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Power

Google tells Australians to prepare for 'dramatically worse' search

The search giant is lobbying against proposals backed by Rupert Murdoch's media company.

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. has lobbied for Google to pay publishers.

Photo: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons

The third season of "Succession" has been delayed, but no matter: On Monday, Google took aim at Logan Roy Rupert Murdoch, with a giant warning message on the Australian Google home page. "The way Aussies use Google is at risk," the message read, directing users to an open letter from Google's Australia and New Zealand Managing Director Mel Silva about proposed legislation that Google claims will ruin search for everyone.

This is the latest step in a protracted dispute between Big Tech and Australian media companies — most notably Murdoch's News Corp. and Nine Entertainment Co. The financially struggling media companies blame Google and Facebook for their travails and want the tech platforms to pay them for their content. The tech platforms … don't want to.

But, partly thanks to Murdoch's hefty political influence in Australia, the Australian competition authority proposed a code that would allow publishers to bargain for payment, with compulsory arbitration if they can't agree on terms.

  • The code also requires Google and Facebook to meet "minimum standards," which includes giving publishers 28 days advance notice of changes to the ranking algorithm (something publishers have been burned by in the past), and allowing publishers to moderate users' comments on Google and Facebook.
  • Those two clauses are contentious among some tech folk, to say the least.

The draft code is under consultation until the end of this month, and Google's clearly not going down without a fight. In the open letter, Silva said the code would make Google and YouTube "dramatically worse" by having to prioritize publishers' content and would put users at risk by giving their data to publishers. The competition authority hit back, saying the letter "contains misinformation" and arguing that Google will not be required to share data with publishers.

Australia isn't the only country to be doing this: France is pursuing a similar avenue. But what happens in Australia, where Murdoch's arguably more powerful than anywhere else, could have global implications. On a call with investors earlier this month, News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson said "there are obviously more deals to come … I suspect in some ways, influenced by Australian regulatory thinking." Google had better start working on its rap song for Round 2.

This article will appear in Tuesday's edition of our daily newsletter, Source Code. Sign up here.

Clarification: This story was updated to clarify which countries are pursuing a similar legal approach to Australia. Updated August 18.

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