Google threatens to shut down search engine in Australia as it lobbies against digital news code – TechCrunch


Google has threatened to shut down its search engine in Australia – as it intensifies its lobbying against a bill that seeks to force it to pay news publishers for the reuse of their content.

Facebook would also be subject to the law. And Facebook already said it would ban the sharing of information about its products due to the passage of the law, while claiming that it has reduced its investments in the country due to the legislative threat.

“The principle of unlimited links between websites is fundamental for research. Coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk if this version of the Code were to become law, this would leave us with no choice but to stop making Google search available in Australia ”, Google warned today.

Last August, the tech giant took another shot at the proposal, warning that the quality of its products in the country could suffer and could cease to be free if the government tried to ensure that the Tech giants share advertising revenue with media companies.

Since last summer, Google appears to have changed course in lobbying, apparently abandoning its attempt to derail the law entirely in favor of an attempt to reshape it to minimize the financial impact.

His latest lobbying is aimed at trying to eject the most harmful elements (in his opinion) from the bill – while pushing his News Showcase program, which he hastily launched last year, as an alternative model for payments to publishers. that he would prefer becomes the vehicle for remittances under the Code.

Australia’s digital information code bill currently before parliament includes a controversial requirement that tech giants Google and Facebook pay publishers for links to their content – not just for display excerpts from text.

Yet Google warned Australia that charging it for “links and snippets” would disrupt the functioning of the Internet.

In a declaration At the Senate Economy Committee today, its Vice-Chairman for Australia and New Zealand, Mel Silva, said: “This provision of the Code would set an untenable precedent for our business and the digital economy. It’s not compatible with how search engines work or how the internet works, and that’s not just Google’s point of view – it was cited in many submissions received by this survey.

“The principle of unlimited links between websites is fundamental for research. Coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk if this version of the Code becomes law, that would leave us with no choice but to stop making Google search available in Australia. “

Google is certainly not alone in screaming scandal over a proposal to demand payments for connections.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, warned that the bill “risks violating a fundamental principle of the Web by requiring payment for linking certain online content”, among other alarmed submissions to the committee.

In a written testimony, he continues:

Before search engines were effective on the web, following links from page to page was the only way to find material. Search engines make this process much more efficient, but they can only do it by using the web’s link structure as their primary entry. Links are therefore fundamental for the Web.

From what I understand, the proposed code aims to force selected digital platforms to negotiate and possibly pay to link to news content from a particular group of news providers.

Charging a fee for a web link blocks an important aspect of the value of web content. To my knowledge, there is currently no example of a legal payment requirement for links to other content. The ability to link freely – that is, without limitations on the content of the linked site and without monetary charges – is fundamental to the functioning of the web, its flourishing so far and its growth in the decades to come. .

However, it should be noted that Berners-Lee’s submission does not mention any excerpts. Not once. It’s all about the links.

Meanwhile, Google has just struck a deal with publishers in France – which they say covers payment for content snippets.

In the EU, the tech giant is subject to an already reformed copyright directive that extended a neighboring right for news content to cover the reuse of text snippets. Although the directive does not cover links or “very short snippets”.

In France, Google claims to only pay for content “beyond links and very short extracts”. But he did not say anything about the extracts in this context.

French publishers clearly defend European law Is cover the not-so-short snippets of text that Google typically shows in its news aggregator – stressing that the directive states that the exception should not be interpreted in a way that affects the effectiveness of related rights. So it seems that Google would have a big French fight to deliver if it tried to refuse payments for snippets.

But there is still everything to play in Australia. Therefore, downwards, Google is trying to confuse what are really two separate and distinct issues (payment for links versus payment for snippets) – in the hopes of reducing the financial impact compared to what is already integrated. in European legislation. (Although it has only been actively applied in France so far, which is ahead of other EU countries in transposing the directive into national law.)

In Australia, Google is also pushing for the Code to “refer to News Showcase” (i.e. the program it launched once the legal writing was on the wall about paid publishers) – making pressure to be the vehicle through which he can make “trade deals paying Australian newspaper publishers for value”.

Of course, a trade negotiation process is preferable (and familiar) to the tech giant rather than being bound by the Code’s “final offer arbitrage model” – which Google attacks as having ” biased criteria ”, and claims to subject it to“ financial problems and operational risk ”.

“If this is replaced by standard commercial arbitration based on comparable agreements, it would encourage good faith negotiations and ensure that we are held accountable through robust dispute resolution,” Silva also says.

A third provision that the tech giant really wants to remove from the current project requires it to notify publishers before changes to its algorithms, which could affect how their content is discovered.

“The algorithm’s notification provision could be adjusted to require only reasonable notice of significant and actionable changes to Google’s algorithm, to ensure that publishers are able to respond to changes that affect them, ”he suggests on this subject.

It is certainly interesting to examine how, in a few years, Google’s stance went from ‘we will never pay for information’ – before any relevant legislation – to the EU had adopted a directive which is now very actively enforced in France (with the help of competition law) and also with Australia which is moving towards the inking of a similar law.

It turns out the legislation can be a real change of mind for the tech giant.

Of course, the idea of ​​making anyone pay to link to online content is obviously a terrible idea – and should be scrapped.

But if this part of the project is a bargaining tactic by Australian lawmakers to get Google to accept that it will have to pay publishers Something then he seems to be a winner.

And while Google’s threat to shut down its search engine may seem “total,” as Silva suggests, when you consider the number of alternative search engines out there, this is no longer the threat it once was. .

Especially since many alternative search engines are much less abusive towards the privacy of users.

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