Ideally, Google News and search engines were supposed to be vehicles that led to freedom of information and communication. They promised unlimited access to direct sources and an open forum to share ideas instantly with anyone and everyone in the world. In other words, they put more power in the hands of the people.
However, we see a lot of forces constantly encroaching on the lives of users and businesses. They seem to be pushing all the power back into the hands of its previous owners. Or that’s how it feels at times.
What´s the Story With Google News?
As usual, these problems have to do with governments trying to impose ever more regulations. They usually affect companies and users and cause more problems than they intend to solve.
Now is the turn for Australia. The Australian government is trying to force Google to pay licensing fees to publishers for the snippets they show in the Google news feed. But since Google does not charge any money for showcasing this content, they find no incentive to pay up.
This is not the first time Google faces similar problems. In 2014, Google shut down their Google News service in Spain. This happened right after the government tried to force them into paying licensing revenues to publishers. And the same thing happened in Germany in 2013.
Google pointed out that their News service didn´t make any money. This made licensing revenues, no matter how small, unsustainable. Contrastingly, publishers claimed that, because of Google´s practices, their readership had sharply declined. However, they did not take into account the extra traffic that was generated by just being featured on the Google News Feed and seen by millions of users. Let me tell you, that alone is worth a fortune in terms of SEO and marketing.
As it often happens, German publishers were soon struck by reality. They immediately backpedaled as they saw their traffic and revenue plummet after Google removed their content from the feed. Google then offered publishers to opt-in, and jump back on the train. They have come to an arrangement that still stands today. But Spanish publishers were not so lucky. The new law explicitly forbade any kind of entente other than charging Google Licensing fees. The government essentially killed Google News in Spain.
This is a First for Google
That being said, this is the first time Google threatens to pull out completely from a country as leverage for more lenient regulations. It shows how much power Big Tech has over governments.
The politicians behind the new media laws in Australia claim that both Google and Facebook engage in plagiarism. As they put it, the platforms “Copy/paste” from legitimate news sources. Then they make the information available to their users without compensating anyone for the effort. They claim Google should pay their fair share to local publishers or else.
On her part, Melanie Silva, managing director at Google Australia and New Zealand, released a statement that read more like a threat to the Australian government. She warned that, if the bill is passed, they would have no choice but to make Google searches unavailable for the country. Facebook has also hinted they might make all news links unavailable if Australian lawmakers put the measure in place.
Naturally, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison didn’t take it lightly. In an attempt to show strength, he asserted the sovereignty of the government over the Australian territory. However, it is the first time in modern history that a corporation openly defies a democratic government.
Is Big Tech too powerful?
As of today, Google is flexing its massive communicational muscle unabashedly. They are using a very effective political tactic that puts their side of the argument right in front of every user (that´s 95% of the Australian market) every time they as much as open Google from Australia. This is something no government or political party on earth has ever been able to pull off.
When clicked, the link takes you to a video where Melanie Silva breaks down how the new law will impact searches in the country.
To be fair, she makes a good point. She likens the regulation to charging someone for offering directions for free. However, she fails to mention that Google’s business model is about collecting user information and selling it to vendors who will later bombard them with targeted ads.
Recently, many Australian News Outlets have signed up for Google News Showcase, a new service that pays select news outlets to make their paywalled content available to users for free. The service is available in Germany, Brazil, Canada, France, U.K., and Australia. It offers a creative way to satisfy political ambitions and not lose a huge chunk of users and ad revenue. We still need to see how the government interprets this voluntary solution agreed by the affected parts.
Why should we care?
First of all, we care about our dear Australian customers. We are working hard to come up with optional strategies should the issue go either way. We´re confident that there will be a sensible arrangement that will benefit all parties in the end.
On the other hand, it seems that governments are no longer happy being in the passenger seat. For example, the State of Florida and Poland are trying a new kind of regulation strategy for Big Tech. They are attempting to force social media platforms and search engines to change their behavior towards certain news outlets. If they succeed, or if more governments feel emboldened, we might be looking at a very different SEO environment this year.
As SEO specialists, we need to stay informed so we can provide effective and creative solutions for our clients no matter where they are. In order to survive, businesses must always be one step ahead in the game.