Australia could turn to the Bing search engine if Google follows through on its threat to leave the country, but parent company Microsoft says it is staying out of the war over the federal government’s controversial news media bargaining code.
Google has nearly 95 per cent market search in Australia’s search engine ecosystem.
Microsoft’s Bing, with less than 4 per cent of the market, has been hailed (perhaps jokingly, by some) as a possible fallback option if the threat to stop making Google search available in Australia comes to fruition.
Google made the claim at a recent Senate hearing into the news media bargaining code, a world-leading framework to support journalism and media companies.
It would force Google and Facebook to make big concessions to the news industry, including sharing closely guarded secrets on search and newsfeed algorithms, and better compensating the industry for directing viewers to journalism.
Both Google and Facebook have already flagged their nuclear options.
Facebook said it could potentially simply block news content from appearing for Australian users, saying it makes “virtually zero” profit from such content, and indeed that it already supports Australian media by sending billions of clicks and millions of dollars.
Google Australia’s managing director Mel Silva said blocking its search engine was “the only rational choice if this law were to pass for us”.
With talk of Bing being the next choice for Australians, The New Daily contacted Microsoft to see what it had to say.
“We recognise the importance of a vibrant media sector and public interest journalism in a democracy and we recognise the challenges the media sector has faced over many years through changing business models and consumer preferences,” a company spokesperson told TND.
However, the spokesperson said Bing would not be “directly” included in the bargaining code, and declined to speak directly about its search engine competitor.
“With respect to the current controversy over a potential code of conduct governing Google and Facebook, Microsoft is not directly involved and we wouldn’t want to comment on that ongoing process involving the ACCC and those companies,” Microsoft’s spokesperson said.
They declined to comment further.
Bing is not named specifically in the draft legislation about the code, whereas Facebook and Google are.
“A digital platform must participate in the code if the Treasurer has made a determination specifying a designated digital platform corporation … The government has announced that the code will apply to Facebook and Google,” the code’s explanatory memorandum read.
However, the code also specifies that the bill is “intended to capture platforms that deliver a wide variety of services, such as social media services, search engines and other digital content aggregators”.
The most recent set of statistics show Google had 94.37 per cent of Australia’s search engine market in December.
Bing captured 3.74 per cent, DuckDuckGo 0.79 per cent, and Ecosia had 0.2 per cent.
“Australia would definitely become a Google-free zone, and Australians would be stumbling about the internet wilderness with nothing but Bing and DuckDuckGo to guide them,” TND‘s Alan Kohler wrote this week.
“Actually there’s nothing much wrong with them, and maybe that’s what we’ll end up with.”
Reset Australia, a group focusing on digital threats to democracy, last week called out Google’s threats as displaying “the body of behemoth, but the brain of brat”.
“When a private corporation tries to use its monopoly power to threaten and bully a sovereign nation, it’s a sure-fire sign that regulation is long overdue,” Reset Australia’s executive director Chris Cooper said.
“Internet search is necessary for society and the economy. Google enjoys the enormous advantage of being a giant in the space, but thinks it can eschew the responsibility. That’s just not how things should work.
“Google runs a service that is enmeshed in the day-to-day running of society. Energy companies, transport companies, logistic enterprises – all are heavily regulated and respect that this is part of their licence to operate. The Australian government needs to stand firm and set an example for governments around the world.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was not swayed by Google’s threat.
“Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia,” he said last week.
“It’s done by our government and that’s how things work here in Australia. People who want to work with that, in Australia, you’re very welcome … we don’t respond to threats.”