- Google has formally responded to the Australian government’s efforts to force it to pay news publishers, arguing that the debate is riddled with “misconceptions”.
- In a blog post, the company says it was engaged in the voluntary code of conduct process, despite claims from publishers and the ACCC.
- Google argues it provides news publishers with significant benefits, and says they can delist themselves from search and Google News if they wanted to do so.
- Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.
After maintaining something of a diplomatic silence for the past couple of weeks, Google has responded to the federal government’s push to force it to pay Australian publishers with a blog post responding to “misconceptions” in the debate.
In April, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher ordered the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to draw up a mandatory code of practice with the stated goal of correcting the “significant imbalance” in bargaining power between local media publishers and international tech titans like Facebook and Google.
The order followed earlier efforts at hashing out a code on a voluntary basis.
In the blog post, posted by Google Australia managing director Mel Silva, the company disputes claims by the ACCC and publishers that it wasn’t engaging with that voluntary process. “Google welcomed the recommendation and was advancing a code, based on extensive and continuing consultation with news media businesses,” the post reads.
“From the outset, Google actively engaged in the voluntary code process. Google acted in good faith, working constructively by consulting with more than 25 news media businesses – broadcasters, print and online publishers from metro and regional areas,” the blog goes on to say.
This echoes what a Google spokesperson told Business Insider Australia in April. “We’ve worked for many years to be a collaborative partner to the news industry, helping them grow their businesses through ads and subscription services and increase audiences by driving valuable traffic,” the spokesperson said.
Google argues that it provides significant benefits to news publishers
The general argument made by news publishers – not just in Australia, but globally – is that platforms like Facebook and Google hoover up larger and larger slices of ad revenue while failing to compensate publishers for displaying their content.
The general thrust of Google’s response is that it does not make money from search listings or snippets of content displayed in search, and that it helps publishers by sending them relevant user traffic.
“Google Search doesn’t make any money when a user clicks on a news search result, rather when users click on ads,” the blog post reads. “News.google.com has no ads, nor does the news results tab on the search page. And even more broadly, searches for journalistic related queries are a very small proportion of all searches and very rarely return ads. When a search query does return an ad, it’s up to the user to decide if they click on the ad – Google does not get paid for showing the ad, only if the user clicks on it.”
According to Google, it sent two billion visits to Australian news sites from Australian users in 2018, which the company argues helps publishers “generate advertising revenues from those audiences and convert them into paying subscribers.”
“Everyone benefits from this exchange,” the blog post reads. “While news content has significant social value, it is often difficult to make money from. And primarily news-seeking queries make up only a tiny percentage of queries we see.”
Core to Google’s argument – which it has also deployed in similar regulatory fights in Europe – is the claim that publishers who feel Google benefits more than they do from search listings can simply opt to be removed from search and Google News altogether.
“Publishers have always been able to decide whether their content shows up in Google Search,” the blog post reads. “Most choose to be found via Google to attract more visitors to their sites.”
The argument being made by publishers is a more existential one. Whereas Google maintains it is a mere facilitator between users and publishers, publishers argue that Google and Facebook have grown so dominant in how people and find and access content that they are faced with a lose-lose situation: either accept Google’s terms, or face haemorrhaging traffic.
The Australian government backs that interpretation.
“In its final report, the ACCC identified that Facebook and Google have each become unavoidable trading partners for Australian news media businesses in reaching audiences online, resulting in an imbalance in bargaining power,” a joint statement from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher said when the new code was announced.
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