Australian PM says Bing could replace Google

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s prime minister said on Monday that Microsoft was confident it could fill the void if Google followed through on its threat to pull its search engine from Australia.

A Google executive told a Senate hearing last month that he would likely make his search engine unavailable in Australia if the government goes ahead with a bill that would force tech giants to pay for news content.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he spoke to Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella about its search engine, Bing, which filled the space.

“I can tell you that Microsoft is pretty confident” that Australians wouldn’t be worse off, Morrison told the National Press Club of Australia.

“These are big tech companies and what’s important for Australia I think is that we set the rules that work for our people,” Morrison said.

“Having a media environment in this country that is sustainable and commercially supported, then that’s vital to the functioning of democracies,” he added.

Although Bing is Australia’s second most popular search engine, it only has a 3.6% market share, according to web analytics service Statcounter. Google says it has 95%.

Nadella initiated the Zoom conversation with Morrison, the Australian newspaper reported.

A statement from Microsoft confirmed that the online meeting took place last week but did not release any details about the conversation.

“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,” Microsoft said.

“With respect to the ongoing controversy over a potential code of conduct governing Google and Facebook, Microsoft is not directly involved and we would not like to comment on this ongoing process involving the ACCC and these companies,” the statement added, referring to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the national regulator that drafted the bill.

The government’s proposed mandatory code of conduct aims to force Google and Facebook to pay Australian media companies fairly for the use of news content that the tech giants siphon off from news sites.

There are no plans to charge smaller search engines such as Bing to link users to Australian news, but the government has not ruled that out.

Google has come under pressure from authorities elsewhere to pay for the information. Last month, it signed a deal with a group of French publishers paving the way for the company to make digital copyright payments. Under the agreement, Google will negotiate individual license agreements with newspapers, with payments based on factors such as daily published volume and monthly website traffic.

But Google is resisting the Australian plan because it would have less control over how much it would have to pay. Under the Australian system, if an online platform and a news company fail to agree on a price for news, an arbitration panel will make a binding decision on payment.

Morrison said he would like to see “more alignment between global economies” on these antitrust and competition policy issues.