(AUSTRALIA) Google Media Report: Threats for many citizens of the tech giant deciding to ‘ pull the plug ‘ on their search machine over proposed ‘ media code ‘ that would require them to pay local news media companies for their product #AceNewsDesk report

#AceNewsReport – Jan.24: For many Australians, Google is the internet: It’s where we get much of our news. It’s where we find and plan our holidays. It’s where we go to shop for gifts online:

Google is threatening to pull its search engine from Australia. So what does that mean for you?

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The logo for Google, brightly coloured letters spelling out the company name, sits atop a building against a bright blue sky.
Google is threatening to remove its search engine from Australia.(Unsplash: Paweł Czerwiński)

But in light of a proposed media code that would require the tech giant to pay local news media companies for their product, Google is threatening to end the relationship.

“ And it’s shaping up to be an acrimonious split”

“I think Google’s view is that they are so superior that people can’t live without them,” Peter Lewis, director of the Centre for Responsible Technology, says.

“There is a whole bunch of flow-on effects that I don’t even know if Google have probably thought through yet.”

So what does this actually mean for your everyday Australian? And if Google pulls out of Australia, could we all soon be relying on Ask Jeeves?

Wait, what’s happening?

Google has flagged removing its search engine from Australia over the Federal Government’s proposed digital media code.

The proposal would force tech giants to pay local media companies for providing their content in search and sharing their content on social media, which Google says would “dismantle a free and open service that’s been built to serve everyone“.

Addressing the ultimatum last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison didn’t mince words: “We don’t respond to threats.”

Play Video. Duration: 20 seconds
Scott Morrison says the Government will not respond to threats about the news media code.

But if Google does take its ball and goes home (for lack of better phrase), you can say goodbye to the days of using its service to search for local restaurants or carry out research for school assignments.

“Google has become the internet. And by that, we mean that we enter through a Google home page, rather than type in a URL,” Mr Lewis says.

“If they were to remove search from Australia, are they going to maintain Google Maps, which a lot of GPS runs off? Are they going to continue with Gmail and Google Docs?

“They haven’t said they will do that (remove them), but it’s worth thinking about the degree to which we do rely on these engines.”

Has it been done before?

We haven’t seen this exact scenario play out before.

But it’s not entirely unprecedented. Over the years, Google has removed some of its services from countries in response to local issues.

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In 2010, it “effectively shut down” its Chinese operations after discovering it was the target of a cyberattack from within the country.

Four years later, it removed Google News from Spain after the government passed a copyright law forcing aggregators to pay news publishers for their stories.

“I’m not entirely sure whether they’re serious about the threat,” Belinda Barnet, an expert on media regulation at Swinburne University, says.

“But if they wanted to, they certainly could pull search from the market in Australia.”

In a timely parallel, Google and French publishers last week struck a copyright framework agreement requiring the digital giant to pay news publishers for their online content.

But the commercial arrangement allows them to “control the terms”, Mr Lewis says.

“So I see that resistance to the [Australian] code as being a fear of creating a global precedent,” he says.

What will it mean for your everyday Australian?

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Google accounted for 90 per cent of search traffic originating from Australian desktop computer users in 2018, and a whopping 98 per cent from mobile users.

And while it’s important to note the proposed code needs to pass before any changes, real or imagined, are likely to take place, Dr Barnet says it may be time to start considering alternatives to Google.

“It won’t be a choice, and it could happen suddenly,” she says.

Young people using a laptop computer and tablet.
Google accounted for 90 per cent of search traffic originating from Australian desktop computer users in 2018.(Rawpixel.com)

“You know, they’ll open up their browser to search for a recipe for stroganoff and find themselves landing on this page, which Google will probably change to a page saying, ‘Oh, the Australian Government’s awful and it made us do this and we can’t let you search anymore.’

“So there’ll be this moment where Australians have to consider another way to access the web.”

There are also questions about what the exit could mean, if anything, for Android users (Google purchased Android Inc. in 2005).

Mr Lewis says it is one of the many unknowns lurking behind the threat.

“It is worth thinking through all those other layers of reliance we have on Google,” he says.

“If they did it — close search — what would be the strategy for the rest of their services in Australia? And then what opportunities would that offer up to other players?”

What about businesses?

While switching search engines is likely to be an inconvenience, Dr Barnet and Mr Lewis agree the most profound impacts will be the flow-on effects on Australian businesses.

“The digital advertising market for Google search in Australia is worth about $4.3 billion per year,” Dr Barnet says.

“And they’re willing to forego that in order to not have to pay a fair price for news content.”

An analysis of Australia’s reliance on Google and Facebook, undertaken by the Centre for Responsible Technology, notes: “Google now accounts for over 51 per cent of all online advertising.”

Overhead shot of a laptop, business plan, camera and hands around a coffee mug.
The experts agree the most profound impacts will be felt by Australian businesses.(Supplied: rawpixel.com)

Small businesses in particular, it adds, have benefited from the “cost-effective way to advertise”.

“Where the disruption occurs isn’t so much whether you search for [something] using your Google entry point or just typing in the URL,” Mr Lewis says.

“It’s all the businesses and all the services that have come to rely on the Google platform to operate on the internet.

“And that’s where, in terms of our analysis, that we are hugely exposed to both these companies.”

What search engine will we use instead?

Whether Google’s threat will eventuate is yet to be seen.

But the experts say we’re unlikely to see the resurgence of Ask Jeeves (now known simply as “Ask”) anytime soon.

The experts say we're unlikely to see the return of Ask Jeeves (now known simply as "Ask") anytime soon.
The experts say we’re unlikely to see the popularity of Ask Jeeves (now known simply as “Ask”) soar again anytime soon.(Supplied)

“The major market competitor is Bing, and Bing feels kind of familiar and works in much the same way [as Google] — it personalises your search, you can download it on your phone and you can make it the default browser,” Dr Barnet says.

“So I think that’s the obvious one … Australians are going to have to think about.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Mr Lewis, who points to other search engines such as DuckDuckGo.

Google’s potential exit may also create opportunities “for another player to fill the void”, he adds.

“If you look around the world, more and more governments are starting to ask for this — for Google to pay a fair price for news content around the world,” Dr Barnet says.

“And if they pull out of every market, they’re not going to have a product left. So I can’t see them doing this en masse really.

“But if it does happen in Australia, we will survive.”

#AceNewsDesk report …………..Published: Jan.24: 2021:

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