With Google threatening to pull its search engine entirely from Australia following legislation that would force the tech giant to pay for news, Microsoft has reportedly told Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison that it is ready to take up the mantle with its own search engine, Bing.
With a mere 3.5 percent domestic market share according to analytics tracker statcounter, up until now Bing has held a very distant second place to Google’s whooping 95 percent share. If Google does decide to take its search engine off the market, it provides a rare opportunity not only for Bing, but also other search engines such as the privacy-centric DuckDuckGo.
“The Prime Minister has spoken to the CEO and president of Microsoft,” Australian Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on the ABC’s Insider program. “As you know they have Microsoft Bing, which is another search engine. They’re watching this very closely, and no doubt see opportunities here in Australia to expand.”
The news comes amidst rising tensions between the Australian government and Google, with the search engine giant claiming that forcing it to pay media companies for news represents an unfair challenge to its business model.
“If the law requires Google to pay to link people to websites, it’s a slippery slope,” Mel Silva, Managing Director of Google Australia wrote in a blog post. “After all, if one type of business gets paid for appearing in Search, why shouldn’t others? Going down that route would destroy the business model of any search engine, Google included. And if a search engine has to pay to show links, what’s to stop links elsewhere coming with a price tag, too?”
Probably because it senses a business opportunity, Microsoft has taken a far more accommodating tone.
“We recognize the importance of a vibrant media sector and public interest journalism in a democracy and we recognize the challenges the media sector has faced over many years through changing business models and consumer preferences,” Microsoft said in a statement to the Associated Press.
If Australia moves forward with the legislation—according to a Guardian poll its supported by 60 percent of the population—it would join France, where Google recently struck a deal to pay online publishers. If Australia is also successful in getting Google to pay for news, it could trigger a domino effect where other national governments follow suit.
Whether the famously overlooked Bing will get a shot, then, probably depends on if Google’s threats are all bark and no bite.
In any case, the Australian government at least publicly doesn’t really seem to care.
“I’m not intimidated by their threats,” Frydenberg said. “We have been prepared to take on these digital giants all along.”
Microsoft did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.