Google says Australian pay-for-news code means it can’t quit the country

Pushes back against accusation of misinformation with argument its only option is to stop indexing almost everything

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Google’s Australian limb has continued its campaign against the nation’s pay-for-content "News Media Bargaining Code" with a more detailed dive into the reasons it opposes the plan.

Google has run an impossible-to-miss campaign that has seen its Australian services peppered with links about bad things that will happen to Search and YouTube if the proposed new Code is adopted in its current form. That foray was labelled misinformation by regulator the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. But the company has not offered fine detail why it opposes the Code. Today’s post changes that, offering thirteen questions and Google’s answers.

Your correspondent believes the tenth – “Why won’t you just shut down Google News like you did in Spain, or remove Australian news websites?” - is the most significant, as it sees Google criticise the Code on grounds that if Google agrees to pay some news organisations, the company must still show all news from all other news organisations registered under the Code.

Which is kind of the point of the Code, which seeks to make sure that Google and Facebook pay those who wish to bargain but that doing so doesn’t deprive other publishers of a presence in search results.

Google says that “we’d have to undertake a mass cull of content globally to stop them being visible to Australians - we’d have to remove all foreign newspapers, bloggers, YouTube citizen reporters, but also sports reporting, discussions of global health issues, tweets about current events, and literally endless other types of content from all sources around the world.”

Google also argues that that indexing fewer sources would erode the quality of its search service by just including fewer results. Another line of argument sees it argue that the Code’s requirement to give participating publishers advance notice of algorithm changes has the potential to see them game search results to the detriment of rival outlets.

The requirement for advance notice of algorithm changes also comes in for criticism on grounds that Google changed its search Code more than 3,600 times last year alone, sometimes to improve user security.

“That’s 28 days before we can roll out defences against new kinds of spam or fraud. 28 days of extra delay before we can launch new features that are already available to the rest of the world. And 28 days before we can fix things that break,” Google wrote.

The post also addresses community criticism that Google stoked fear among the YouTube creator community with suggestions the video service could be compromised. Google’s called out broad language in the Code – “every digital platform service” - as evidence that YouTube would be impacted.

Google also takes issue with the Code’s likely benefits flowing mostly to very large publishers, and the arbitration process.

But the company also admits “We're happy to pay more to license content, and want to support journalism as it transitions to a digital future, but a fair negotiation or arbitration should factor in the value both parties provide.”

Which again, is the point of the Code. Australia doesn’t want Google or Facebook to leave, it just wants them to pay news organisations on terms set by Australia rather than terms the web giants define themselves.

“It’s good that there’s now a robust public discussion about this important issue,” the post concludes. And that discussion includes the opportunity to offer further comment on the Code by Friday, August 28th.

Australian regulators and politicians have so far not budged from their positions on the Code and one interpretation of their staunch stance is a desire to curry favour with the nation’s two dominant publishers, Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited and the sprawling Nine Entertainment that manages to simultaneously run left-leaning broadsheet newspapers and right-leaning talkback radio outlets. ®


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