On Friday, Google threatened to shut down its powerful search engine for the 19 million people in Australia if the country adopts Big Tech draft legislation currently before parliament.
“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,” Google Australia Managing Director Mel Silva said at a Senate hearing in Canberra on Friday. “That would be a bad outcome not just for us, but for the Australian people, media diversity and small businesses who use Google Search.”
Talk about an understatement. As of July 2020, Google has dominated the search engine market, maintaining an 86.86 percent market share.
The proposed law would force digital platforms to enter into negotiations with news media companies to pay for content. If the tech companies and media companies fail to reach an agreement, the law would empower an arbiter to determine the payments.
Silva argued that the draft legislation “remains unworkable” and would involve “breaking” the way millions of users search for online content. She argued that the law “would require payments simply for links and snippets just to news results in Search.”
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“The free service we offer Australian users, and our business model, has been built on the ability to link freely between websites,” she explained.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country will not be intimidated by threats.
“Let me be clear. 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 and people who want to work with that in Australia, you’re very welcome,” Morrison said at a press conference on Friday. “But we don’t respond to threats.”
This battle comes amid growing concerns that the “free” experience Big Tech companies like Google provide to their users comes with dangerous trade-offs in terms of data privacy and potential manipulation.
Ph.D. psychologist Robert Epstein has studied the psychological effect of search results. He reported that Google’s search engine has a “very substantial pro-liberal bias” and warned that Google could swing 15 million votes in the 2020 U.S. election. He has even claimed that Google is effectively making a “huge in-kind donation” to Democrats like Joe Biden.
Google provides free services in return for access to users’ data, which enables the company to sell extremely effective ads. As the saying goes, “If you’re not the customer, you’re the product.”
There are many advantages to this business model, but users and governments across the world are waking up to the potential dangers it also presents.
While it seems this Australian law may go too far, this battle may help alter the playing field for companies with such a massive influence as Google. If Google did remove its search engine from Australia, that would cause massive disruption, but that disruption might open the door for some new alternatives.
Then again, there is a reason why Google has cornered the online search market — its search engine is particularly effective. Any company wishing to compete with Google faces a monumental task, and Australia’s proposed law likely would make things harder for Google’s competitors, as well.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.