‘Pay for content, don’t block it’: Frydenberg warns Google over news experiment

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has warned Google it should be paying Australian news websites, not banning them from search results, after the company admitted to intermittently blocking some content.

The technology giant said on Wednesday it had been running “experiments” on searches for newspaper websites, including The Sydney Morning Herald, that had affected a small number of users.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has warned Google to pay Australian news websites for content instead of blocking them for some users.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Mr Frydenberg rebuked Google for preventing some local users from seeing news websites through its search engine, which runs more than 94 per cent of search traffic in Australia.

"Google, Facebook, other digital giants should focus not on blocking users in Australia accessing domestic content, they should focus on paying for it," Mr Frydenberg told reporters on Thursday.

Internet users have reported Australian news sites disappearing from Google's search function, with old content and links being displayed.

"We're currently running a few experiments that will each reach about 1 per cent of Google Search users in Australia to measure the impacts of news businesses and Google Search on each other," a Google spokesman said on Wednesday.

The project would end early next month, he said.

"In 2018, the value we provided to publishers through referral traffic alone was estimated at $218 million.”

The admission from Google – whose parent company Alphabet is worth $US632 billion ($817 billion) on the stock market – comes in the middle of a battle between the federal government and tech giants over plans to force them to pay news publishers for displaying their content.

Google is campaigning against a proposed industry code devised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which a Senate committee is examining before a final vote in Parliament early this year.

"The digital giants should focus on paying for original content not blocking it. We have again introduced legislation that's now before a Senate committee to put in place a world-leading mandatory code to see those digital giants pay traditional news media businesses a fair sum of money for … generating original content," Mr Frydenberg said.

"It has been acknowledged, not just by other regulatory agencies but by other governments around the world, it's going to have a final arbitration model in place and it's going to be a very significant advance for our domestic media businesses."

Users who land on Google's Australian home page see a warning about the company's issues with the proposed code, but the spokesman said Google wanted to see the code go ahead.

"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," the spokesman said.

A spokesman for Nine, owner of this masthead, said the search results made it "starkly clear" that local news was 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 spokesman said on Wednesday.

"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."

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