A 3D printed Google logo is seen in this illustration. File/Reuters
Google said on Friday it will disable its search function in Australia if the government proceeds with a media code that would force it and Facebook Inc to pay local media companies for sharing their content.
Australia is on course to pass laws that would make the Big Tech giants negotiate payments with local publishers and broadcasters for content. If they can’t strike a deal, a government-appointed arbitrator will decide the price.
“The code’s arbitration model with bias criteria presents unmanageable financial and operational risk for Google,” Mel Silva, managing director for Australia and New Zealand, told a senate committee.
“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.”
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Google’s comments drew sharp rebuke from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison who said the country makes its rules for “things you can do in Australia.”
“People who want to work with that in Australia, you’re very welcome. But we don’t respond to threats,” Morrison told reporters.
The United States government this week asked Australia to scrap the proposed laws, which have broad political support, and suggested Australia should pursue a voluntary code instead.
Australia announced the legislation last month after an investigation found Alphabet Inc-owned Google and social media giant Facebook held too much market power in the media industry, a situation it said posed a potential threat to a well-functioning democracy.
Google’s threat to limit its services in Australia came just hours after the internet giant reached a content-payment deal with some French news publishers.
Google’s testimony “is part of a pattern of threatening behaviour that is chilling for anyone who values our democracy,” said Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.
Facebook wiped out pages from Australian state governments and charities as well as from domestic and international news organisations, three days before the launch of a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination programme.
“There are negotiations going on with all the major players and the minor players at the moment,” Frydenberg told reporters. “This will help sustain public interest journalism in this country for years to come.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook indicated a compromise had been reached on key aspects of a law that would force digital giants to pay news companies for content.
Accusing the committee of mounting a "political hit job," Johnson said in a statement: "I am being forced out by a tiny handful of people, with no evidence to back up their assertions."
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The announcement of their rescue on Friday brought a happy ending to a saga that had captivated many Colombians, a watch with highs and lows as searchers frantically combed through the rainforest hunting for the youngsters.