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Microsoft president Brad Smith thinks Facebook has gone too far in its spat with the Australian government, and criticized the company’s power move to block news articles from being shared in the country.
“I’m surprised that Facebook is going in this direction,” Smith told Insider in an interview Thursday. “I think it is a mistake.”
Smith’s remarks come amid an escalating standoff between Facebook and Australian authorities. After the country passed a law this week requiring online platforms like Facebook and Google to pay news outlets for content shared on their platform, Facebook said it had no choice but to ban Australian users from viewing, sharing, or interacting with any links to news articles. The company also blocked Facebook users around the globe from seeing posts from Australian news outlets.
By contrast, Smith said Microsoft supported the Australian government’s decision to move forward with the Media Bargaining law.
“I think the Australian government has found a way to redress the imbalance between news publishers and big tech gatekeepers,” Smith said. “[News content] is creating real benefits for these platforms. At the same time, the use of these platforms is eroding the traditional economic base for independent journalism.”
A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment.
In its current form, the Australian law targets digital platforms that control the majority of the market for search or social media — meaning Google’s grip on 94.5% of the Australian search market makes it subject to the law, while Microsoft’s Bing is not. But Smith has said he would still support the law if it was modified to apply the same rules to Microsoft’s products.
Google initially protested the law, echoing Facebook’s stance and warning that it would shut down its search engine in Australia if the law went into effect. But Google ultimately changed its stance and reached a deal to make payments to News Corp and various other Australian publishers in order to maintain its standard operations in the country.
Smith told Insider that he thinks Google’s decision was the result of Microsoft’s support for the law.
“It was Google’s threat to leave Australia that led [Microsoft CEO] Satya Nadella and I to reach out to Prime Minister Scott Morrison,” Smith said. “After Microsoft thoroughly endorsed the Australian law, Google did an about-face and said they would stay and they started negotiating these deals.”
When reached for comment, a Google spokesperson told Insider that Microsoft’s comments are “self serving,” adding that Google has “supported quality journalism for years” and has paid news publishers through News Showcase partnerships since early 2020. The spokesperson linked to a blog post in which Google senior vice president for global affairs Kent Walker said Microsoft’s support for the law was “unsurprising.”
“Of course they’d be eager to impose an unworkable levy on a rival and increase their market share,” Walker wrote.
Smith expects that Google and Facebook will experience similar pushback in other countries as long as their market dominance persists — and he warns that continuing to fight similar legislation using Facebook’s tactics could prove a losing battle.
“I don’t think a big company should ever threaten to boycott a country for any reason other than, say, a major human rights violation,” Smith said. “I think these markets need more competition and calling out a country is certainly not the answer.”
Originally published at https://www.businessinsider.com/microsoft-brad-smith-facebook-australia-news-ban-2021-2 on .