Google says it will disable Search in Australia if it's forced to pay for news

The company's spokesperson made the statement at a Senate hearing.

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Google has been at odds with the Australian government ever since the latter started working on a mandatory code of conduct that would require Facebook, Google and others to pay news outlets for using their content. Now, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, that tech giant would go as far as leaving the country if it’s forced to pay for news. Mel Silva, Google’s managing director in the country, told the Senate at a hearing: “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.”

The country’s officials were negotiating an agreement that would make payments voluntary. However, after seeing the pandemic’s impact on the news industry’s ad revenue, the government switched its plans to make payments mandatory. As a response, Google published an open letter in August 2020, warning users that free search and YouTube services are “at risk” in the country if the government implements the proposed law. The tech giant also dropped its plans to launch a curated News Showcase in Australia.

When asked about Google’s declaration, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “People who want to work with that, in Australia, you're very welcome. But we don't respond to threats.” Silva denies that her statement was a threat. “It’s a reality,” she said, clarifying that pulling Search in the country is the “worst case scenario.” She said making payments to news outlets for content would break Google’s business, and the proposal “would set an untenable precedent for [its] businesses and the digital economy.” She added: “It's not compatible with how search engines work or how the internet works.” In a blog post the company published, it said it’s “committed to reaching a workable code and see a clear path to getting there.”

Aside from Google, Facebook has also been opposed to mandatory payments from the start. The social network didn’t threaten to leave Australia if the proposal becomes a law, but it wouldn’t be able to offer news as a product anymore.