ACCC and Google come to blows over new media bargaining laws

Watchdog calls out Google as touting misinformation while the search giant says the new Media Bargaining Code as drafted is unworkable.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

After Google on Monday published an open letter declaring that Australia's proposed media bargaining laws were unfair and put the "way Aussies' search at risk", the consumer watchdog rebutted, labelling the post as misinformation.

In the letter, Google said the proposed law, the News Media Bargaining Code, would force it to provide users with a "dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube", which could lead to data being handed over to "big news businesses, and would put the free services you use at risk in Australia".

The draft code of practice, published last month by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), adopts a model based on negotiation, mediation, and arbitration to "best facilitate genuine commercial bargaining between parties, allowing commercially negotiated outcomes suited to different business models used by Australian news media businesses".

The watchdog believes the code is necessary to address the fundamental bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and major digital platforms.

Read more: Google and Facebook to bargain with Aussie news outlets for 'fair' payment terms

The ACCC said following the letter that Google would not be required to charge Australians for the use of its free services such as Google Search and YouTube, unless it chooses to do so. It also said Google would not be required to share any additional user data with Australian news businesses, unless again, it chooses to do so.

"The draft code will allow Australian news businesses to negotiate for fair payment for their journalists' work that is included on Google services," it stated.

The search giant has since retaliated, telling ZDNet it strongly disagrees with the ACCC's claim that its letter contained misinformation and is concerned its view of the code has been represented in such a way during a consultation phase.

"We did not say that the proposed law would require us to charge Australians for Search and YouTube -- we do not intend to charge users for our free services," a Google spokesperson said.

"What we did say is that Search and YouTube, both of which are free services, are at risk in Australia. That's because the code as it is drafted is unworkable."

Providing an example, Google said the code requires it to provide all news media businesses advance notice of algorithm changes and explain how they can minimise the effects.

"Even assuming Google could comply with this provision, it would seriously damage our products and user experience. It would impact our ability to continue to show users the most relevant useful results on Google Search and YouTube," it said.

In response to the ACCC saying Google would not be required to share any additional user data with Australian news businesses unless it chooses to do so, the search giant said the code does, in fact, require that.

"[It] requires Google to tell news media businesses what user data we collect, what data we supply to them, and 'how the registered news business corporation can gain access to' that data which we don't supply to them," it said.

"This goes beyond the current level of data sharing between Google and news publishers."

Google said that if the intention of the law is not to mandate such sharing, it should expressly state that.

Submissions to the ACCC on its draft code close 28 August 2020.  


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