Google Threatens to Pull Search From Australia

Posted on January 22, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Google with 42 Comments

Faced with new legislation in Australia that would force it to pay for news stories it now scrapes for free, Google says it could pull its search engine from the country.

“Google is committed to achieving a workable News Media Bargaining Code,” Google vice president Mel Silva said in an appearance at a public hearing of the Australian Senate Committee that is reviewing the proposed new law. “In its current form, the Code remains unworkable and if it became law would hurt not just Google, but small publishers, small businesses, and the millions of Australians that use our services every day. There is a way forward that allows Google to pay publishers for value, without breaking Google Search and our business in Australia.”

Under the terms of the proposed law, social media companies would need to agree on the price of using content with the media companies that create it. If they cannot agree, a governmental arbitration board will determine the price for them, a move that would clearly benefit the content creators and not the content stealers.

“The aim of the code is to address the uneven bargaining position between Australian news media businesses and the big digital platforms who have clear market power,” Australian consumer protection regulator Rod Sims said.

Not surprisingly, Facebook also opposes the new law and says that it will retaliate if it’s passed by preventing users in that country from posting or sharing links to news items. A representative of Facebook also appeared at the Senate Committee hearing.

Australia’s response to the threats is, perhaps, predictable: At least one senator described both as blackmail. But in an interesting twist, Google this week reached a precedent-setting agreement in France that will let it negotiate prices with content creators in that country. If there’s a dispute, it would head to court in a years-long process that Australia, for its part, is trying to avoid because it plays into the needs of Big Tech.

Interestingly, Australia’s attempt to protect the country’s businesses is coming under fire from those who would normally not back Google, Facebook, or their ilk. For example, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, wrote the Australia Senate Committee to oppose the code, noting that it “risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online. The ability to link freely, meaning without limitations regarding the content of the linked site and without monetary fees, is fundamental to how the web operates.”

The problem, of course, is that Google and Facebook aren’t just linking. Each republishes content owned by others on their own platforms, accompanied by ads that pay them, and not the original content creators. But what Australia is really seeking here is not an end to linking, but rather a requirement that these companies only link to the original sources, and not republish content and earn money from advertising around it. If these companies want to republish content, they should pay for that right.

“Google’s overreaction perfectly illustrates why the code is needed,” Monash University professor Johan Lidber told The New York Times. “And beyond that, the dire need for all governments, across the globe, to join in efforts in reining in and limiting the power of these companies that is completely out of hand.”

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Comments (42)

42 responses to “Google Threatens to Pull Search From Australia”

  1. vladimir

    I think Johan Lidber is completely right and I hope that Australia doesn’t concede to the blackmail. Let people start using DuckDuckGo and move on. Google can sell access to the search engine to whom really wants it

  2. ianhead

    I don't really know what to think of this yet, but the motives behind the bill are extremely suspect, in my view.

    I'm bearing in mind that the biggest winners out of this deal would be Nine Media and News Ltd, both of which are demonstrably in bed with the Australian LNP Government and act as its partisan propaganda outlets. They were also the main participants in the lobbying that led to these laws being drafted. They make up close to 60% of the news traffic in Australia. Both are entities that have taken hits to their revenue over time as they've failed to adapt with the times and establish an effective online presence, and still mostly rely on an older generation for their revenue, which is dwindling in numbers.

    What they are looking for is a bailout, with Google and Facebook picking up the tab. In the meantime, any outlets with an annual revenue of less than $150,000 are excluded from eligibility in the scheme. That means independent media creators, the ones actually driving competition against the news giants, would be left out in the cold.

    Something certainly needs to change to curb Google and Facebook's duopoly, but I seriously doubt this move is much more than an attempted shakedown on the LNP's part on the behalf of their media cronies.

    re: "Each republishes content owned by others on their own platforms, accompanied by ads that pay them, and not the original content creators" - I actually haven't seen that myself. Google News only shows headlines for me, and maybe a sentence or two from the article. Facebook same. Maybe it's different in the US.

    • wright_is

      In reply to ianhead:

      Yes, at the end of the day, you really want both sides to lose this battle...

      • Greg Green

        In reply to wright_is:

        Only if you disregard principle of intellectual property and publishers’ rights. Shouldn’t that be the guide rather than who you dislike?

      • Greg Green

        In reply to wright_is:

        Your comment on the other side about news snippets I think leads to your misunderstanding. I don’t use google news, so I had to, er, google it. It doesn’t give snippets, it’s the whole damn story.

        I looked at a few snippets on the first page, and when you click on them you go to a google page where the story is reprinted. There’s a link to the original story on the publishers website, but that requires an extra click. So i suspect most of the reading (and ad revenue) is done on the google pages rather than the original publishers’ pages.

        That to me is stealing.

    • Greg Green

      In reply to ianhead:

      But there is a principle involved here, isn’t there? Google, FB, et al, are taking someone else’s news and printing it in its entirety on their own website. Certainly there are links to get to the original publisher, but all eyes, clicks and ad revenue are on the google page, not the originator’s page.

      How is this not like independently republishing a book without sending any revenues to the original publisher and author?

  3. illuminated

    "not an end to linking, but rather a requirement that these companies only link to the original sources, and not republish content and earn money from advertising around it"

    That is very logical.

  4. hecticpolecat

    The reaction from Google on this is telling, of course. They are terrified of the implications.

    I don't like the current AU government but I hope they stay the course on this matter, so at least some viable mechanism is implemented to bring some redress to the power imbalance that exists.

  5. DavidSlade

    There is a precedent: Microsoft already pays publishers for their news. Google is bluffing.

  6. IanYates82

    Australian person here who uses Google news daily

    I still don't get why our govt is doing this, apart from the new rules benefiting a couple of very concentrated media entities (eg News Corp owns most of the newspapers, and thus web shareable content)

    Google news takes me to the publisher's site. Every time. They're getting traffic from me they wouldn't get without Google. Why should Google pay them as well for that?

    The only "embedding" I could maybe see a gripe with is the AMP version of some websites, but I haven't heard that discussed in the context of any of this.

    • DavidSlade

      In reply to IanYates82:

      I agree, don't understand the logic of this. Google links to publisher's sites where there can be a paywall, especially NewsCorp. The news site possibly benefits from new subscriptions this way.

      On the other hand, Google has every right to pull search. They are a private company, not a public service like the postal service.

    • navarac

      In reply to IanYates82:

      The reason why this legislation should be enacted, is because these Tech Companies are STEALING content from creators and then selling it to line their pockets. If you cannot see that then you condone this THEFT.

      With a bit of luck, they'll withdraw from the UK as well.

    • wright_is

      In reply to IanYates82:

      I do agree, this does seem to be a Rupert Murdoch led attack. But the argument is that the news snippet on the their site is often enough that people don't click through to the site providing the news.

      I think the truth lays somewhere in the middle. Google & Facebook provide some extra exposure, but they also benefit heavily from the news they show.

      That said I block Facebook on my network and don't use Google.

  7. John Craig

    Later, Google.

    Hello, Bing.

    This kind of belligerent behaviour from the world's biggest monopoly is a fantastic opportunity for Microsoft to step up.

    If Google wants to bugger off, go for it. Don't let the door hit your fat, spoilt, bullying arse on the way out.

    They need a reality check.

  8. wright_is

    The same Tim Berners-Lee that works with Facebook & Google? That Tim said he didn't approve of the Australian system to make his "employers" pay for content?

    Im not saying I totally disagree with him, but he also isn't totally unbiased in this case.

  9. markbyrn

    Seems like Alphabet is practically begging to be broken up.

  10. jim_may

    Just Bing it!!!

  11. smartin

    Australian's should be so lucky! Think of the return to normalcy and decency that would occur to society if Google, FB and Twitter were to simply go away.

  12. ccarswell

    I am in the middle here. Search engines and services like Google probably provide 10x the exposure as the site on its own. Knowing that these local newspapers would never be happy with just a 1% I would let them starve and then come back to them with the proposal.

    • Greg Green

      In reply to ccarswell:

      The honest thing to do would to include the headline and subhead,, then the link to the original news site, like many news aggregators do.

      To reprint some other publishers’ news in its entirety without compensation should be considered stealing. I don’t know why it isn’t.

  13. red.radar

    I wonder if the nuance is that these companies monotize their own publishing platform with Google Ad services which in turn through TOS gives Google the authority to do whatever they want. I wonder if this is another Anti-Trust abuse.

  14. LT1 Z51

    Sounds like more evidence of Monopolistic Power abuse. Which not actually having a Monopoly is the number one way to get broken up by anti-trust laws. Evidence of over-seas behavior can be used to prove intent to cause harm to customers here, so Google should watch its self unless it wants to cease being a tech conglomerate.

  15. glenn8878

    "Google says it could pull its search engine from the country." This is actually a good development. I don't even bother using Google Search anymore. I'm also avoiding Chrome. Using Brave and another search engine.

    There should be an anti-scraping law period. You can't force Google to negotiate a fair price. There should also be a fair use law in a search engine that doesn't allow them to repost more than one paragraph.

  16. divodd

    I don't understand - how is a headline, a photo, and a short blurb summarizing what you're about to click on "republishing"? Without that info I probably don't click on your story at all, and you get nothing?

    • dashrender

      In reply to Divodd:

      I really think this is the heart of the issue.

      So you won't click if it's only a link and no description, but then, how many people don't click because they got everything they wanted from the blurb? This is the real rub here.

      In the case where Google/FB republish a blurb (and earn money from ads) AND also the person doesn't bother to click through - the content creator never earns a cent.

      Though I think it's already been shown in places where google either simply doesn't display links for new at all, or ONLY shows a link - those new sources get even fewer click-tos because, like you, people won't just click on a link they can't be assured might provide what they are really looking for.

      It's a double edged sword for sure.

      • divodd

        In reply to Dashrender:

        A lot of these same companies, on their own, post links with pictures and short blurbs to their own Twitter accounts, and make no money off of the tweets themselves, either. Is there no more clear example that this is something the companies actively desire and benefit from?

  17. nbplopes

    Any links for the legislation?

  18. mrlinux11

    Well if they did not want google search to find them, create and add robot.txt file to their site and have google not scan it.

  19. codymesh

    This is so scummy. Why not just pull Google News instead of threatening Search?

    This kind of bravado in response to governments will only hurt google more in the future.

    • crp0908

      In reply to codymesh:

      Because pulling Google News is a non-threat and would probably hurt Google more than it would hurt Australia. Who actually relies on Google News as their only source of news compared to almost everyone relying on Google Search.

    • bkkcanuck

      In reply to codymesh:

      News shows up in search... including sites that are not on Google News but are technically news... Australia would have to include a required tag to be included in any content to paid for so Google could filter it out and be assured that they will not be on the hook. Without that in the law - Google might be better off shutting of Australia altogether.

  20. ebraiter

    Let them pull out of Australia. There are other search engines as well.

    As for Berners-Lee's comments, there are plenty of free and paying news sites.

    • bkkcanuck

      In reply to ebraiter:

      Do you think duck duck go will pay for content - I doubt they have the funds to do it. There has to be a middle ground - fair use - you can link to it - and you can publish the title and maybe the first three sentences (and index whatever is visible) only or maybe the first paragraph only (free) anything more and you pay for content (which for the most part is how it works - or how I thought it worked). Most news sites that are pay-walled only gives anyone (web crawlers) a limited access to the first few paragraphs only...

    • Greg Green

      In reply to ebraiter:

      Berners-Lee's comments were about linking, which isn’t really the issue here. I don’t think the Aussie’s want the links to be bought, they want google to stop reprinting entire stories without paying for them.

      So someone (google?) asked Berners-Lee the wrong question or he didn’t understand the issue. Maybe I don’t understand the issue. It seems like a no brainer to me.

  21. scovious

    Can we all sign something that says: "Yes, go ahead and pull your company out of Australia in a spiteful tantrum, nobody respects the trillion dollar ad empire built on the backs of others' free content and private information."