February 3, 2021 | significant
Google became the cornerstone of everything we did on the internet so suddenly that many of us can’t even remember it happening in the first place.
Before that, Yahoo! was the dominant search engine back in the late 1990s, and they even had the opportunity to purchase the upstart Google in 2002, which they declined to do.
The rest is history; Google trampled over the top of Yahoo! Rapidly and now controls well over 90 per cent of the search engine market share. The likes of Yahoo! and Microsoft’s Bing are now left to fight for the crumbs.
Now, after two decades of “Googling” everything from directions to Aunt Karen’s house to the causes of climate change, Australians face the real threat of a blackout from the giant, where – if it were to go through – we’d be blocked from accessing the platform entirely.
Australia’s Federal Government recently proposed legislation requiring Google to pay local news companies (read: News Corp and Fairfax) for their products. Google did not take this proposal very kindly, and they are talking of taking their bat and ball and heading home, far away from the Land Down Under.
Our Prime Minister’s response? “We don’t respond to threats.” Yikes.
Well, for a start, we would have to get very used to Yahoo! again or adopt Bing as our new default. But they would be bound by the same laws and they are unlikely to be happy about it either. Would they want to remain in Australia? Would a domestic search engine rise from the ashes (like in China, where Google is banned and Baidu reigns supreme)? It’s scary stuff.
The problem is, Google has become much more than a search engine. We rely on it for maps, recommendations on local businesses, to complete our work. Some of us use it to run our businesses from start to finish. It even contains sensitive data that we trust to hold in its own cloud systems. Google is the sidekick that we simply can’t do without.
Would we still have access to those services if everything was flipped upside down? It’s unlikely.
We only need to look back to 2014 to find an example of this same thing happening when Google shut down its news service in Spain. This occurred due to similar legislation, which required them to pay to display certain content in search results.
That could mean that Google only partially leaves Australia – just like Spain – by removing its news service and retaining search and other services. And that’s still a major hit for the journalism space.
At the end of the day – whether they want to admit it or not – Australia’s population of 21 million (or thereabouts) and their billions of searches do matter to Google. To leave us in the dark would cause chaos to their algorithm, not to mention ROI.
In the meantime, Microsoft Bing executives closely monitoring the situation and are most likely ready to leap into the breach if Google did altogether withdraw, albeit without a news service.
For now, it’s a stare-off between the search giant and good, old Scott Morrison (a.k.a Scott Morrison of marketing, if you ask Twitter). Time will tell who blinks first.
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