The whole world has been watching the fight between Facebook, Google and Australia’s news publishers. And in the latest escalation, Google is trying to appeal directly to the Australian public.
On Monday morning, Google published an open letter from the company’s ANZ Director Mel Silva about the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC)’s draft news media bargaining code.
To draw people’s attention to the letter, the company is leveraging its position as front page of the internet by adding a line to warn about changes.
“The way Aussie search every day on Google is at risk from new Government regulation,” it reads, accompanied by a hazard sign.
And in case you missed that, the website has also added a famously popular pop-up prompt that comes up during a search.
“The way Aussies use Google is at risk”, the prompt says, “your search experience will be hurt by new regulation”.
What is Google worried about?
After a year and a half of investigating, the ACCC, affectionately known as Australia’s consumer watchdog, published a report last year that found that digital platforms had significant bargaining powers.
News publishers, on the other hand, were a lot less powerful and this imbalance had significant adverse affects for the average punter.
In April this year, the Australian government asked Australia’s consumer watchdog, the ACCC, to create some rules for a negotiation between news publishers and tech platforms.
When the draft ‘code of conduct’ was released at the end of July, it laid out a process for negotiation and requirements that the platforms give more information to publishers.
Predictably, Google strongly opposed the code whereas Facebook declined to comment, although they’d rejected the idea of paying for news in the past.
Here’s why Google says it’s warning Australians
In the letter, Silva claims that the code places free services — like Search, Gmail, Youtube — “at risk”, seemingly implying that these services will be affected or may be discontinued if the draft code goes through.
“A proposed law, the News Media Bargaining Code, would force us to provide you with a dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube, could lead to your data being handed over to big news businesses, and would put the free services you use at risk in Australia,” she wrote.
YouTube’s head of APAC Gautam Anand published a very similar post to the Google Australia blog, but addressed to Australia’s creators.
And while they had gone public with their criticism before, the letter and warnings are a change in tactics. Now, they’re hoping to appeal to the public directly to place pressure on the government.
This isn’t the first time a tech company has tried to mobilise their large user base. Uber famously called on users around the world — including in Australia — to lobby politicians to change their laws to become more rideshare-friendly.
In adding these warnings, the company is using its real estate on Australia’s most visited website as a way to push back against negotiations that could force it to pay for its dominance.