In Focus

Google threatens to pull out of Australia over media payment law

Social media giant poised to shut down search engines if forced to pay for news content

The Google search engine will be disabled in Australia and Facebook will remove news from its feed for all Australian users unless the country’s government backs down over proposed media law changes, the tech giants have warned.

Australia is introducing “a world-first law to make Google, Facebook and potentially other tech companies pay media outlets for their news content”, the BBC reports.

But in what Forbes describes as “one of the most dramatic escalations amid ongoing attempts around the world to regulate big tech”, Google and Facebook are threatening to withdraw their services if Canberra forces them to share royalties with news publishers.

Google’s managing director for Australia, Melanie Silva, told a hearing for the Senate inquiry into the “news media bargaining code” that the proposed legislation was “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”. 

The law change was proposed “following an investigation into the dominance of both Google and Facebook in online news content”, reports Computer Weekly. “The Australian government believes this poses a threat to democracy in the country.”

But if the two tech giants take drastic action in protest, “19 million Australians who use Google every month would no longer be able to use Google Search” and “17 million Australians who log into Facebook every month would not be able to see or post any news articles on the social media site”, The Guardian reports.

Experts have “said the threat is not idle, with Google likely fearful the code could set a global precedent,” according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is taking a defiant stance, however, telling reporters in Brisbane that his lawmakers do not respond to “threats”.

He added: “Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia. That’s done in our Parliament. It’s done by our government, and that’s how things work here in Australia.”

Lobby group Reset Australia, which is campaigning for the regulation of big tech companies, has accused Google of “bullying a sovereign nation”.

The “egregious threats show Google has the body of behemoth, but the brain of brat”, said the organisation’s executive director Chris Cooper.

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