As Google Considers Australia Exit, Microsoft Talks Bing With PM

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Software giant Microsoft Corp is confident its search product Bing can fill the void in Australia if Google withdraws its search from required media payments, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.

Australia has introduced laws that would force internet giant Google and social media heavyweight Facebook Inc to negotiate payments to domestic media outlets whose content links drive traffic to their platforms.

However, Big Tech companies have called the laws unenforceable and said last month they would pull key services from Australia if the regulations were enforced. These services include Google’s search engine, which has 94% of the country’s search market, according to industry data.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has since spoken with Morrison about the new rules, the tech company told Reuters, and on Monday Morrison said the software company was ready to increase the presence of its Bing search tool, the distant No. 2 player.

“I can tell you that Microsoft is quite confident when I spoke to Satya,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra, without giving further details of the conversation.

“We just want the rules of the digital world to be the same as those that exist in the real world, in the physical world,” Morrison added.

A Microsoft spokeswoman confirmed the discussion took place but declined to comment because the company was not directly involved in the laws.

“We recognize the importance of a vibrant media sector and public interest journalism in a democracy and recognize the challenges the media sector has faced for many years due to changing business models and consumer preferences,” the spokeswoman said.

Google declined to comment.

A day earlier, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had called for a meeting on the law and they had talked, but he would not back down on the change.

During a Senate hearing on the laws, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for procurement, Meghan Quinn, said the Australian government would have limited ability to intervene if Google’s departure harmed businesses that depend on its function as research.

“The (media) code does not prevent the wholesale withdrawal of services, and there are difficulties in one of the legislative mechanisms we have for someone (to be forced to) provide a service” , Quinn said.

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Kenneth Maxwell