Google, Australia hurl threats as row over payment for news intensifies

Google says will shut down the search engine if government code forcing tech companies to negotiate payments to news media firms goes ahead; in response, Australia says it does not respond to threats and that it makes its own rules for things that can be done in the country

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Australia has introduced rules to force the likes of Google to pay its news publishers to distribute their content

Two of Silicon Valley’s biggest technology giants have served an ultimatum to the Australian government, saying they will pull their services from the country if the government implements a code that they deem inimical to their interests.

Google has threatened to shut down its search engine in the country and Facebook has said it would remove news from its feeds if a government code forcing the tech companies to negotiate payments to news media firms goes ahead.

Also read: Need to check Google’s power to control users’ choices: Panel MPs

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The news comes even as Google said on Thursday that it would pay French publishers for news content. The agreement came after several months of negotiations between Google France and the country’s various media groups.

Last year, France’s competition authority ruled that Google must pay publishing firms and news agencies for reusing their content.

In Australia, too, the antitrust authority introduced rules to force the likes of Google and Facebook to pay its news publishers to distribute their content. But in Australia the tech giants have taken a more hardline approach, refusing to accept the measures. The company’s Australian managing director, Mel Silva, told a Senate committee the proposed news code would set a “dangerous precedent”.

“The principle of unrestricted linking between websites is fundamental to search and coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk 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,” she said.

“Withdrawing our services from Australia is the last thing that Google want to have happen, especially when there is another way forward.”

Also read: US antitrust move against Google: Too little, too late

Facebook repeated the company’s previous threat to pull news content from user feeds.

In a press conference in Brisbane, prime minister Scott Morrison said his government would not respond to 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. But we don’t respond to threats.”

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