no real choice’ but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.
“We have had to conclude after looking at the legislation in detail we do not see a way, with the financial and operational risks, that we could continue to offer a service in Australia”Mel Silva
Facebook also says it will cease offering local news content as part of its services in Australia if the code is passed into law.
The question of big tech sharing advert revenue with news organisations
The digital platforms depend on news content from media houses to populate their search results. By this, Google and Facebook are able to make sure that people that are searching on the platforms find the answers that they need and keep coming back for more.
By constantly being the place people go searching for answers, the tech companies are able to place paid advertisements before this huge audience and convert their traffic into revenue. This is in addition to the user data that is being gathered by both companies.
Media companies also benefit through traffic directed to their sites from the search results page. However, since the tech platforms serve as the first point of contact for most readers, most of the online advertising is done on Google and Facebook instead of on the platform of the news companies.
Australia’s code leans on the argument that the tech companies have undue leverage over news companies since they take most of the revenue that comes from advertising. Therefore, the tech giants should pay the media companies for putting their links and snippets as part of search results.
Google said that the code is “unworkable” and that the news companies also benefit from the huge traffic that Google Search drives to their platforms free of charge. Facebook also claimed that it drove 2.3 billion clicks worth AU$195.8 million to Australian news sites between January and May 2020 for free.
Australia’s new code could fundamentally breach the principles of the web
The founder of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, threw his support behind the tech companies on the argument that they should not pay for showing links and snippets on the Google Search and Facebook news stream. He said before search engines were effective on the web, following links from one page to another was the only way of finding material.
“Search engines make that process far more effective, but they can only do so by using the link structure of the web as their principal input. So links are fundamental to the web.”Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Sir Tim further submitted that the code would undermine the fundamental principle of the ability to link freely on the web and is inconsistent with how the web has been able to operate over the past three decades.
“Requiring a charge for a link on the web blocks an important aspect of the value of web content. To my knowledge, there is no current example of legally requiring payments for links to other content,” he said.
Google already has a plan in place to compensate news publishers for using their content in Australia, Brazil and Germany. However, this only includes select media companies and reportedly does not pay well. Facebook also has a similar scheme ongoing in the US in which it partners with media houses like BuzzFeed to get content and pay the companies in return.
For Australian authorities, the existing initiatives are not enough to compensate for Google and Facebook’s use of the content from local media houses. Therefore, the code will ensure that adequate payment should be made for using links and snippets to generate traffic.
Featured image source: The Guardian