Google’s Open Letter Fires Back at Australia’s “News Media Bargaining Code”

By Novak Bozovic / August 17, 2020

During the last couple of months, we've seen numerous efforts of Australian authorities to clean up the country's digital space. There's an ever-increasing number of blocked sites (related to piracy), as well as efforts to fine tech giants for violating the country's privacy laws. The next area that Australia wants to regulate is related to the news and media industry.

A few months back, the Federal Government of this country announced plans to introduce a mandatory code of conduct to create a new relationship between tech giants and media companies providing news articles. At the core of this code of conduct are efforts to allow news and media industry companies to negotiate with partners regarding the payment for their content. Besides, tech companies such as Facebook and Google (among numerous others) would need to inform their partners of algorithm changes that might affect online content ratings.

These plans have now come to fruition, as the Federal Government has reached the final stage of preparing the new law. This is precisely what has forced Google to start serving a rather ominous message to its Australian visitors.

By visiting the Australian version of Google's Web search, you could see a pop-up in the top-right corner saying: "The way Aussies use Google is at risk. Your search experience will be hurt by new regulation" with a button allowing the visitors to learn more.

Google's Open Letter to Australians

This takes us to Google's open letter criticizing the 'News Media Bargaining Code.' As Google notes, this new law would force the company to "give an unfair advantage to one group of businesses – news media businesses – over everyone else that has a website, YouTube channels or small business." The company continues by saying that "news media businesses would be given information that would help them artificially inflate their ranking."

The search engine giant spared no words to criticize the new law. It even questioned the treatment of private data on the part of news media businesses. As the company says, those entities would need to be informed on how to gain access to Google users' data, giving them an analysis of how Google products are used.

It didn't take long for the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission to respond. The government body in charge of preparing the code of conduct says that the open letter published by Google contains misinformation.

The response to Google's open letter says that no sharing of personal information will happen – unless Google decides to do so. Also, the company won't be required to charge Australians for the use of its free services. The response concludes that "a healthy news media sector is essential to a well-functioning democracy."

Finally, we'd like to remind you that the search engine giant is under similar pressure in the rest of the world. In June, the company agreed to start paying for "high-quality content" supplied by individual news publishers in Brazil and Germany. Even though that same decision included Australia at first, Google decided to pause its plans in the meantime.

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