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Geography | Design & Technology | Citizenship | Computing | PSHE

How Google’s latest battle affects us all

Should access to Google search be a human right? As the tech giant vows to leave Australia if new regulations come into force, some worry its departure could put vital freedoms at risk. Are the Tokyo Olympics cancelled? What will Joe Biden do as American president? How many coronavirus cases are there in Melbourne? What will the weather be like tomorrow? These are the things Australians wanted to know this weekend. To find out the answers, they opened their smartphones and searched on Google. Within seconds, a world of information was at their fingertips. But this may be about to change. A fierce row has broken out between the tech titan and Australia’s lawmakers after the nation introduced a world-first law to make Google and Facebook pay media organisations for using their news content. Now, Google has threatened to remove its search engine from Australia altogether. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the law is necessary. Tech platforms gain customers and make money from people who use their services to read the news. Meanwhile, the news industry itself, which is vital for a healthy democracy, is dying – Australia’s print media has seen a 75% decline in advertising revenue since 2005. One thing is clear: Google is an internet giant. Available in 192 countries, its search engine handles an astonishing 63,000 searches every second. In Australia alone, the company has 19 million users – nearly 90% of the market share. Last year, its profits in the country amounted to an incredible £2.25bn. Many now believe Google is using its huge influence to blackmail the Australian government. “Today’s egregious threats show Google has the body of a behemoth, but the brain of a brat,” said Chris Cooper, the executive director of Reset Australia, on Friday. “When a private corporation tries to use its monopoly power to threaten and bully a sovereign nation, it’s a surefire sign that regulation is long overdue.” Google’s threat is powerful. Tech experts warn that other search engines are simply not equipped to fill the gap Google would leave behind. The fact that Google is a monopoly is a good thing, they say. Every time a person uses its search function, Google uses the information to make the search engine better, giving people more relevant results. Indeed, without its millions of users, Google would not know how to answer your questions. Now, Australians face losing this valuable tool for good. The boycott threat is a stark reminder of what many have been saying for years – in the digital era, access to Google should be considered as much of a human right as free speech or the right to education. “Access to the internet is critical for the realisation of human rights in the modern world, and that includes the tools and services which Google and Facebook provide,” argued Joe Westby, a tech researcher for Amnesty International, in 2019. “People all around the world are reliant on these platforms in order to express themselves freely, to access information online and to engage in society.” So, should access to Google search be a human right? Searching for answers Of course, say some. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that freedom of information is an integral part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Today, it is Google, more than any other search engine, that people around the world rely on to access information. The fact that the company is threatening to take away this essential service is reprehensible. Definitely not, say others. Google is a corporation, not a human right. Companies should be allowed to operate wherever they choose, without interference. And the dire warnings of an information blackout are overstated. If Google disappears overnight in Australia, another search engines will inherit its millions of users – and all the advantages a monopoly brings. KeywordsFacebook - A social media service set up by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004. It is now owned by Meta, along with Instagram and WhatsApp.

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