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What happens if Google leaves Australia?

As if COVID-19 wasn’t bad enough!!!

Not only do we need to pivot our businesses through the commercial famine and feast brought on by COVID-19, but now we need to deal with the real possibility of Google extricating itself from Australia.

As my business is intrinsically linked to the internet, and in a large part with Google, it’s with quite some trepidation I hear Google making threats to remove itself from Australia. 

This has been the latest development in a battle between Google and our Government’s proposed new digital media code. This essentially forces Google and other search engines to compensate publishers (read news publishers I suspect)  for using their content.

Is our little country going to set a global precedent for Google?

Ignoring the politics behind this decision, our Government’s brave if not imprudent initiative is being watched closely across the globe. It sets a powerful precedent with the possibility of dramatically impacting Google’s global bottom line by having to pay for content it indexes.

Again Google has been charged with responsibility for the internet content it discovers and ingests. Historically, Google has managed to distance itself from responsibility for the internet content it finds, possibly rightly so, but increasingly they are being forced to accept responsibility for that content. 

Google has already been smashed by several countries, especially Europe, where they have frankly, impressively, taken on Google on the increasingly sensitive topic of privacy and won. 

The proposed media code is demanding Google et all pay for information it currently sources for free from the internet. 

Google has already publicly experimented with reducing Australian news sources in search results which effectively buries it from public view. If you are familiar with SEO and related penalties, you will already know that Google already has had the capability to do this on tap. 

Is Google responsible for the content they find ?

Ignoring the politics behind  our Government’s decision (Ill leave that with KRudd in his video below) , this brave if not imprudent initiative is being watched closely across the globe. It sets a powerful precedent with the possibility of dramatically impacting Google’s global bottom line by having to pay for content it indexes – not just news content either!

Again Google has been charged with responsibility for the internet content it discovers and ingests. Historically, Google has managed to distance itself from responsibility for the internet content it finds, possibly rightly so, but increasingly they are being forced to accept responsibility for that content. 

Google has already been smashed by several countries, especially Europe, where they have frankly, impressively, taken on Google on the increasingly sensitive topic of privacy and won. 

The proposed media code is demanding Google et all pay for information it currently sources for free from the internet. 

What would a non-Google future look like?

If Google leaves our shores, what does it mean for us? It’s much more than less convenient internet searches.
With Google so accessible, through our phones, computers and more recently via Google Home devices, its absence will hurt, at least in the short term. No more ‘Hey Google’ for the most trite of requests.

Microsoft Bing, Yahoo and maybe DuckDuckGo, the marginalised poor cousins of search have an opportunity to fill the Google vacuum in Australia. With approximately just 3-5% of the search market compared to Google’s 95%, this would be a significant opportunity for them to gain market share, and frankly, they won’t have to do that much either.

This of course assumes these other search engines are prepared to comply with the proposed media code!

Hopefully, Microsoft et all would seize the opportunity and not abandon a search deprived Australia. Of course, they would have to comply with the media code, and one wonders if our diminutive market size would justify the costs for them.

Clearly, Google et all are concerned about the Global precedent this law might set and the subsequent cost impact to their business models.

Who will pay Google’s Media Code Cost? Australian business!

If Google concedes to the Government’s Media code, an obvious cost recovery model for Google would be to impose a “media code levee” on Australian advertisers via Google’s online advertising. People in competitive online markets already feel the considerable pain of Google click costs. The Big G hides behind statements like “costs are a reflection of market competition”.

So, essentially the media code levee will be imposed on Australian Businesses, who will effectively subsidise the ‘formal’ news networks.

New businesses chasing media code revenue

It’s also conceivable that new content businesses emerge, to tap into the media code funding levee paid by search engines. This could well erode the ‘formal news channels’ media code revenue.

How to we divide the media code pie?

So far, there hasn’t been any discussion about who and how we manage the media code money. Do we really expect individual news outlets to negotiate directly with Google, Bing and other search engines?
I assume this will be delegated to an unsuspecting Government agency to analyse traffic, then slice up the pie, distribute funds etc.

Presumably, this same organisation will manage the rules and approvals for media outlets to become eligible for Media Code funds?

What services will Google remove?

So if the Google exit goes ahead, what other services will Google remove from us? Some of Google’s services are intrinsically linked with Google Search so it would be a reasonable assumption that Australians would be precluded from them as well:

Google Search – Gone

Ostensibly, the debate is about Google Search indexing news services. Google could readily remove search from us – except if we used a VPN to tunnel into the US…

Google Home Devices – Gone

Google Home devices are also intrinsically linked to Google Search so they won’t function anymore. Maybe a creative geek could jailbreak them to use Bing etc…

Google Ads – Gone

Generating a modest $AU 4.3 Billion in 2019 in Australia, Google’s online advertising system ‘Google Ads’ links to Google’s search engine for the main part, so is likely to disappear. 

Note that under the covers, Google Ads includes 

  • Google Search Ads (text ads in search results)  – Gone
  • Google Display Ads  (image ads in ‘sponsor’s websites’) – Unclear
  • Google Video ads (videos shown in YouTube) – Unclear
  • Google Shopping (shopping ads in Google search) – Gone

This will have a crippling impact on Australian digital agencies that deliver and manage Google Advertising programs for their clients.

You Tube
Another Google online property.  Will they remove it ?

GSuite
A commercial-grade email system similar to Gmail is used by thousands of businesses and agencies in Australia. 
Migrating to another productivity platform will cost Australian business a significant amount of reduced productivity.

Google Drive 
Google’s cloud storage system is also used widely within business. 

Etc etc.

It’ll be expensive but we have no option.

Google’s disparate systems underpin a significant number of Australian businesses. The thought of having to de-tangle ourselves from them is brain-numbing and will be expensive to migrate.  

In this topsy turvy world, where a global pandemic has already significantly impacted business, the battle between Google and our Government will generate even more upheaval for business.

But as always, to survive and succeed we must all be positioned to survive this potential change.

Mel Silva, Managing Director for Google Australia

Explains why there is a workable news code that doesn’t break Google Search.
– See these Q&As for more info: https://goo.gle/39AID44​.

KRudd on Media Code 

While Im not a fan of KRudd’s style, he makes some good points here: