Commentary

Australians Can Learn To Live Without Google And Its Empty Threat

"Dry January" is a growing movement that urges people to live healthier by abstaining from alcohol after indulging during the holidays. The month can be a time to reflect on dependencies to addictive substances. Australians may face similar feelings of withdrawal, except it will be from Google.

The accused monopolist of internet search threatened to leave Australia last week over a proposed law requiring tech companies to pay publishers for their journalism. Other countries are watching the Australian plan as they consider ways to rein in the dominance of companies like Facebook Inc. and Google's parent Alphabet Inc.

In the United States, newspaper organizations have argued that publishers should be allowed a temporary exemption from antitrust laws to engage in collective bargaining with technology companies to pay for news. The News Media Alliance last year published a white paper arguing that Google had abused its market power and hurt journalism.

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The same day that Google threatened to pack up its search engine Australia, it reached an agreement to pay news publications in France, an arrangement that may become a model for other European countries.

The Australian law would require companies that aggregate news from publishers to negotiate payments for their content. The inability to settle on a price will force Australia to appoint a government arbitrator to decide one for them. Google isn't opposed to paying publishers, but doesn't like the idea of forced payment.
I don't expect Google to follow through on its threat to withdraw from Australia, throwing away a billion-dollar search advertising market it dominates with a 90%+ market share. The coronavirus pandemic has taught people to live without many things, and Google's possible departure from Australia's search market would only force consumers to find alternatives.
Weaning themselves off Google might be difficult for many Australians, but it also might give them a chance to evaluate their over-dependence on its technology. Instead of going to Google, they can go straight to the source of news and information from publishers, or find other search engines that work just as well. As drinkers may learn in "Dry January," Australia's internet users can discover what they can live without.
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