Google’s opening statement to the Australian Senate inquiry

Today Google Australia Chief Executive Mel Silva appeared at a public hearing of the Senate Economic Legislation Committee which is considering a new bill, the News Media Negotiation Code.

Thank you, senators, for your time.

I’m Mel Silva, Managing Director of Google Australia and New Zealand. With me is Lucinda Longcroft, the head of government affairs and public policy for Australia and New Zealand.

Senators, I would like to start by saying that Google is committed to putting in place a practical trading code for the news media.

In its current form, the Code remains unenforceable and should it become law, it would harm not only Google, but also small publishers, small businesses and the millions of Australians who use our services every day.

There is a way forward that allows Google to pay publishers for their value, without interrupting Google Search and our business in Australia.

There are three areas of concern that I will discuss shortly, but the most critical of these is the requirement to pay for links and snippets in search. This provision of the Code would set an untenable precedent for our business and the digital economy. It’s not compatible with how search engines work or how the internet works, and it’s not just Google’s view – it’s been cited in many of the submissions this survey received.

The principle of unlimited linking between websites is fundamental to research. Coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk, if this version of the Code were to become law, it would really give us no choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.

That would be a bad outcome not just for us, but for Australians, diverse media and small businesses who use Google Search.

Google is known for answering queries and helping people find what they are looking for on the web, one of the misconceptions at the heart of this debate is that our users only come to Google because they can find news , or that the news is a disproportionate driver of our popularity.

News and journalism are an essential part of any democracy and we do not disagree with this view. But in the context of search, the ability to show results from a wide range of information sources is just as important as the ability to show results to a wide range of daycares in your neighborhood.

Every year we help over 19 million Australians find information online. The fact that we offer a useful search engine provides the platform for 1.3 million businesses, large and small, in Australia to be discovered by users here and around the world The fact that you can search for everything , recipes, weather or news means you are also looking for your local cafe or a great plumber near me

Relevant results for all kinds of queries are what bring users to our search engine and it’s what gets those 1.3 million Australian businesses discovered and also creates hundreds of millions of connections with their potential customers.

This has benefits for the wider Australian economy – and something that has been hugely important for businesses as they navigate COVID and find new ways to connect with customers in the digital world.

This is at the heart of our concerns with code that would require payments simply for links and snippets only to news results in search.

The free service we provide to Australian users and our business model has been built on the ability to freely link websites – it’s a key part of the internet.

Pulling our services from Australia is the last thing I or Google want to happen, especially if there is another way forward.

We are proposing technical changes in three areas to address the main issues we have described. These allow Google to pay publishers for their value, without interrupting Google Search.

First, rather than paying for links and snippets, the Code could designate News Showcase and allow Google to enter into commercial agreements to pay Australian news publishers for value on top of the valuable traffic we already provide through the research.

News Showcase launched in 2020 and has an overall budget of $1.3 billion over three years, it compensates news publishers for their editorial judgment in curating news panels that appear daily on the services Google, and it pays to grant users access to curated stories behind the -paywall – not for links in search. News Showcase allows Google to pay a wide range of news publishers, including smaller and regional publishers.

We have already entered into News Showcase agreements with 450 publications worldwide, including 7 publishers in Australia.

Second, the Code’s final offer arbitration model, with biased criteria, presents unmanageable financial and operational risk to Google. If this were replaced by standard commercial arbitration based on comparable agreements, it would encourage good faith negotiations and ensure that we are held accountable through robust dispute resolution.

Finally, the algorithm notification provision could be adjusted to require only reasonable notice of significant and actionable changes to Google’s algorithm, to ensure that publishers are able to respond to changes that affect them.

In conclusion, senators, there is a clear path to a fair and workable code. With only slight modifications, the Code can support Australia as a global leader in news innovation, media diversity and consumer choice without sacrificing the benefits that Google provides to businesses large and small in Australia.

We look forward to answering your questions. Thank you.

Do you have anything to say about this? Share your opinions in the comments section below. Or if you have any news or tips, email us at [email protected]

Sign up for the AdNews newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to break stories and campaigns throughout the day.

Norman D. Briggs