Google and Microsoft engineers might collaborate on the Chromium browser code, but that hasn’t stopped corporate politics between the pair. Google has launched a scathing attack on Microsoft today, accusing it of trying “to break the way the open web works in an effort to undercut a rival.”
Google is upset about what it believes is an attack by Microsoft to undermine the company’s efforts to support journalism and publishers. In January, Google threatened to remove its search engine from Australia, in response to a law that would force Google to pay news publishers for their content. Australia passed the law in February, just days after Google caved and cut a deal with News Corp. and other publishers that ensured its services continue to be available in Australia. (Facebook, on the other hand, did remove the ability for users and publishers to share news content in the country, which earned some concessions from the Australian government.)
In the middle of all of this, Microsoft was very public about its support of Australia’s new law, and it even teamed up with European publishers to call for online platforms to reach deals to pay news outlets for content. Google isn’t happy about Microsoft getting involved and this is the first big public spat we’ve seen since the Scroogled era.
“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,” says Kent Walker, Google’s head of global affairs, in a blog post. “This latest attack marks a return to Microsoft’s longtime practices. Walker links to the Wikipedia entry for Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD), and accuses Microsoft of muddying the waters to distract from recent security issues.
“It’s no coincidence that Microsoft’s newfound interest in attacking us comes on the heels of the SolarWinds attack and at a moment when they’ve allowed tens of thousands of their customers … to be actively hacked via major Microsoft vulnerabilities,” says Walker. “Microsoft was warned about the vulnerabilities in their system, knew they were being exploited, and are now doing damage control while their customers scramble to pick up the pieces from what has been dubbed the Great Email Robbery. So maybe it’s not surprising to see them dusting off the old diversionary Scroogled playbook.”
This unusual attack from Google also comes just as the House Judiciary Committee looks at the antitrust and commercial aspects of competition for a free and diverse press. Google argues it doesn’t make money from Google News, but Microsoft argues it’s a lot more complicated and involves Google Search ads, ad tech business, ad exchange, ad tech tools, and Google’s overall consumer dataset.
“News organizations have ad inventory to sell, but they can no longer sell directly to those who want to place ads,” says Microsoft president Brad Smith. “Instead, for all practical purposes they must use Google’s tools, operate on Google’s ad exchanges, contribute data to Google’s operations, and pay Google money. All this impacts the ability of news organizations to benefit economically even from advertising on their own sites.”
Google and Microsoft are clearly at odds over the core argument of whether publishers should have more control over a digital ad industry dominated by the search giant and Facebook. Microsoft wants Congress to move forward with the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act and “enable news organizations to negotiate collectively with online content distributors.”
Google, on the other hand, believes its Google News Initiative, where it tries to collaborate with the news industry, is enough to help news organizations. While Microsoft and Google battle in a war of words, the House Judiciary Committee is meeting today to hear less scathing arguments about the future of the press in a digital era.