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Google could block its search engine in Australia if it’s forced to pay news outlets

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Google has threatened to discontinue its search engine services in Australia over the government’s plans to force the search giant to pay news outlets for their content.

Last year, Australia announced the plans as a way to halt the decline of news firms amid falling revenues during the coronavirus pandemic.

But Google hit back, saying it was “deeply concerned” about the proposals and argued it would hurt creators on its platform.

The search firm made a record AU$4.8bn (£2.7bn) in revenue from the country last year and dominates the search market with around 95 per cent of internet searches made on its platform.

Responding to the threat to discontinue its search engine in Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “we don’t respond to threats”.

Mel Silva, the managing director of Google Australia and New Zealand, told a Senate inquiry into the bill that the new rules would be unworkable.

“If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google search available in Australia,” she said.

“And that would be a bad outcome not only for us, but also for the Australian people, media diversity, and the small businesses who use our products every day.”

Google’s strong response may be due to concerns that the Australian case will set a global precedent that would force it to pay for journalistic content in other countries too.

It said the new proposal was overly broad and that without revisions, offering even a limited search tool would be too risky. The company does not disclose sales from Australia, but search ads are its biggest contributor to revenue and profit globally.

Morrison, speaking to reporters in Brisbane, said: “Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia.

“That’s done in our Parliament. It’s done by our government. And that’s how things work here in Australia.”

Facebook also opposes the rules and has threatened to remove news stories from its site in Australia.

Simon Milner, a Facebook vice president, said the sheer volume of deals it would have to strike would be unworkable.

Google's testimony "is part of a pattern of threatening behaviour that is chilling for anyone who values our democracy," said Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute's Centre for Responsible Technology.

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