The problem is that news sites—which have been struggling to adapt their business model in an increasingly digital, online age—haven’t fared well in recent years, and blame the likes of Google and Facebook for lost advertising revenue.
Because of that, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) have proposed a new framework where tech platforms—beginning with Google and Facebook—pay news sites for linking to their stories. Google and Facebook are expected to negotiate “in good faith” towards an agreed fee.
Ars Technica explains, “You might think that Google would simply stop linking to Australian news sites. But that won’t be allowed under the ACCC proposal. New non-discrimination rules require Google to treat sites the same whether or not it has to pay to link to them.”
Google responded on Friday with an ultimatum. Speaking in the Australian Senate, Google’s Mel Silva said that the company would have “no real choice” but to shut search in Australia if the framework is imposed, adding that the move would “set an untenable precedent for our business and the digital economy.”
The situation has even drawn criticism from Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web. He agreed that Australia’s framework would set a harmful precedent, adding: “The ability to link freely—meaning without limitations regarding the content of the linked site and without monetary fees—is fundamental to how the Web operates.”
It’s not the first time Google has found itself in a situation like this. The company was recently embroiled in a similar controversy with French news sites—one which ended with Google eventually agreeing to pay, although details, at the time, were sketchy.
For now, it looks like Australian officials may be willing to see how serious Google is about pulling search from Australia. “We don’t respond to threats,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday. “Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia.”