Great Britain

Google threatens to block search in Australia if country passes new law

Google has threatened to disable its search engine in Australia if a new law forcing it to pay local publishers for news is passed, leading to a standoff with prime minister Scott Morrison.

Australia is introducing a first of a kind law which would require tech companies like Google and Facebook to pay for the news content local publishers and broadcasters create. If the law is passed, the companies will have to negotiate payments with creators to be able to show news on their platform, including in search results or news feeds.  If they cannot strike a deal, a government-appointed arbitrator will decide the price.

Digital platforms face fines of up to A$10m (£5.6m) if they do not comply with the decision.

On Friday, Google Australia managing director Mel Silva told a Senate hearing that the new rules are “unworkable”, and the company was prepared to exit the Australian market if forced.

“Coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk if this version of the Code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia,” Ms Silva said.  

The matter further escalated when Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was asked about Google’s comment, to which he replied “we don’t respond to threats”.

The proposed law drew strong pushback from Facebook as well, which threatened to remove news stories from its platform in Australia. Simon Milner, a Facebook executive, said the sheer volume of deals it would have to strike would be impossible. He argued that the news content does “not bring commercial value to Facebook" but only helps to enrich the community.

Google’s comment represents the first time a digital giant has threatened to disable its primary search function in a country, in response to a proposed law.

Last week Google said it was removing some Australian news sites from search results as an “experiment”. 

The United States government this week asked Australia to step back from its proposed law against Facebook and Google, local media reported on Tuesday, and suggested Australia should pursue a voluntary code instead.

However, the move enjoys broad political support in the country.

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