GOOGLE has refused to rule out removing more than just its search engine in Australia, telling a Senate Committee it was still assessing what impact its withdrawal would have on services including Google Maps, YouTube and Gmail in the country.
The answer comes weeks after the tech giant threatened to stop Australians accessing Google Search in an attempt to evade proposed laws that would see the company pay media outlets for the news it used on its platform.
But experts have labelled Google’s response to the Senate as “deliberately evasive”.
Google Australia and New Zealand government affairs and public policy head Lucinda Longcroft answered a series of questions from Senators, with the responses publicly released on Wednesday.
In response to a question about whether Google’s “threat to leave the Australian market (would) include other Google services such as Google Maps, Google Pay, YouTube, Gmail, etc,” Ms Longcroft did not rule out big changes to its other offerings.
“At this stage, we are still understanding the implications of removing Search on our other services,” she wrote.
Ms Longcroft also said the company’s warning about the removal of Google Search in Australia was not “a threat; it’s a worst-case scenario that we’re working hard to avoid,” and reiterated its opposition to elements of the proposed laws.
The company’s statement was issued on February 5 — just one day after Google chief executive Sundar Pichai held a video meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in talks he called “much more positive”.
Swinburne University media senior lecturer Dr Belinda Barnet said while Google had stopped short of threatening to remove other services from Australia in its answer, the company’s statement seemed designed to create further questions.
“They’re being deliberately evasive because that was a fair, straightforward question,” she said.
“They’ve given a longwinded answer which doesn’t rule it out and implies they are, in some way, assessing other products.”
Dr Barnet said if Google was just to remove its search product in Australia, it would likely have little impact on services such as Gmail.
Google first raised the prospect of removing its search engine from Australia at a Senate hearing in January, where Facebook also pledged to remove access to all news on its platform for Australians if the laws went ahead.
The Committee is expected to release its findings into the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code by Friday.