Google Accuses Microsoft of “Breaking the Open Web”

Just before the weekend, Google published a caustic statement on Microsoft’s public support of Australia’s new law that forces Google and Facebook to pay publishers for their content. The law requires the companies to negotiate licensing agreements with publishers in order to include news articles in both search and news feeds, including snippets.

Last month, Microsoft published its endorsement of the Australian proposal and stated intentions for its Bing search engine to comply.

“In the hunt for better ideas, Google’s threat to boycott an entire country got our attention,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said.

“Satya Nadella and I reached out to Prime Minister Morrison. It was an opportunity to combine good business with a good cause and, as we explained, even if Google wanted to leave Australia, we would stay.”

After negotiations, Facebook decided to simply block Australian publishers from posting and block users from sharing any news originating from the country. In a full reversal, the company inked a three-year agreement with News Corp today, which covers The Australian national newspaper and several metropolitan papers.

Similarly, Google did not make good on its threat to remove its search engine from Australia, reluctantly making deals with Australian publishers and News Corp a few weeks ago. The company’s statement on Friday characterizes Microsoft’s position and its overt contrasting with Google, as “naked corporate opportunism” and an attack:

We also believe that this important debate should be about the substance of the issue, and not derailed by naked corporate opportunism … which brings us to Microsoft’s sudden interest in this discussion. We respect Microsoft’s success and we compete hard with them in cloud computing, search, productivity apps, video conferencing, email and many other areas. Unfortunately, as competition in these areas intensifies, they are reverting to their familiar playbook of attacking rivals and lobbying for regulations that benefit their own interests. They are now making self-serving claims and are even willing to break the way the open web works in an effort to undercut a rival. And their claims about our business and how we work with news publishers are just plain wrong.

The historic rivalry has been reignited, as Google fired back at Microsoft’s insinuation that the company doesn’t support journalism and is unwilling to collaborate with publishers.

“Proposals that would disrupt access to the open web (such as requiring payment for just showing links to websites) would hurt consumers, small businesses, and publishers,” Google’s SVP of Global Affairs Kent Walker said. “That’s why we’ve engaged constructively with publishers around the world on better solutions and will continue to do so.”

Microsoft supports Australia’s new law as a means to rectify “competitive imbalance between the tech sector and an independent press.” It also gives the company a high perch from which to call out Google and Facebook as “profitable tech gatekeepers on which businesses must advertise to reach consumers.” Microsoft believes its endorsement spurred Google to reverse its decision in order to remain in competition for the Australian search market.

“Unlike Google, if we can grow, we are prepared to sign up for the new law’s obligations, including sharing revenue as proposed with news organizations,” Brad Smith said. “The key would be to create a more competitive market, something the government can facilitate. But, as we made clear, we are comfortable running a high-quality search service at lower economic margins than Google and with more economic returns for the press.”

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8 responses to “Google Accuses Microsoft of “Breaking the Open Web””

  1. The full situation is pretty nuanced, and I don’t claim to understand all of it, but I have to say the Australian government significantly overreached (in support of their Big News buddies) and Microsoft’s opportunism was not great.

    Google was always willing to pay the news publishers, but wasn’t happy with some of the original terms of the law, including: a) having to pay to link to news websites in the normal search results; and b) having to include those links in the search results in the first place (they weren’t allowed to stop linking to news sites in the normal search results).

    There were other aspects they weren’t happy with, but that was the biggest and as I said, it was overreach by the government. I mean when you have Tim Berners Lee saying it “could make the web unworkable around the world”, you know you’ve gone too far!

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  2. Just for the records: To me, having to get a license just to link to a piece of content (and maybe quote a small abstract as a teaser) is indeed crushing the open web. At least if I as a reader still have to follow the link to get the information, and the newspaper can still place ads to generate revenue out of my visit (or use a paywall to monetize their content).

    But to newspapers this sounds like a really profitable business model: Instead of having to pay for advertising their product and get customers, like every other business in the world, they get others to pay them for the customers they deliver. This is like affiliate marketing where you don’t get a commission, but you have to pay one for every customer you refer to a business.

    Am I the only one to whom this sounds at least strange?

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  3. Google’s complaint on Microsoft’s “lobbying for regulations that benefit their own interests” is laughable. Not because it doesn’t happen, but because Google is the greatest lobbyist of them all.

    I’m currently reading “The age of Surveillance Capitalism”, written in 2019 by Shoshana Zuboff. On page 124, it reads:

    That same year [2014], while [Google CEO] Schmidt disparaged incumbents and their political sway, Google spent more on lobbying than any other corporation – over u$d 17 million and nearly twice as much as surveillance rival Facebook. In the next few years, as the White House changed hands, Google maintained its pace, outspending every other company with a more than u$d 18 million lobbying outlay in 2018 as the company fended off privacy legislation and other initiatives that might impede its freedom to capture and process behavioral surplus. Google was also among the wealthiest of all registered lobbyists in the EU, second only to a lobbying group that represents a confederation of European corporations.

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  4. The answer was somewhere in between, because certainly there is a need to balance Google, Youtube, and Facebook Leviathans, with smaller media companies, and they should get a share when it is other corporate media using them as a source to increase traffic.
    However, it is true, that some sort of linking and coming up in search results should not be considered under the law, when it benefits the news agencies, and their content is not being used by the corporation itself.

    But what gets me, is Google’s and Facebook’s sudden concern for the open web, when we know that Google, Facebook and Youtube are ruthless censors of users when it comes to matters of simple opinion, such as: going against the LGBT, Co-vid, Democrat Agenda among other topics.

    These users are not even asking for money! How come we don’t see their concern when it comes to respecting the plurality of opinion and the right to dissent in their users?

    I really wish there was truly an Open Web!

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  5. None of these big corps have any interest whatsoever in the public good; their sole motives are profit, power, greed, control and ascendancy. It’s good to see them turn on each other like the demons they are.

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  6. Very informative article, these are definitely issues to stay on top of for people like me. The “open web” and the competition to own it is definitely a gem: multi-faceted, different from every angle, in the eye of each beholder, and worth a ton of money!

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  7. Google wants to own the world; they have no interest in free speech. I have seen search results disappear entirely. If you mention firearms on your website, google tanks your search results. Say anything that google or Fakebook considers against their policy, and you are silenced. It’s hilarious trying to conform to their “speed” tests when their fonts and maps are causing the problems. They all want to take a big bite out of the little guy who chases their tail to meet their unreachable top-secret standards to show up in search results. Anyone else who did business this way would be long gone.

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