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Draft Australian Law Proposed That Will Impact YouTube & Google Search Experience

The ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) has created a drafted code of conduct that has generated a series of critiques across the internet, including Google voicing their unwanted opinion of the code. 

The code aims to level the power between different businesses by requiring Google to give any algorithm changes to large news businesses and for Google to negotiate with media outlets appropriate fees for hosting news content and sharing of data. Google has, however, stated that this will significantly affect the search users experience and create an unfair advantage in the business sector.

Here’s a timeline of the events that have occurred:

JULY 31st

The ACCC put forth a draft News Media Bargaining Agreement that would require Google to negotiate with media outlets appropriate fees for hosting news content and sharing of data. It would also force Google to share algorithm changes with news publishers 28 days in advance over how the algorithm would affect them, explaining to them how to minimise any impact.

AUGUST 17th

Google responded with an open letter, warning Aussies their search experience will be hurt by the new regulation.

On the same day of Google’s alarming open letter, the ACCC released a response, calling Google’s claims against the legislation a “misinformation”. According to the ACCC, Google is not forced to charge users for its free services unless it chooses to, nor is Google required to share additional user information to Australian news businesses unless it chooses to. 

Google updated its homepage and Youtube to display feature warnings to Australian users, establishing that ‘The way Aussies use Google is at risk.’ The resulting changes from this legislation have the potential to impact the content we are subjected to. 

AUGUST 23rd  

The following week major news publishers including The Sunday Times featured front page headlines and four page spreads, calling out Google for its refusal to cooperate.

AUGUST 22nd

Publishers disadvantaged by the agreement have weighed in, and started a Change.org petition.

Michael Hugh from Economics Explained gives his opinion on the topic:

“The News Media Bargaining Code is a proposed piece of legislation currently under review by the Australian parliament, that would work effectively to abolish the level playing field of the internet within the country. 

Now for all of you watching that are not Australian, don’t breathe a sigh of relief, because this will still impact you. 

The law would mandate that registered media organizations would have key insights into how Google’s back-end systems work, including access to users data, privileged analytics, and unfair compensation.”

AUGUST 24th

Google update their homepage of Google to clarify and respond to commonly asked questions aimed at Google. The letter addresses key issues that Google has brought up in relation to the current proposed law. Outlined below are a few of the most commonly asked questions:

Why is Google against this proposed law? 

Google has responded to the code with concerns regarding obligations to let news businesses know how information is being accessed and how Google will have to give out information regarding their algorithm changes to large news businesses. If this law is to be rolled out in Australia, it will set a precedent for similar laws being rolled out on a global scale. 

Why is Google saying your services are at risk?

By providing exclusive information and notice to some businesses before others, the select few will have an unfair advantage over organic search rankings. Therefore, Google feels they will be unable to provide their best service.

Will Google have to share my Search and YouTube data with news businesses? 

Google will be required by the code to inform businesses of how to gain access to your data. If this were to occur, news businesses would not disclose how your data will be used or how they intend to protect it. 

Summary from Google

Google warns that the implementation of the News Media Bargaining Code would negatively  affect user experience on Google and Youtube. 

Google Australia and New Zealand managing director Mel Silva wrote an open letter addressing the impact she believes the code would have on user experience of Google and Youtube:

“A proposed law, the News Media Bargaining Code, would force us to provide you with a dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube, could lead to your data being handed over to big news businesses, and would put the free services you use at risk in Australia….The law would force us to give an unfair advantage to one group of businesses — news media businesses — over everyone else who has a website, YouTube channel or small business.”

Google proposes the following arguments:

  • Unfair advantage towards Australian news businesses 

Google would be required to release information to Australian news businesses which would grant them a greater advantage to appear in searches, regardless of its relevance to the searches. This will help large news businesses be featured more prominently in organic search results at the expense of other smaller businesses and websites. 

  • Release of User Information

Information regarding online searches by the user is to be provided to Australian news businesses, informing them of how the data is collected by Google. 

  • Loss of Free Google Services

The new code would enforce an annual fee from Google for the content by Australian news businesses to be displayed on searches. This would mean Google’s services such as Adwords and Search would no longer be free if the new code is implemented.  

The 28 days waiting period that would require Google to inform the businesses of the changes 28 days prior to them making them could be problematic. It would not allow Google to immediately fix problems like spam or fraud resulting in the problems to remain for the 28 days. 

Summary from ACCC

The legislation that the ACCC is proposing looks to address the bargaining power imbalance between news media sites and large digital platforms like Google and Facebook.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg weighs in:

“The Government is consulting on the implementation of a mandatory code to govern relationships between the parties, increase competition, strengthen consumer protection and ensure the sustainability of our media landscape”.

ACCC’s draft legislation: News Media Bargaining Agreement

What does that mean?

News businesses and social platforms like Google and Facebook will be given three months of negotiation time to address the imbalance and if no deal can be made within that time frame a third-party arbitrator would be brought in. The arbitrator would then weigh in on the two parties’ offer and choose that which is deemed most reasonable within a 45 day period.

The News Media Bargain Agreement has both positive and negative outcomes that impact the various parties involved in different ways. 

The Australian government has been preparing a legislation which will make Google and Facebook pay local publishers for their content. This has been argued by Google to have the potential to negatively impact user experience. Allowing large news businesses to have access to Google and other platforms algorithm secrets 28 days in advance of any changes. 

Google argues that giving over the algorithm would be an unfair advantage to large news businesses and help them to feature in organic search results at the expense of other businesses and websites. 

However, it will allow changes that affect the power imbalance that is at play between Australian news media and internet organisations.

While the draft code would initially apply only to Google and Facebook, other digital platforms may be added in the future, if they as well prove to have a bargaining power imbalance with Australian news media businesses.

The draft code is open for public consultation until August 28.