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'No real choice': Google warns search function will be pulled if media bargaining laws go ahead

Google has warned it will pull the plug on Search for Australians if proposed media laws go ahead. Picture: Shutterstock
Google has warned it will pull the plug on Search for Australians if proposed media laws go ahead. Picture: Shutterstock

The Prime Minister has hit back at a threat made by Google on Friday after the tech giant warned senators it would pull the plug on its search function for Australians if laws proposing it pay media companies for content go ahead.

The US tech company appeared before a Senate committee on Friday morning concerned a push by the government to legislate a new media bargaining code would affect its business and the internet at large.

The company's Australian managing director Mel Silva told senators in a parliamentary committee the company would have "no real choice" but to remove its popular search function if the laws passed through parliament.

"It's not compatible with how search engines work or how the internet works," Ms Silva said on Friday morning.

"If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.

"That would be a bad outcome for us but also for the Australian people, media diversity and the small businesses who use our services everyday."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison reminded Google the rules were determined by the government and that it wouldn't respond to threats.

"Let me be clear, Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia. That's done in our parliament, that's done by our government and that's how things work here in Australia," Mr Morrison said in a press conference on Friday afternoon.

"People who want to work with that in Australia, you're very welcome, but we don't respond to threats."

Earlier this morning, Ms Silva put forward the tech company's solution - a new service, called Showcase, which launched late last year and provides users an enhanced news offering.

But Liberal senator Andrew Bragg questioned how legislators could look to it as a solution without first seeing how it worked.

"Google Showcase isn't even in Australia for us to look at it," Senator Bragg said.

"I struggle to see how to take your proposal seriously. How do we take your blackmail or threats seriously?"

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Senators questioned whether the company's concern primarily focused on its profits rather than the sanctity of the internet's freedom of information.

Senator Rex Patrick later argued the proposed laws would focus on targeting the company's bottom line and redistributing that to news media companies struggling to maintain revenue.

"This whole code is not about breaking the internet, it's about breaking your revenue streams," Senator Patrick said.

"It's about breaking your bank account ... it's not about touching the internet and the way that it works."

The company admitted it paid $59 million in corporate tax last year on a taxable income of $134 million and total gross revenue of $4.8 billion.

Last week, the company admitted it had conducted experiments burying some news sites from appearing in search results but added it had only affected around 1 per cent of Australian users.

Australia Institute's Centre for Responsible Technology director Peter Lewis warned this behaviour was concerning for democracies like Australia's.

"Google's testimony today is part of a pattern of threatening behaviour that is chilling for anyone who values our democracy," Mr Lewis said.

"Our elected representatives must stand firm against this bullying and support a viable media to act as a counterweight to the power of Big Tech: the eyes of the world are watching.

"This follows the secret and cynical experiment on Google users in recent weeks where news has been withdrawn from its services with no forward notice."

Friday's hearing will also hear from Facebook executives along with major media companies and government officials as the committee considers how the bill will address any concerns.

A second hearing is expected in early February ahead of its final report by February 12.

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This story 'We don't respond to threats': PM hits back at Google warning first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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