Google’s open letter to Australians and ACCC response

On 20 April 2020, the Australian Government asked the ACCC to develop a mandatory code of conduct to address bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms, specifically Google and Facebook. The ACCC released a draft code for public consultation on 31 July 2020.

In an open letter to Australians on Monday, Google Australia said a proposed new law would force the search giant to provide Australians with a dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube, could lead to personal data being handed over to big news businesses, and would put the free services at risk in Australia.

What Google said

“You’ve always relied on Google Search and YouTube to show you what’s most relevant and helpful to you. We could no longer guarantee that under this law. The law would force us to give an unfair advantage to one group of businesses – news media businesses – over everyone else who has a website, YouTube channel or small business. News media businesses alone would be given information that would help them artificially inflate their ranking over everyone else, even when someone else provides a better result. We’ve always treated all website owners fairly when it comes to information we share about ranking. The proposed changes are not fair and they mean that Google Search results and YouTube will be worse for you.”

“You trust us with your data and our job is to keep it safe. Under this law, Google has to tell news media businesses “how they can gain access” to data about your use of our products. There’s no way of knowing if any data handed over would be protected, or how it might be used by news media businesses.”

We deeply believe in the importance of news to society. We partner closely with Australian news media businesses — we already pay them millions of dollars and send them billions of free clicks every year. 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”.

“This law wouldn’t just impact the way Google and YouTube work with news media businesses — it would impact all of our Australian users, so we wanted to let you know. We’re going to do everything we possibly can to get this proposal changed so we can protect how Search and YouTube work for you in Australia and continue to build constructive partnerships with news media businesses — not choose one over the other”.

How ACCC responded 

Australian consumer watchdog said the letter contained “misinformation.”

The open letter published by Google today contains misinformation about the draft news media bargaining code which the ACCC would like to address.

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.

Google will not be required to share any additional user data with Australian news businesses unless it chooses to do so.

The draft code will allow Australian news businesses to negotiate for fair payment for their journalists’ work that is included on Google services.

This will address a significant bargaining power imbalance between Australian news media businesses and Google and Facebook.

A healthy news media sector is essential to a well-functioning democracy.

We will continue to consult on the draft code with interested parties, including Google.

Consultation closes on 28 August 2020.” 

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