The bad blood between the Australian government and tech giants Google and Facebook shows no sign of letting up.
Late last week, an Australian government minister claimed that Microsoft’s Bing, is ready to step in to provide its online search engine for Australian citizens.
He even claimed that Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella had spoken to the Australian Prime Minister about the matter.
Australia is pressing ahead with a controversial rule change that will force tech firms to pay local publishers for news and other content they utilise, or even link to, on their platforms.
The legislation is currently being reviewed by an Australian Senate committee, and a vote is expected early this year.
Australia’s law is being strongly opposed by Google and Facebook, despite Australia touting the incoming law as a way to protect independent journalism.
However so controversial is the scheme that Google announced in October 2020 that it was ‘pausing’ its News Showcase in Australia.
Last week it was reportedly restarting this scheme for the country.
But a senior Google executive last month warned the Australian government that Google could remove its search engine from Australia over the matter.
But Australia is refusing to back down, and the country’s communications minister, Paul Fletcher, said that Microsoft’s Bing is ready to step in if Google pulls search from Australia.
Fletcher was reported by the Guardian newspaper as saying that Google dominated in Australia with a market share of 93 percent, but there were other players, including Microsoft and DuckDuckGo, that were talking to the government about replacing it.
“Microsoft, a giant American corporation, an information technology powerhouse, is very significantly interested in the market opportunity in Australia, should Google choose to withdraw its presence in search in Australia,” Fletcher told the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas.
Fletcher reportedly played down Google’s threat, saying it “don’t always follow through”, and reiterated that the government would not back down.
“What Google and Facebook say they intend to do is really a matter for them,” he said. “We made it clear we very much prefer them to stay in Australia, they’re an important, significant part of the ecosystem, but ultimately these are business decisions.”
And Fletcher even said that Microsoft boss Satya Nadella had spoken the Australian Prime Minister about the matter.
“The Microsoft CEO reached out to the prime minister and proposed a meeting, accompanied by senior executives, I was able to join that meeting, and we had a very informative discussion about Microsoft’s interest in the Australian market,” Fletcher reportedly said. “At the moment they have a small market share in search, but they’re interested in expanding that, they’re interested in developing the presence of Bing here.”
Fletcher also said the prime minister told Facebook’s global CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, that he would not “change from the path that we have set out”, which is based on “a very thorough public policy process”.
“Look, ultimately, at the end of the day, if you want to do business in Australia, you need to comply with the laws of the sovereign government of Australia.”
It remains to be seen whether Google and Facebook will opt to pull some of their services from Australia.
Facebook in September bluntly warned Aussie users it will prevent them sharing local and international news, if Australia presses ahead with this law.
Google has already warned it could close down search in the region, and it should be remembered the firm had already shut down its Google News service altogether in Spain in 2014, when Spain required news aggregators (such as Google) to pay for a license to use news content.
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