No B.S Friday: There’s a lot more to this Google story than the media is letting on.
Hold on to you tin-hats conspiracy fans, I’ve got a doozy for you.
It’s about Google.
Specifically, it’s about the media reports this week that Google is threatening to pull Google Search from Australia if the government goes ahead with plans to make Google pay news agencies for content.
Check every paper in the country – whether it’s The Australia or The Guardian – and this is the story you see.
But every paper in the country is lying to you.
That’s my hot-take on it.
Let me break it down for you.
So this all comes after Google ANZ head, Mel Silva appeared before the Senate Economics Committee to talk about the governments proposed bargaining code.
If you believe the media, she chucked a hissy fit and said, “We’re not paying for their content, and if you try to make us, we’ll pick up our bat and ball and leave.”
But that’s not quite what she said. She actually said that the proposed code is unworkable and Google would have no option but to shut it down.
As she said, “It’s not a threat. It’s a reality.”
But hang on, shouldn’t Google pay news agencies for their content. That’s only fair, isn’t it.
But that’s not actually what’s at issue either. This isn’t about Google “using” their content, presenting or aggregating their content, or even presenting ‘snippets’ in search results. (And remember, if you’re using Google’s ‘news tab’, they don’t run any advertising against that.)
No, this is about whether news reports show up in Google searches.
The argument here (and I struggle to present it with a straight face, but I’ll do my best), is that when people search for news related stuff, Google presents them with links to news articles, hosted on news agency websites.
The news agencies argue that this makes Google more useful, and means that people are more likely to use Google as a result. And so they want to get paid for making Google more useful.
Think about that for a sec. Imagine someone does a search for “most awesome economist in the country” and Google gives them a link to my website. I then turn around and say to Google, “Thanks heaps for the link and the potential customer, but because I show up on your search results, I make Google more useful, and so here’s a bill.”
(I’ve looked and I’ve looked and the argument really seems to be no more sophisticated that this, though the papers are very careful to not spell it out all that clearly. Seriously, go have a read of any article on the web and see if they take the trouble to explain what’s actually at stake.)
It’s pretty ridiculous.
What’s more ridiculous is that NewsCorp reckons that these “indirect benefits” that the news agencies so generously give Google for free, are worth a cool $1 billion.
That is, of Google’s annual revenue in Australia of $4.3bn, almost a quarter of that value comes from the fact that Google helps you find news agency websites when you are searching for news.
That is what’s known in economic terms as “taking the piss”.
But no, read every news article on the web on this topic, and this is all about Google refusing to pay for the content they “use”.
(Oh! The code also says that Google has to notify the papers about any changes to their search algorithm two weeks in advance. Their algorithm is one of the most tightly-guarded secrets in the world. Do you know how much I’d pay to have access to it – two weeks in advance!?! But no, the papers are going to get it for free! Ha!)
This is a total stitch up. The pollies are in on it. All the papers are in on it. And it’s a borderline farce.
My bet is that Google just pulls Google Search. Once they do, people will start wondering why, and when they start actually looking, nobody comes out looking good.
So there’s a tip for you: Google Search to exit Australia in March.
Watch this space.