Microsoft has said it supports Australia’s plans to make the biggest digital platforms pay for news and would help small businesses transfer their advertising to Bing if Google quits the country.
Microsoft has been positioning itself to increase market share for its search engine Bing after a Google executive told a Senate hearing last month it would likely make its search engine unavailable in Australia if the government implements a draft law compelling tech giants pay for news content.
Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a statement that he and Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella had told Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher in an online meeting last week that “Microsoft fully supports” the so-called News Media Bargaining Code.
Mr Morrison this week confirmed he had spoken to Mr Nadella about Bing replacing Google in Australia.
“I can tell you, Microsoft’s pretty confident” that Australians would not be worse off, Mr Morrison said on Monday.
Mr Smith said he had assured government leaders that small businesses who wished to transfer their advertising from Google to Bing could do so simply and without transfer costs.
“We believe that the current legislative proposal represents a fundamental step towards a more level playing field and a fairer digital ecosystem for consumers, business and society,” Mr Smith said.
The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology, an independent think tank, welcomed Microsoft’s stance and called on Google to withdraw its threat to close its search services within Australia.
“This is a significant development and should send a message to both Google and Facebook that their network dominance in Australia is only as strong as their respect for Australians,” the centre’s Director Peter Lewis said in a statement.
Although Bing is Australia’s second most popular search engine, it has only a 3.6% market share, according to web analytics service Statcounter. Google says it has 95%.
Swinburne University senior lecturer on media Belinda Barnet said Bing and other search engines could fill the void left by Google and deliver benefits.
“People need to realise it will not be personalised in the sense that Google advertising in searches is, so Bing doesn’t know and frankly doesn’t care that you’re in the market for yoga pants, for example,” Ms Barnet said.
“Some of these platforms, Google and Facebook in particular, feed you more misinformation if you’re already prone to clicking on misnformation, so they create this echo chamber, in a sense.
“But a product like DuckDuckGo and Ecosia is not going to know that in the past you’ve looked at a hundred articles about how vaccines are bad and they will just give you the most accurate information that they can find.”