The Prime Minister and Federal Treasurer are in active talks with global tech leaders as the ramifications of Google’s threat to withdraw search services to Australians becomes apparent.
Speaking at the National Press Club on Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed he had spoken to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella about the company’s Bing search tool replacing the Google service.
“I can tell you, Microsoft’s pretty confident, when I spoke to Satya,” said Morrison when asked by a reporter if he was confident other search engines would fill the void left by Google.
The day before, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg also endorsed Microsoft’s search service when describing his discussions with Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg.
“Even last week, the Minister, Paul Fletcher and I, had a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, who reached out to talk about the code and the impact on Facebook,” Frydenberg told the ABC Insiders program.
“It was a very constructive discussion, and the Prime Minister has spoken to the CEO and President of Microsoft. As you know, they’ve got Microsoft Bing, which is another search engine.”
The Treasurer noted though the Federal government was not going to back down on its media code plans, saying “Mark Zuckerberg didn't convince me to back down if that's what you're asking.”
The government’s embrace of Bing comes after managing director of Google Australia, Mel Silva, last Friday told a Senate committee the government’s legislation provided “untenable risk” to the tech giant and it may see Google Search leave Australia.
It’s barely surprising Nadella was enthusiastic about Australians embracing Bing, like Google Search, the service is supported by advertising, with Microsoft estimated to have earned US$7.74bn from search in FY 2020.
That amount is a fraction of Google’s $37.1bn search advertising revenues last quarter – the company is due to report its annual earning tomorrow. In Australia, Google holds around 94% of the A$5.5bn (US$4.2b) local search advertising market.
So it’s barely surprising Satya Nadella would welcome Australians moving to Bing as, should Microsoft pick up most of the local spending, it would see global search revenues jump 55%.
Complicating the matter is Microsoft, unlike Google, runs a local news service, MSN, that pays for syndicated content from Australian news providers including Nine outlets and Sky News Australia, owned by News Corp.
Nine declined to comment to Information Age while News and Microsoft did not reply to questions about their syndication deals with Microsoft’s MSN.
The Prime Minister’s address to the National Press Club was not all good news for the tech giants, including Microsoft, however as Scott Morrison flagged further scrutiny on global tax avoidance and competition issues.
“When I was Treasurer,” the Prime Minister said. As Josh knows, when I would go to the G20 I would be talking not just about are they paying tax and how do we best address that, but I began the conversation, when I was Treasurer, with the G20 about antitrust and competition policy issues that I said we were going to have to address.
“Now Australia is being true to our word, again. I would like to see more alignment between the world's economies on these sorts of things. You know, our simple rule around the digital, as Paul Fletcher knows, is that we just want the rules in the digital world to be the same that exist in the real world, in the physical world.”
The Treasury committee into the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code finished its public hearings yesterday and is due to hand down a report on February 12 ahead of Parliament voting on the bill later in the year.