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Google warned to stop engaging in scare tactics amid fears it could pull free search functions

Google has been warned to stop engaging in scare tactics amid fears the tech giant could pull out of offering internet searches altogether in Australia.

Despite its Australian operations making $4.8billion in gross revenue last year, Google suggested, then denied, Australians could be charged for internet searches and YouTube videos if it was forced to pay for the news content it shared. 

The Silicon Valley giant could go further and close down its search engine services in Australia entirely if it doesn’t get its way with the competition regulator. 

John Durie, a leading business analyst in The Australian newspaper, has suggested that ‘Google is considering withdrawing its search functions’ from Australia if it doesn’t get its way with a proposed media industry code. 

‘The company hasn’t publicly threatened withdrawal but is making it known that the move is a clear consequence of the imposition of the code,’ he said.

Google’s withdrawal from Australia would leave the internet search field to competitors including Bing, Amazon and Duckduckgo.

Professor Allan Fels, a former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission boss, however said Google was worried about Australia introducing a digital tax, which other countries would copy, if it refused to pay media companies to share their articles.

‘The government has got some very big sticks in the cupboard such as imposing a tax on internet products,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

‘If Australia were to introduce a digital tax a lot of countries would follow it.’ 

With Google campaigning against the ACCC draft code, a group of concerned Australians are warning them to stop acting like bullies.

‘If you want our ongoing support, we encourage you to make it mutual and reach a fair arrangement that respects our Australian media,’ the Australia Institute said in full-page newspaper ads.

‘Australians embrace innovators but we don’t like bullies.’ 

The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology pointed out 5,000 journalists in Australia had lost their jobs as Google and Facebook had taken advertising away from traditional media outlets. 

‘Now the ACCC has asked you to recognise this and contribute some of your massive profits back into media in order for this essential element of our nation’s public square to thrive,’ it said.

The think tank also called on Google to stop claiming it would need to hand over personal information to media companies under the ACCC proposal.

‘It’s as if you have taken every clause of the code and exaggerated it out of context and then attempted to create a smokescreen to scare and distract people,’ it said. 

The prospect of the ACCC model becoming a blueprint for action against big tech in the US and Europe has sent an understandable shudder through Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley.

Before it went rogue this week, Google had been quietly negotiating revenue sharing deals with several media companies. 

Google users in Australia are now being confronted with a yellow exclamation mark next to the search engine field with the phrase: ‘The way Aussies search every day on Google is at risk from new Government regulation.’ 

Google’s managing director in Australia Mel Silva on Monday published an open letter warning internet users could soon be charged if it was forced to negotiate commercial content sharing deals with news organisations.

‘A proposed law, the News Media Bargaining Code, would force us to provide you with a dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube, could lead to your data being handed over to big news businesses, and would put the free services you use at risk in Australia,’ she said.

A day later, it sent Daily Mail Australia an email saying it had not threatened to charge Australians for Google searches and YouTube videos.

‘We do not intend to charge users for our free services,’ a spokesman said.

‘What we did say is that Search and YouTube, both of which are free services, are at risk in Australia.’

Google has described the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s draft code, for sharing news content, as ‘unworkable’. 

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said Google’s open letter ‘contains misinformation’. 

‘Google will not be required to charge Australians for the use of its free services such as Google Search and YouTube, unless it chooses to do so,’ he said.

‘Google will not be required to share any additional user data with Australian news businesses unless it chooses to do so.’

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