The first weeks of 2021 has caused much distress for Australians wondering if they would lose their accessibility to Google Search. So what’s happened and what’s next?
Google vs. Australia – what happened?
In an effort to hold tech firms accountable for their market dominance over news content, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched an inquiry into the impact of Google and Facebook on competition in media and advertising back in 2018.
The findings from the inquiry recommended that the government adopt a new code of conduct that would level the power imbalance that had formed between media organisations and big tech.
In July 2020, the government unveiled a draft law to enforce the recommended code. This prompted Facebook and Google to threaten withdrawing their services from the country.
However, our government did not back down with parliament ready to pass a landmark media law that would see tech companies pay news publishers to display their content. Penalties could be up to A$10m (£5m; $7m) per breach, or 10% of the company’s local turnover.
The code will initially focus on Google and Facebook but could be expanded to other tech companies. Unlike Google and Facebook, Microsoft has actually thrown its support behind the proposed law.
So can I still use Google?
Yes. It seems both parties (Aus govt. and Google) were able to come to some form of an agreement with PM, Scott Morrison, suggesting the government is open to a compromise in how the code could be applied to Google.
For now it seems that Google are also playing fair by launching its News Showcase product earlier this month.
Last week Google signed one of the big four media companies, Seven West Media, in a reported $30m-a-year deal. Seven has described the deal as “fair payment” for original journalism.
Despite this, it’s still not clear what action Google intends to take if parliament passes the law.
… and Facebook?
Things with the social media giant have not gone as smooth, with Facebook announcing it will block Australian users from sharing or viewing news from this week. Users have already reported that they have not been able to see news articles on the platform.
According to Facebook, the law “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers”.
However, not everyone is worried about Facebook’s news ban with a Perth company launching a new social media app, called Litt. The app’s creators hope to roll out it out across Australia in a bid to take on the likes of Facebook and Instagram.
In the latest update, Facebook has restored Australians access to news content on their platform after a deal was struck between the social media giant and the federal government.
Writing in a blog post, Facebook’s Australia and New Zealand managing director William Easton said:
After further discussions, we are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognise the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them.
The law has already received broad political support and has passed parliament’s lower house. If it gets through the Senate, the code will be reviewed after a year.
So for now, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens as the Australian government negotiates in the face of Facebook’s news ban, and Google’s threat to follow suit. You can also keep an eye out for updates on our blog.