Why Google Search would be right to pull out of Australia because of the Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code

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Why Google Search would be right to pull out of Australia because of the Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code
The Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code is being called unworkable by Google, for good reason.
Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash

There’s a great deal of (rambling) discussion regarding the Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code and most of it is appallingly misinformed.

A great deal comes to conclusions based on personal feelings regarding Google, privacy, capitalism, political interests, vested interests etc. While there are many disputed issues at play, including the mechanics of how payments to news providers would work, the inflexible matter revolves around… Giving Australian news entities advance warning of Google Search algorithm changes.

If this sounds in any way reasonable to you, know that it’s comparable to the following, hypothetical situation that more people can relate to:

New Zealand passes a new dietary ‘health’ law that requires Coca Cola to publish its secret formula.

Never. Gonna. Happen.

UPDATE: The other major sticking point with the code is the proposed pay-for-links practice which is widely considered by experts to be unworkable. It is covered in a fresh blog from Google itself, here.

Why this version of the Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code shouldn’t happen

Organic Search results – which are the listings that appear on Search Engine Results Pages that aren’t ads (which are called Paid Search results) – are the foundation of the entire World Wide Web. Whatever you think about Google, it operates a fair-and-level playing field with regards to what gets ranked where: it’s essentially part of its DNA. Google cannot afford to break this because if its Search Results started delivering skewed or gamed results its core business starts to be undermined… globally.

What does the Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code actually say?

52S Change to algorithm or practice to bring about identified alteration to distribution of content with significant effect on referral traffic

(1) Subsection (2) applies if:

(a) a change is planned to be made to an algorithm or internal practice of the designated digital platform service; and

(b) the dominant purpose of the change is to bring about an identified alteration to the ways in which the designated digital platform service distributes content that is made available by the service; and

(c) the change is likely to have a significant effect on the referral traffic from the designated digital platform service to the covered news content of registered news businesses (considered as a whole) that the service makes available.

2) The responsible digital platform corporation for the designated digital platform service must ensure that:

(a) notice of the change is given to the registered news business corporation for each registered news business; and

(b) the notice is given:

(i) unless subparagraph (ii) applies—at least 14 days before the change is made; or

(ii) if the change relates to a matter of urgent public interest—no later than 48 hours after the change is made; and

(c) the notice describes the change, and the effect mentioned in paragraph (1)(c), in terms that are readily comprehensible;

and

(d) if there are other designated digital platform services of the responsible digital platform corporation—the notice is given in terms that relate specifically to the designated digital platform service (and not in terms that relate to that service and those other designated digital platform services in aggregate).

Analysis: Can we live without Google Search?

If you don’t care about Google’s core business, it’s worth noting that in countries like Australia, Google accounts for over 90 per cent of all World Wide Web search results for good reason. It reached this point because it works best. If you grew up with the likes of Lycos, Yahoo, Alta Vista, Ask Jeeves and AOL in the mid-90s you’ll already shudder at the thought of not having Google. Alternatives like Duck Duck Go and Ecosia are noble in their efforts but far from ready to take on the worldwide organisation of all digital education, research, business, ecommerce, journalism, news and general knowledge.

While there has been some discussion on living with the distant second-place Search Engine, Microsoft’s Bing, it doesn’t take long to realise that, overall, it’s a horrible experience by comparison (except for certain niche areas, apparently). Besides, if you hate Google for simply existing, how Microsoft is significantly better?

A final note is that if you hate Google and will happily watch your world burn just to spite it, there’s a major antitrust case happening in the US which seeks to break the whole company up. Read about that here. This addresses many of the monopoly-related issues that commentators have shoe-horned into their rants regarding Google and the Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code.

What else is relevant?

There are other contentious issues at play that we won’t focus on now but are worth mentioning. Firstly, is that this Code was initiated and is being pushed heavily by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and Nine/Fairfax – the former (especially) is a heavily politicised “news” organisation. Smaller players would not benefit nearly as much by comparison. 

Australia's national newspaper.

Ironically, if Google did leave Australia, big brands like News Corp and Nine/Fairfax would still benefit: it would be far harder to find smaller, independent journalism outlets. 

If the Code passed in Australia, it would likely happen globally which would put a Big News’ world view on a pedestal.

It’s also worth understanding that Google has already agreed to pay publishers for news in France but the situation here is significantly different. Here’s a great article on the differences.

Google is also in the process of launching its new News Showcase in Australia right now. This would pay news outlets for journalism.

While the following research was funded by Google itself, the results absolutely match my experiences on why traditional news outlets have declined (I worked on them and wrote about the technology before and during this decline). The decline was cited by News Corp and Nine as justification for the implementation of the Code and they directly blamed Google for it. Here's why that's not true: De-classified: What really happened to newspapers.

We’ll cover more on the Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code in future articles, but for now, this is a sticking point that will cause dramatic problems for Australians and Australian Businesses if it passes causing Google to leave Australia.

Nick Ross has been technology journalist for 18 years, publisher for 12 years, digital marketer for five years and certified SEO expert for three years.

Related: Web’s inventor says news media bargaining code could break the internet. He’s right — but there’s a fix

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