Op-Ed: Evaluating the Google proposal to Australia — Too nice by half

Posted Jan 29, 2021 by Paul Wallis
Google has been singled out as a target for legislation in Australia. This highly selective approach hasn’t gone down well with some people and businesses. Google has come up with a compromise proposal, and it’s worth a look.
Let’s be generous to this legislation (rather oddly called the News Media Bargaining Code) when not a lot of negotiation on the basics has happened. and ignore a few things –
• We’ll leave out the embarrassing fact that links are fundamental to the operation of the entire internet.
• We’ll skate serenely around the fact that this is an initiative from the news media, not normal legislation supposed to manage serious issues. (Is News Corp seriously saying a few cents on links makes the slightest difference to its bottom line? If so, why is that the case?)
• We’ll ignore the fact that Google advertising revenue is earned on a private contract basis.
• We’ll try to avoid the stated fact that Google links are worth about $4 billion to Australian businesses.
• We’ll blissfully avoid the fact that everyone in Australia uses Google search.
We’ll just focus on the fact that a few antiquated news media want money. That’s what Google has done with its proposal.
The proposal
Frankly, I think the Google proposal is much more polite than it needs to be. The Google proposal is based on both its interests and the need to get around the massive obstacle this legislation poses to basic internet functions.
Please read the proposal to get the context and scope of the solution Google’s trying to deliver. This is an understandably lengthy document and I’m not here to regurgitate existing information.
The proposal states Google’s case, and offers a workaround through a service called Google News Showcase, an existing service which is also operational in Australia. Google News Showcase is a natural choice for Google-paid content and looks like it’s a workable business model for Google.
The next issue in the proposal is arbitration for payment. It’s odd to see arbitration as a final option for what’s supposed to be a negotiated rate, but that’s what the legislation involves. Google wants that remodelled.
A technical issue is also included in the legislation and doesn’t really need to be there. This is “algorithm notification”, citing a 14-day period of notification of changes to algorithms which Google says isn’t workable and disadvantages other businesses in favour of news publishers. Surely the real value of any negotiated deal over payment for links would be based on performance, not a time frame for modification? Even if you want to object to a new algorithm, how do you do that if you don’t have any hard numbers to back up your objection?
A very blunt opinion
I am totally opposed to this legislation. I think it’s counterproductive and excessively favours news media publishers who’ve been directly complicit in the last four years of insanity and misery.
• I see no reason for creaky old corporate business models to benefit from legislation to prop up their very shaky ancient revenue models in any sector. Modernise or die, preferably the latter.
• I see no reason for complaint about what is currently a free service generating hits on news sites. This claim for cash for nothing is pure parasitism. The publishers have done nothing to merit any sort of consideration.
• I see no reason to lose a free service provided to the public. That alone will cost money. What about Australian businesses advertising on Google, you fools? Who knows what effect pulling Google would have on business revenue? How would you project that revenue to the point where anyone could believe it? You can’t.
Let’s clarify a few points:
• Why sabotage the entire internet and create a precedent for other countries to follow suit with equally deranged laws?
• Nobody voted for Rupert Murdoch or the Nine Network or the rest of the has-been fossil ensemble behind this legislation.
• The much-banged-on-about “government for all Australians” is explicitly leaving out Google service users. How is that government for all? It isn’t.
• The government is legally responsible for telecommunications. Severe disruptions causing financial loss could well be (and should be) a basis for legal actions.
• Why aren’t other search engines involved in this legislation? 20% of the Australian market isn’t included?
This legislation is imbecility incarnate. The government should look at the Google proposal. Expect a massive backlash at the next election.