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In a nutshell: Google is butting heads again with Australia's top competition watchdog group. The ACCC is consulting on regulations that the Mountain View tech giant says would give news outlets an unfair advantage in negotiations in how much Google pays them for content.
Google has published an open letter to its Australian audience, warning them of the consequences of regulations currently under consideration in their country. The announcement pops up on the Australian version of the Google home page with a link to the letter.
"The way Aussies use Google is at risk," reads the warning. "Your search experience will be hurt by new regulation."
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) "News Media Bargaining Code" proposes to compel large tech companies to inform media outlets when changes to their algorithms will affect their search rankings. Perhaps more importantly, it also grants more bargaining power to news organizations, effectively giving them what Google says is an "unfair advantage" in trade negotiations. The regulation limits this requirement to only Australian news outlets making more than $150,000 per year.
Google's Managing Director Mel Silva claims that, if adopted, the new rules could put users' data at risk and "hurt" the Google services that are currently free to use.
"Under this law, Google has to tell news media businesses 'how they can gain access' to data about your use of our products," Silva's letter reads. "We've offered to pay more to license content. But rather than encouraging these types of partnerships, the law is set up to give big media companies special treatment and to encourage them to make enormous and unreasonable demands that would put our free services at risk."
The ACCC responded with a letter of its own saying that the regulation addresses "a significant bargaining power imbalance between Australian news media businesses and Google," which was discovered after a 2019 investigation into its algorithms.
"Google will not be required to share any additional user data with Australian news businesses [and] will not be required to charge Australians for the use of its free services such as Google Search and YouTube."
It is also quick to point out that the rules do not single out the search giant. They are equally applicable to other corporations, such as Facebook, which was also part of the ACCC's 2019 algorithm probe. The commission denies that firms will be required to share user data, nor will companies be forced to charge users.
"Google will not be required to share any additional user data with Australian news businesses unless it chooses to do so," says the ACCC. "Google will not be required to charge Australians for the use of its free services such as Google Search and YouTube, unless it chooses to do so."
Essentially the commission threw Mountain View's alarm-bell ringing back in its face saying that anything negative will be Google's doing, not the regulation. However, that seems to be at least partially myopic considering that the rules still seek to dip into the search giant's wallet.
Google claims it already pays news organizations "millions of dollars" per year along with "billions of free clicks." It also says that until this proposal came along, it was negotiating paying outlets even more money to license content—talks that are now on hold, according to the Financial Times.
Image credit: Mehaniq