No Google Down Under? –
Trial of Power in Australia

Last week ended with a bang in terms of search engine technology: on Friday, Google threatened to shut down its search engine Down Under if a planned media law there goes through. In recent days, Google has already begun removing messages from the accounts of some Australian users, calling it an “experiment.”
Australia’s Prime Minister Morrison said, they will not be intimidated by the threats. And so it remains exciting to see whether his government will really risk shutting down the search engine, which has a market share of a good 94 percent (mobile: 98 percent) in Australia.

What has happened so far? What is at stake?

The Australian government is planning a law to regulate the way major Internet companies use news content from local media outlets. At its core, Internet corporations such as Facebook and Google parent Alphabet are to negotiate exploitation fees for media content with publishers and broadcasters in the future. Until now, the internet giants have used their content on their platforms without paying for it.

In response to the planned law, Google last week threatened to block its search engine in Australia. Mel Silva, vice president of Google Australia and New Zealand, said at a Senate hearing that it would not be possible to continue offering search in Australia if the law came into effect.

The law would be the first of its kind in the world. It is likely that Google fears a precedent that other countries could follow. On a “voluntary” basis, the Internet company has already reached agreements with some 450 media companies around the world, as well as – also last week – with 300 French publications.

In such agreements, Google negotiates with publishers based on criteria set by the company itself. Disputes would most likely end up in court, where they could drag on for years and delay payment. In contrast, the Australian bill would provide a fixed framework and strengthen the media’s side with a government-appointed arbitration panel to decide about the amount of the payment if no agreement is reached.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison refuses to be intimidated: “Australia sets the rule for things you can do in Australia.” Threats, he said, will not be responded to.

For “testing purposes,” Google is meanwhile no longer showing individual news sites in its search results.

It remains exciting. Will the Australian government go for a shutdown?

Here is a selection of articles:

Answers from Google in their blog (and starting point for further reading in the Google blog):