Google has threatened to shut down its search engine in Australia if the government pursues a plan to force big tech groups to pay news providers for their content.
The warning is Google’s strongest against the historical proposal, which would force the company and its colleague at US tech group Facebook to pay news agencies and publishers in exchange for items in circulation.
Mel Silva, chief executive of Google Australia, told a Senate hearing in Canberra on Friday that the laws were “unworkable” and “unreasonable”, deepening a months-long standoff between tech companies and the government.
“If the code becomes law, Google would have no choice but to stop providing search services in Australia,” said Ms. Silva.
Australia’s threat comes as Google, Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies grapple growing oversight by global regulators on their market dominance.
Canberra called the legislation a “world leader” and necessary to create a sustainable media landscape. The proposal involves an arbitration system that would make binding decisions on the fees social media groups must pay to media companies.
Google, which also owns the popular YouTube video site, has previously expressed strong opposition to the proposed legislation. According to the country’s Consumer Competition Monitoring System, the company has more than 19 million monthly users in Australia, which means the vast majority of its online searches go through Google.
Facebook is also opposing the law and reiterated a warning during Friday’s hearing that it would prevent Australians from sharing information on its platform if the legislation is passed.
Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, issued a reprimand over Google’s comments, telling a press conference on Friday that “we are not responding to threats”.
Ms. Silva said that forcing Google to pay news sites to link to their content would violate “a fundamental principle of how the web works. . . setting an untenable precedent for our business, the internet and the digital economy ”.
Leaving the Australian market is “the last thing we want to happen – especially when there is a way to come up with actionable code that allows us to support Australian journalism without disrupting research,” she added.
Google launched a mobile feature in October called Google News Showcase in an effort to establish new terms of trade with media groups. Google previously said the program, which has nearly 450 partners worldwide, is “on hiatus” in Australia. However, Ms Silva said on Friday that the initiative could allow Google to strike business deals with publishers nationwide.
A vote on Australian law is expected early this year.
#techFT brings you news, commentary and analysis on the big companies, technologies and issues shaping this fastest moving industries from specialists based around the world. Click here to get #techFT to your inbox.