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Social media face off with Australia

Paul Brislen, Editor. 25 January 2021, 7:07 am

In the latest round of negotiations with the Australian government over payments to news producers, Google has threatened to pull its search engine capability out of the Australian market.

The move, which would affect the 95% of Australian users who use Google services each day, would also affect the search engine company's revenue in the region. Currently Google makes around A$4 billion a year in Australia alone from advertising revenue largely based on its extensive reach. Without search, that income would be reduced.

Yet in France, Google has agreed to a deal with the French government which on the surface seems very similar. Google will pay news producers for its use of snippets of news (headlines and introductory content) after France called the company's bluff, calling it an abuse of market dominance.

The difference between the French and Australian cases appears to be one of control. By accepting the Australian model, Google would effectively cede control of the amount of money paid and which news outlets would receive the money.

Google argues that such a move would "break" the internet - and its cry is supported by the founder of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who says paying to link to certain content flies in the face of an open and neutral internet. Of course, some would argue that threatening to remove news outlets from search results or banning entire territories from using search engines altogether would similarly break the internet - all this will be ironed out in the coming months.

Watchers on this side of the Tasman will be paying close attention to the manoeuvring as New Zealand officials have also suggested that a comprehensive suite of regulatory solutions will be needed to manage social media giants in the future. Between tax issues, copyright, promotion of fake news content, the push towards extremism and white supremacy content and the lack of accountability, the era of social media's free rein appears to be coming to a close, one way or another.


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