Last Friday, Google claimed that the code as proposed by the government was not workable, would break the Internet — and also probably lead to Armageddon — but at the same time it has been approaching smaller media outlets and trying to muscle them into making deals on the terms specified by the Silicon Valley search giant.
If there are only two options — one, pulling out of the market if the Australian Government's code becomes law, and two, a Google version of that code — then from where did that third element suddenly appear?
The search giant is trying to back-peddle on its own ultimatum, saying it has been misunderstood. Melanie Silva, the company's ANZ managing director, was quoted by world+dog as saying the same thing of the company's ultimatum: "It’s not a threat. It’s a reality. If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.”
In the days since that threat was made, there have been varying reactions; some, fearful of a change to established business patterns, have been cowing down before the dominant search company, while others (self included) have been urging Messrs Page, Brin and Silva to pack their sh*t and go.
A couple of things have to happen if Google is to understand that it cannot try to dictate laws to sovereign nations.
One, no small media company should go behind the government's back and cut a deal with a company that is clearly on the back foot. All the good work done by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will be undone.
Two, the government should not grovel and give any more ground. As I have pointed out, the head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Rod Sims, has given ground on three important fronts before the law was introduced to Parliament on the last sitting day of 2020:
- the time interval for informing publishers about algorithm changes was changed;
- digital platforms were allowed to factor in the value of the service they provide to a news organisation in monetary terms before the quantum of payment is decided; and
- the law will only apply to Google Search and Facebook's NewsFeed. YouTube and Instagram are not covered.
There is no need to give a company of Google's size any more. Even these concessions are too much.
If Google and Facebook want to leave Australia, please provide them with a chartered plane at their own cost before they can change their minds. Do not give them any chance to backtrack and pretend that they are acting in the interests of users as Alex Zaharov-Reutt has reported.
As American comedian Bill Maher put it so eloquently [see embedded video above] to departing president Donald Trump: "Just pack your sh*t and go."