The Australian government has possibly obtained a rare, partial victory in its standoff with Google. The US-based tech giant has appeared to reverse course as Australia holds hearings aimed at enacting legislation that would effectively force Google to pay local sources for news it links to and features in its search engine.
Google last month threatened to pull its search engine off the continent altogether, with Canberra counter-threatening that they won't budge. But on Thursday Google made the following official announcement: "To meet growing reader and publisher needs, last year we increased our investment in news partnerships and launched Google News Showcase."
The 'Showcase' app is the result of the company negotiating to pay some Australian news producers who sign up for the program. It's an attempt to undercut legislation being proposed to require the company to pay for all such content. It's not likely to stop the new legislation, however, but Google is offering it as an 'alternative'. The move shows that the tech giant is arguably feeling the pressure and is looking to compromise.
The Google announcement continued, "Today we are happy to announce we are rolling out an initial version of the product to benefit users and publishers in Australia, with a keen focus on leading regional and independent publishers given the importance of local information and the role it plays in people’s everyday lives."
"News Showcase is designed to bring value to both publishers and readers by providing a licensing program that pays publishers to curate content for story panels across Google services, and gives readers more insights into the stories that matter," it said.
While the details have yet to be revealed, for example just which publishers will eventually be enabled to join the platform, it's being reported as a significant compromise which is likely to first reward major national Australian outlets, as Reuters details:
With the legislation now before a parliamentary inquiry, Friday’s launch of News Showcase in Australia will see it pay seven domestic outlets, including the Canberra Times, to use their content.
Financial details of the content deals weren’t disclosed, and Canberra Times publisher Australian Community Media didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The months in the making Australian initiative seeks to ensure companies and content providers are compensated fairly for the value their content generates for Google and parent company Alphabet Inc. at a moment the domestic industry is in crisis, with traditional newspapers and content producers under threat of having to shut down altogether.
WATCH: As Google considers pulling out of Australia due to a recent legal tussle with the government, companies are looking at how to reshape their online business models to survive https://t.co/ySzE4cTLCX $GOOGL pic.twitter.com/BKxfOxzWXh— Reuters India (@ReutersIndia) February 4, 2021
Last month Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison hit back in the wake of the threatened Google shutdown in the country, saying, "We don’t respond to threats." He added at the time: "Let me be clear. Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia."
It's commonly estimated that Alphabet Inc. oversees at least 94% of all search traffic in Australia, similar to many other countries globally, at a time it's coming under increased accusations of using its monopoly power to bully content providers and smaller competitors.