Microsoft is confident its search engine Bing can take the place of Google in Australia if the company makes good on its threat to withdraw services if the government does not back down from plans to make tech giants pay for news content, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Monday amid ongoing efforts by Canberra to curb the powers of big tech.
“I can tell you, Microsoft’s pretty confident,” Reuters reported Morrison told reporters after a conversation with CEO Satya Nadella.
Google threatened to disable its search function in Australia if the government does not back down from its plans to make the tech giants pay media outlets for their content, describing the proposed “news media bargaining code” as “unworkable” in its current form and an “unmanageable financial and operational risk” to Google’s Australian operations.
Nadella reportedly reached out to Morrison directly to discuss Microsoft’s interest in supplanting Google — though Microsoft’s Bing is the second most popular search engine in the country, its 3.6% market share is dwarfed by Google’s 95%.
“At the moment they have a small market share in search, but they’re interested in expanding that, they’re interested in developing the presence of Bing here,” communications minister Paul Fletcher toldABC.
Microsoft confirmed to Forbes that Nadella had met with the Australian prime minister last week but declined to provide further details on the conversation.
“We recognize the importance of a vibrant media sector and public interest journalism in a democracy and we recognize the challenges the media sector has faced over many years through changing business models and consumer preferences,” Microsoft said.
Australia’s proposed news media bargaining code, designed to help a struggling local media industry that has accused large platforms of benefiting from its work without paying for it, was developed by the country’s competition watchdog, the ACCC, after talks broke down between it and the tech companies. If passed, it would see the likes of Google and Facebook forced to negotiate and share revenue they make from news content, with the publishers—a move both firms have criticized. Facebook and Google, who are exclusively targeted, both argue that news outlets already benefit from the referrals and clicks through to their websites that their platforms enable. The U.S. government has tried to intervene on the tech giants’ behalf, urging the Australian government to work towards developing a “voluntary code,” adding that the code unfairly targets two U.S. firms to their “clear detriment”.
It’s unclear whether the code will later apply to Microsoft if it is passed. The company declined to comment. A spokesperson told Forbes: “With respect to the current controversy over a potential code of conduct governing Google and Facebook, Microsoft is not directly involved and we wouldn’t want to comment on that ongoing process involving the ACCC and those companies.”
Officials have taken a dim view of what they view as heavy handed behavior by tech giants in response to the proposed law. “Let me be clear: Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia,” Morrison said last week after Google threatened to withdraw.