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Google warns Australian users against regulation forcing it to pay for news content

Google is warning its users in Australia about a newly proposed government regulation that would force it to pay news companies for their content. Popping up on the Google Search page, an open letter states that Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code would force Google to provide users “dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube, could lead to your data being handed over to big news businesses, and would put the free services you use at risk in Australia”.

Last month, the Australia Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) had published a draft of the code, which laid out how negotiations for payments to news businesses by Facebook & Google would play out. The code is “aimed at addressing acute bargaining power imbalances” between the two, the regulator had said.

Google Australia’s MD Melania Silva, in the open letter, states that the code would force Google to favour news businesses over individual channels, websites, and “small businesses”. It includes a claim that news businesses would be given information that would help hem artificially inflate their rankings. Google was seemingly referring to the law requirements around notice for algorithm changes that would affect news companies.

The law also requires platforms to give news companies nearly a month’s notice of any changes to its algorithms which may affect referral traffic to news sites, or those affecting rankings of paywalled news, and “substantial changes” to how news is displayed, and even advertising of news. Google and Facebook would also have to provide data about user engagement on news content on their platforms.

The ACCC has pushed back on the open letter, stating that the it contains misinformation. It said that the new law does not require Google to charge Australians for its free services, and Google is not required to share any additional user data with news companies. “We’re going to do everything we possibly can to get this proposal changed,” Google concluded.

Under the draft code, Facebook and Google would be required to negotiate, in good faith, their payments to news companies for hosting their content. If an agreement cannot be reached within three months, an independent arbiter would step in and make a binding decision. News organisations are also allowed to team up to negotiate. News organisations have to meet minimum levels of editorial standards, have a degree of editorial independence, and generate an annual revenue of over $150,000.

Both Facebook and Google have previously said that news content is not as substantial to their businesses. Facebook had said in June, before the draft code was released, that pulling news content off of the platform would not significantly impact its business, and that “news content is highly substitutable”. In an opinion piece, Google Australia’s Melania Silva had written that the “direct economic value Google gets from news content in Search is very small”.

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