Google and the Australian Government have been at loggerheads since Australia released its News Media Bargaining Code last year. Google has since threatened to withdraw its search engine from the Australian market if the code becomes law. Microsoft has seized the opportunity. It is telling Australia its Bing search engine could fill the gap if Google follows through with its threat.
The Codes Aim
Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code was released in 2020 after years of complaints from traditional media outlets. These news publishers argue that Google and social media platforms like Facebook benefit from journalists’ work without paying compensation.
The code, which is currently before parliament, would require both Google and Facebook to pay news publishers to display their content. Furthermore, the code requires the two tech giants to give news outlets more information about their search and newsfeed algorithms.
According to a poll conducted by the Guardian, the code is supported by 60% of Australians. If it becomes law and Australia is successful in getting Google to pay for news, Australia will join France who last month struck a deal with Google to have its online publishers paid.
Tech Giants’ Response
Both Google and Facebook have replied to these requirements by saying the code is unworkable in its current form. Consequently, they have threatened to withdraw and limit their Australian services if the code is introduced unamended. Google has threatened to pull its search engine from Australia. Facebook has warned it would no longer allow Australians to post or share news content on their platform.
Google claims that forcing it to pay media outlets, represents an unfair challenge to their business model. “If the law requires Google to pay to link people to websites, it’s a slippery slope,” Mel Silva, Managing Director of Google Australia wrote in a blog post. “After all, if one type of business gets paid for appearing in Search, why shouldn’t others? Going down that route would destroy the business model of any search engine, Google included. And if a search engine has to pay to show links, what’s to stop links elsewhere coming with a price tag, too?”
If an agreement is not reached, then the dispute would have to go to arbitration for resolution.
Unlike other tech giants, Microsoft has come out in support of Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code. Microsoft President Brad Smith said: “The code reasonably attempts to address the bargaining power imbalance between digital platforms and Australian news businesses.” He said the code would provide a more level playing field for Australians and a “fairer digital ecosystem for consumers, business, and society.”
Smith went on to say that Microsoft would be willing to follow the proposed rules as they stand. That is if the government designated Bing as a digital platform under the code. He also stated that Microsoft would never make threats such as those made by Facebook and Google.
Bing to Replace Google
Bing is Microsoft’s search engine and Google’s biggest search engine rival. Microsoft is offering to replace Google with Bing should Google depart from the Australian market. Furthermore, it has promised to invest in Bing and make it “comparable to our competitors”.
Bing currently only holds 3.62% of the Australian market, with Google holding 94.45%. The search engine needs more users for it to enhance its search results. Consequently, Microsoft has told Australians that they too can help make Bing better. “We remind people that they can help, with every search, Bing gets better at finding what you are looking for,” Smith said.
Furthermore, Microsoft has promised Australian small businesses they can transfer their advertising to Bing without having to pay transfer costs. “We appreciate what Australia has long meant for Microsoft’s growth as a company, and we are committed to supporting the country’s national security and economic success,” Smith said.
If Google does decide to take its search engine out of the Australian market, it provides a rare opportunity to alternative search engines to fill the gap. Not only is Bing afforded with an opportunity, but also search engines like the privacy-centric DuckDuckGo. If Australians still want to access Google’s search engine, however, they will have to connect via a VPN to hide their actual location.
Some people, such as Greens communications spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, have suggested that Australia should build its own search engine. The Greens Senator was not enthused by the prospect of the government replacing one tech giant, Google, with another, Microsoft.
“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. We need an independent search engine that is run in the public interest not for the profit of a corporate giant,” she said.