Google’s Mel Silva criticises mandatory payment code, says the platform already works with publishers ‘in good faith’

Google is the digital version of a retailer, newsstand or kiosks, providing traffic to publishers for free, according to the platform’s managing director and VP in Australia, Mel Silva.

The tech giant already works with publishers and did during the Digital Platforms Inquiry in ‘good faith’, Silva said in a blog post aiming at resolving misconceptions about Google’s work with publishers.

Silva says Google already works with publishers in ‘good faith’

Google worked with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) during the Digital Platforms Inquiry and ‘welcomed’ the recommendation of a voluntary code to govern the relationships between digital platforms and ‘companies that have news media interests’, said Silva, but in light of the mandatory code ruling, she felt the need to respond to the allegations about the business.

“From the outset, Google actively engaged in the voluntary code process. Google acted in good faith, working constructively by consulting with more than 25 news media businesses – broadcasters, print and online publishers from metro and regional areas. We met with some publishers on multiple occasions to work through and understand complex issues,” said Silva in the post.

She claims the bench posts were then moved when the ACCC moved to focus on the mandatory code, forcing Google to reconsider its approach.

Silva went on to deny Google Search makes money from publishers and said that the decision is made by publishers how much of their news they allow to appear on the platform and in what form.

“People have come to Google for reliable information for more than twenty years. On Google Search, we show a range of results based on a user’s query and provide links to the relevant website. In the case of news, publishers can determine how those results appear, setting the length of the short snippet from a story or turning snippets off entirely. Studies show that snippets encourage people to click through to websites, meaning that publishers get more visitors seeing ads on their sites,” said Silva.

Silva’s comments come during the industry consultation period of the ACCC’s mandatory code. Submissions are due by June 5.

There is a concern that Google may close its news service if the process is made too complicated for the business. Google closed the offering in Spain in 2014 when legislation was passed requiring payment to publishers and threatened to change the way articles are displayed in France when similar attempts were made for a payment agreement.

Silva compared the platform to a traditional retailer in the way it provides audiences to publishers.

“In the offline print world, publishers have long paid retailers, newsstands and kiosks to distribute their newspapers and magazines – acknowledging the value of acquiring audiences to a publishers’ content and the advertising publishers sell alongside it,” said Silva.

“In contrast, Google Search sends readers from Australia and all over the world to the publishers’ sites for free – helping them to generate advertising revenues from those audiences and convert them into paying subscribers. The traffic we send has substantial value.

“Everyone benefits from this exchange. While news content has significant social value, it is often difficult to make money from. And primarily news-seeking queries make up only a tiny percentage of queries we see. But by including news results next to other search results, we encourage users to click to view stories they might not have otherwise read, giving publishers the ability to show ads against those stories.”

Frydenberg has said the code will attempt to “level the playing field”

The full details of how the mandatory code would look and what sort of payment publishers could expect from the agreement haven’t yet been released, but Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has said the platform may be forced to reveal more information about the algorithm it uses to decide how stories are prioritised.

“On the fundamental issue of payment for content, which the code was seeking to resolve, there was no meaningful progress and, in the words of the ACCC, ‘no expectation of any even being made,” Frydenberg told The Australian regarding the mandatory code.

“It is only fair that the search ­engines and social media giants pay for the original news content that they use to drive traffic to their sites.”


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