Article image Microsoft offers to step in if rival Google quits Australia

Daniel Fowler
February 4, 2021

Both Google and Facebook have firmly pushed back on proposed legislation that would make the USA tech giants pay local media outlets for content that appears on their sites.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's president, said the company "fully supports" the News Media Bargaining Code.

But now Microsoft has told the Australian government that Bing, its search engine rival that is a distant second to Google, will adhere to the code if required and continue providing services in the country.

Microsoft is aggressively positioning its Bing search engine as a viable alternative to Google Search, publicly declaring it would operate under contentious draft legislation which led Google to threaten the withdrawal of its flagship product from Australia.

In his statement on Wednesday, Smith noted Microsoft is ready to help Australian advertisers transfer their business over to Bing without any additional costs.

Google Australia managing director Mel Silva spoke at a Senate inquiry into proposed news media bargaining laws.

Smith said he and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella had discussed the proposal last week with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who will see the offer as a big boost in his government's confrontation with Google and Facebook.

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"The code reasonably attempts to address the bargaining power imbalance between digital platforms and Australian news businesses", he said in a statement.

Mr Smith said while Microsoft was not covered by the current legislation, it would be willing to follow the proposed rules.

The News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code would see Google and Facebook forced to negotiate with registered media outlets in Australia to share revenue gained from their use of news content, and is now being considered by a Senate Committee. The software giant said that it recognizes the important role that search advertising plays to more than two million small businesses in the country. Microsoft has announced that it will never speak threatening to Australia.

"One thing is clear: while other tech companies may sometimes threaten to leave Australia, Microsoft will never make such a threat", he said. That is why Microsoft has long supported the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) efforts to analyse these issues and propose world-first solutions.

Bing is Australia's second most popular search engine, but the gap between it and Google is vast in terms of market share.

Google and Facebook continue to argue that media organisations benefit from referrals and clicks through to their websites. It was also reported that digital platforms such as Google and Facebook support Australia to make payments as they wish.

"The government needs a plan for how Australians will continue to be able to access essential information online if Google Search were to be taken offline".

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