Read full text version of the Open Letter to Google below, along with response from a Google spokesperson.

Open letter text as published on 20 August 2020 in The Sydney Morning Herald, in full:

An Open Letter to Google —

As a nation we welcomed you into our lives and have made you our home base on the internet. Your search engine was so good that it became a verb, we no longer search the web, we ‘google it.’

But with success comes responsibilities and right now our Government, as our elected representative, is asking you to act beyond your narrow commercial self-interest. 

The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) has reviewed your impact on our media and found the impact of your business model — and that of the other dominant digital platform Facebook — on our national life has been disastrous. 

You have exploited your understanding of our personal interests and behaviours to draw advertisers away from traditional media, destroying the business model that supported independent journalism for more than 150 years.  

In the past decade more than 5,000 Australian journalists have lost their jobs as your share of advertising has grown and grown.

You have also been happy to use stories written by those journalists as if they were your own work, deriving value from something that isn’t yours.

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. 

With this support there would be more journalists who could keep us informed, give all Australians a voice, monitor the activities of the powerful and ensure that all levels of government are held accountable. But instead of supporting our national interest, you have chosen to put yourself first. 

So here’s a few things we would like to put on the table:

While your service may appear free, you make eye-watering amounts of money by selling access to us.

We don’t quite know how you do it all, but you don’t make $4.8 billion in advertising revenue without deriving real value from our usage. So maybe it’s time to respect us. 

You are using your power as one of the largest companies on earth to threaten us.

When we ask you to consider paying a fair amount for the journalism from which you benefit, you threaten to charge us for your search engine. If you don’t want us to use your engine just tell us and we’ll go elsewhere. 

And in supporting your interests you are prepared to push misinformation:

• Your claim that you will need to hand personal information to media companies is wrong. 

• Your claim news publishers are going to receive favourable treatment in the algorithm is wrong. 

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.

Countering these claims is actually why we need an independent media — which is the whole point of the code.

Australians embrace innovators, but we don’t 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.

~ from Australians

At 5pm AEST Wednesday 19 August 2020, the Australia Institute recieved a written request from Google to update this Open Letter with the following statement which is published below in full and without edit.

On the record statement, attributable to a Google spokesperson:  

The ACCC has released a statement that our open letter contains misinformation. We strongly disagree and are concerned that our view of the Code has been represented this way during a consultation phase. 

ACCC statement: ‘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.’

  • We did not say that the proposed law would require us to charge Australians for Search and YouTube – we do not intend to charge users for our free services. What we did say is that Search and YouTube, both of which are free services, are at risk in Australia. That’s because the Code as it is drafted is unworkable. For example, the Code requires us to give all news media businesses advance notice of algorithm changes and explain how they can minimise the effects. Even assuming Google could comply with this provision, it would seriously damage our products and user experience. It would impact our ability to continue to show users the most relevant useful results on Google Search and YouTube.

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

  • The Code requires Google to tell news media businesses what user data we collect, what data we supply to them, and “how the registered news business corporation can gain access to” that data which we don’t supply to them (see section 52M (2e) / page 10 of the draft code). This goes beyond the current level of data sharing between Google and news publishers. It was echoed by the Treasurer who stated: “Among the elements the Code will cover include the sharing of data, ranking and display of news content and the monetisation and the sharing of revenue generated from news.” (Link

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