Bing could replace Google, says Australian Premier

CANBERRA (AP) — Australia’s prime minister said yesterday Microsoft is confident it can fill the void if Google carries out its threat to remove its search engine from Australia.

A Google executive told a Senate hearing last month it would likely make its search engine unavailable in Australia if the government goes ahead with a draft law that would make tech giants pay for news content.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he has spoken to Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella about its search engine Bing filling the space.

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

“These are big technology companies and what is important to Australia, I think, is that we set the rules that are right for our people,” Morrison said.

Microsoft Corp’s Bing search engine page on a computer screen in Beijing. PHOTO: AP

“Having a news environment in this country that is one that is sustainable and is supported commercially, then this is vital to how democracies function,” he added.

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

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

A Microsoft statement confirmed that the online meeting had taken place last week but released no details of the conversation.

“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,” Microsoft said.

“With respect to the current controversy over a potential code of conduct governing Google and Facebook, Microsoft is not directly involved and we would not want to comment on that ongoing process involving the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and those companies,” the statement added, referring to the ACCC, the national regulator that devised the draft law.

The mandatory code of conduct proposed by the government aims to make Google and Facebook pay Australian media companies fairly for using news content the tech giants siphon from news sites.

Google faced pressure from authorities elsewhere to pay for news. 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 licencing deals with newspapers, with payments based on factors such as the amount published daily and monthly Internet site traffic.