Microsoft offers to plug any internet gaps

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Daniel McCulloch
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Software giant Microsoft has publicly pledged to plug any gaps in the market if Google makes good on its threat to withdraw from Australia.

Federal parliament will soon vote on legislation to introduce a news media bargaining code, setting up a battle with Google and Facebook.

Microsoft president Brad Smith said the company fully supported the Morrison government’s proposed code.

“The code reasonably attempts to address the bargaining power imbalance between digital platforms and Australian news businesses,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It also recognises the important role search plays, not only to consumers but to the thousands of Australian small businesses that rely on search and advertising technology to fund and support their organisations.”

Mr Smith said while Microsoft was not included in the code, the company would be willing to live by the rules if designated by the government.

He said Microsoft would invest in its Bing search engine to make it “comparable to competitors” and allow small businesses to easily switch their advertising to the platform without transfer costs.

“We believe that the current legislative proposal represents a fundamental step towards a more level playing field and a fairer digital ecosystem for consumers, business, and society,” Mr Smith said.

“One thing is clear: while other tech companies may sometimes threaten to leave Australia, Microsoft will never make such a threat.

“We appreciate what Australia has long meant for Microsoft’s growth as a company, and we are committed to supporting the country’s national security and economic success.”

The Greens are calling on the government to establish a publicly owned search engine if Google pulls out of Australia.

Greens leader Adam Bandt believes it is time to treat the internet as a public good and intervene in the market.

“The internet is now part of everyday life, it’s an essential service. You can’t get by without accessing the internet,” he told ABC radio.

“Everyone in this country now should have a right to be able to search the internet, own their own data rather than hand it over to a corporation or to the government, and know that what they’re finding on the internet isn’t what Google wants them to see, but what is actually there.”

The minor party wants the government to investigate how much it would cost to establish a taxpayer-funded search engine, as well as how to ensure the strongest possible privacy provisions.

Mr Bandt accepts there are already other alternatives to Google available, but argues it is not enough to let the market respond.

“At the moment Google has enormous market power and they’re using it to threaten the Australian parliament and the Australian public,” he said.

“If they do make good on their threat, given how dominant Google is in this sphere, it’s time to seriously consider what a replacement would be.”

Mr Bandt pointed to the example of the White Pages telephone directory, which was originally government-owned before being privatised.

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