Google trials burying commercial news as code stoush continues

Google has continued to escalate its campaign against the News Media Bargaining Code, experimenting with pushing down search results linking to commercial news outlets, and claiming submissions to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) prove the draft code is unworkable.

According to an article in The Australian Financial Review today, the algorithm experiment means some users searching for content from Nine and News Corp mastheads are being met with old stories or links to other outlets.

Yesterday, Google updated its home page with a message about the submissions

Only commercial news companies are affected by the experiment, the Financial Review reports, with the ABC’s content, for example, appearing as normal for the 1% of users impacted by the test.

Google confirmed to Mumbrella the experiments would end early next month, and reasserted that the final legislation needs to be “fair for everyone”.

“Every year we conduct tens of thousands of experiments in Google Search,” a spokesperson said.

“We’re currently running a few experiments that will each reach about 1% of Google Search users in Australia to measure the impacts of news businesses and Google Search on each other. In 2018, the value we provided to publishers through referral traffic alone was estimated at $218 million dollars.

“As we said last week, we remain committed to getting to a workable code and look forward to working with the Senate Committee, policymakers, and publishers to achieve an outcome that’s fair for everyone, in the interests of all Australians.”

However, Nine said the “chilling” experiment makes “it starkly clear that trusted local news is critical to Google’s products”.

“Google is an effective monopoly and by withholding access to such timely, accurate and important information they show clearly how they impact what access Australians have to that,” the spokesperson said.

“At the same time, Google are now demonstrating how easily they can make Australian news providers who fall out of their favour effectively disappear from the internet — a chilling illustration of their extraordinary market power.”

News Corp was also contacted for comment, while Seven’s CEO James Warburton, a vocal supporter of the code, said in a statement: “This move by Google only serves to further emphasise the need for the News Media Bargaining Code to pass into law as soon as practicable.”

Following on from last week’s claim that the code would “break” its search engine, managing director Mel Silva published another blog post this week, focusing on the 426 submissions to the ACCC made public just before Christmas.

Managing Director at Google Australia Mel Silva

The submissions were in response to an earlier draft of the code than the bill introduced to parliament late last year, but Google said the concerns raised are still relevant.

“In going through these submissions, it’s evident that Google is far from alone in its concerns about the code,” Silva wrote.

“In fact, an overwhelming majority have concerns about key aspects of the code, or are downright opposed to it. Even a number of news publishers have voiced concerns about key aspects of the draft law, such as the arbitration process and minimum standards provisions, and its impact on media diversity.

“Many of these issues remain and are unaddressed by the version of the code that was introduced to parliament in early December.”

According to Google’s analysis, 80% of the submissions “flag significant concerns”.

While big media entities including Nine, News Corp, the ABC, Australian Community Media, Free TV, Commercial Radio Australia, and AAP all made submissions, Google singled out contributions from the likes of the Business Council of Australia, Atlassian, Ai Group, the US Chamber of Commerce, and Star News Group.

Silva concluded the post restating the need for a “fair” code.

“There’s still time to get this right. As the code is now with a Senate Committee for review before it goes back to parliament, people who are concerned about the latest version of the law can share their views on the code with that Senate Committee until 18 January,” she said.

“Over the next few weeks, we will continue to engage with the Senate Committee, policymakers, and publishers, making our case constructively to achieve a Code that’s fair for everyone, in the interest of all Australians.”


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