17 August 2020



SUBJECT: Google’s response to the ACCC’s Draft Mandatory News Code. 

Let’s return to our top story now. Google are fighting back against an attempt to make tech giants to pay more to news companies when they use that information. Joining me now is Shadow Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland. Thanks very much for your time. You would have seen the statement that Google has pasted and of course are trying to get out to as many people as possible. What’s your reaction to the claims Google is making?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well, the stakes are high – I think that’s the first thing that it says. The language was quite intense. Although it was not a particularly long statement, there was a note at the end to say that Google would have more to say in the near future. Of course, the consultation period closes in a matter of days. So, Google is clearly pacing itself for a fight on this.

CONNELL: The ACCC has come out and said that Google is spreading misinformation in this statement. Do you agree?

ROWLAND: Well, I think in some aspects, the statements that are made are quite broad. I think, for example, some of the statements that go to consumer welfare and the notion that consumers obtain these Google services for free; sure, in some cases, you mightn’t be required to provide a monetary payment. But there certainly is a value exchange and the value is in the data. For digital natives, this may come as no surprise, it is very common for one to give over one’s data. But at the same time, I would note that Google makes the point about consumers’ privacy being in danger. I think it needs to be noted, and it is a matter of fact, that the ACCC actually does have two matters on foot in relation to privacy against Google in Australia at the moment: one in relation to location services, and the other in relation to the expanded use of consumer data. So, in that sense, I think there was quite a bit of information that was missing from that statement.

CONNELL: And to that point then: if Google is saying here it’s going to the guardian of your data against news companies, that seems a bit rich given the cases you’ve just cited?

ROWLAND: Well, it’s also somewhat perplexing because some of Google’s language there is we want to protect your data from big business. Well, I don’t think they get much bigger than Google to be quite frank. I respect the fact that the algorithm that they use is something that they have developed over time by engineers and so forth, but I think it’s very important to note that the draft code that they’ve put out is not only about price but also non-price terms as well which is an aspect that is particularly concerning to media companies and where searches appear in what particular order when they are undertaken. In one aspect, I can understand that Google will say “well, we want to have the most accurate searches when people use our search engine”. But, at the same time, let’s remember that this a company that is private and operates for profit as well. They are going to want to do what is in the best interests of revenue and their profit motive.

CONNELL: So, nothing you’ve seen in here will change your view – somewhat qualified at times – but your support for the changes being brought in by the Government?

ROWLAND: Well, I would like to see a proper, functioning code, and I think that is essential for news media in Australia, particularly at a time when revenues have been under such stress. We’ve had COVID, we’ve had this disruption going on for such a long time, advertising revenues going through the floor. So, this really is a test quite frankly for the Prime Minister. I mean, he has made this front and centre. He was Treasurer when this inquiry was announced. Now, it’s up to him to land it; land it not only in the interests of consumers, but also news media in Australia is relying on this actually occurring. If Google were to withdraw from Australia, as some have said they might end up doing, you’ve got to realise that it’s not only consumers for whom that would be a bad outcome, it would also be a bad outcome for news media outlets.

CONNELL: All right, but it wouldn’t be Australia’s fault if Google withdrew would it? Is that a warning to Google the company?

ROWLAND: No-one is saying it’s Google’s fault, but if you look at what has happened overseas, for example, where Google shut down some of its search services for news, what it ended up doing was Spaniards were searching on domestic news sites rather than through Google. And we’ve discussed recently the case in France in relation to snippets. I mean, that’s got a way to play out as well.

CONNELL: Michelle Rowland, appreciate your time, thank you.

ROWLAND: Pleasure.