Microsoft will make improvements to its Bing search engine in the event that Google withdraws its search product from Australia, and will voluntarily participate in the news media code, the company said.
Microsoft Chairman Brad Smith issued a statement Monday confirming that he and the company’s CEO, Satya Nadella, had spoken with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher about the proposal. last week and said Microsoft “fully supports” the code.
“The code makes a reasonable attempt to address the imbalance of bargaining power between digital platforms and Australian news companies,” he said.
“It also recognizes the important role that search plays, not just for consumers, but also for the thousands of small Australian businesses that depend on search and advertising technology to fund and support their organizations.”
The code, which is currently before parliament, would facilitate negotiations between media companies and digital platforms, currently only Facebook and Google, for payment of content. If an agreement cannot be reached, an arbitrator is used for resolution.
Both Google and Facebook say the code is unworkable in its current form, and both have threatened that in the “worst case” if the code goes ahead unchanged, Google would withdraw its Australian search engine, while Facebook already would not allow people to post or view news content in Australia.
Microsoft runs Bing, Google’s biggest search engine rival, and Smith said it told the prime minister that Microsoft would invest in Bing to make it “comparable to our competitors.”
“We remember people who can help, with each search, Bing improves in finding what you’re looking for,” he said.
“We believe that the current legislative proposal represents a fundamental step towards a more level playing field and a fairer digital ecosystem for consumers, businesses and society.”
Smith said Microsoft would be willing to participate in the code if the government designated Bing as a digital platform under the code. Guardian Australia has asked Microsoft what payments the company could expect to pay under the code.
The prime minister was also pressured by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who Treasurer Josh Frydenberg described on Sunday as constructive, but did not deter the government from going ahead with the code.
Microsoft is the first major non-code platform to express public support for the code. Twitter told the Senate committee reviewing the legislation that the code will likely entrench dominant players on both digital platforms and publishers, and make it harder for new entrants to compete.
Google stepped up its campaign against the code last week, putting up a large yellow information box about the company’s position on the code in search results in Australia. Since then, the box has been removed.
Both Google and Facebook have gone to great lengths to claim that removing some services from Australia does not pose a threat, only the worst case, but Smith said Microsoft would never make such a threat.
“We appreciate what Australia has long meant to Microsoft’s growth as a company, and we are committed to supporting the country’s national security and economic success,” he said.
• Guardian Australia has been in discussions with Google about inclusion in their new “Showcase” offering that would make the company pay news providers for inclusion in this product.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism