Microsoft is salivating over Google’s fight with Australia

February 3, 2021, 7:24 AM UTC

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On Wednesday, Microsoft threw its full support behind Australia’s legislative push to force tech giants Google and Facebook to pay license fees to local media outlets. But Microsoft has its own agenda: finally seeing Bing—the much-maligned search engine service it launched in 2009—supplant Google.

“Microsoft fully supports the News Media Bargaining Code,” Microsoft president Brad Smith said in a statement published on Microsoft’s Australian website, referring to proposed legislation that would force Google and Facebook to pay local news outlets more for sharing their content.

The Australian government asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)—its antitrust watchdog—to propose legislation that would “address bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms” in April last year.

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The ACCC was tasked, specifically, with targeting Google and Facebook—the two Internet giants that dominate the world of online advertising. Google and Facebook both argued against the proposed legislation, and each offered its own “voluntary” code of conduct.

However, the ACCC’s proposal became a bill and was sent to Parliament in December. The bill requires Google and Facebook to pay news publishers for the right to display news content in their search results and news feed, respectively. The tech companies will have to negotiate with the news groups to determine the fee; if the parties can’t reach an agreement within three months, the matter will go to independent arbitration.

A senate committee is currently reviewing the measure, and the group will deliver a report on the feasibility of the proposal in mid-February. If the committee favors the bill, it will go to a parliamentary vote and could pass early this year.

Google’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand called the proposed legislation “unworkable” during a parliamentary hearing in January. Google has published its objections to the bill in a blog, arguing that a clause requiring Google to pay media companies in exchange for displaying excerpts of news stories within search results would “unravel the key principles of the open Internet.”

Google said that it would have to yank its search services from Australia if the legislation passes. Prime Minister Scott Morrison retorted that Canberra doesn’t “respond to threats.”

Enter Bing.

“While Microsoft is not subject to the legislation currently pending, we’d be willing to live by these rules if the government designates us,” Smith said in his statement, setting himself up to offer Bing as an alternative to Google.

According to the ACCC, Google occupies 94% of Australia’s online search market. Hoping to fill the vacuum that would form if Google leaves, Smith says Microsoft will offer “small businesses” a “no transfer cost” option to swap their advertising spending from Google to Bing.

But even Smith recognizes that Bing is seen as less than Google’s equal. The president pledged Microsoft will “invest further to ensure Bing is comparable to our competitors” and urged Australians to give Bing a chance.

“We remind people that they can help,” Smith said. “With every search Bing gets better at finding what you are looking for.”