Google has accused Microsoft of “naked corporate opportunism” after it backed US legislation to make tech platforms pay for news, reigniting the long-dormant feud between the technology giants.
The pair traded barbs as Microsoft’s president Brad Smith appeared at a congressional hearing on Friday to discuss a bill that would make it easier for media organisations to collectively reach deals with tech platforms over how their content is distributed — similar to one passed in Australia last month.
In a lengthy blog post published as he sat in the hearing, Smith argued that “monetising that traffic has become increasingly difficult for news organisations because most of the profit has been squeezed out by Google”.
“Google has effectively transformed itself into the “front page” for news, owning the reader relationship and relegating news content on their properties to a commodity input,” he said.
In a responding post, Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice-president of global affairs, accused Microsoft of “naked corporate opportunism”, arguing the company was “making self-serving claims and . . . even willing to break the way the open web works in an effort to undercut a rival”.
A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment, saying: “We are focused on the issue that Congress is considering today.”
Microsoft and Google are fierce rivals who squabbled for close to a decade, often through antitrust cases. But the groups reached a truce in 2016, agreeing to withdraw all competition complaints against each other. Today the companies compete on cloud computing, search, video conferencing and email, among other areas.
Two senators — Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Republican John Kennedy of Louisiana — on Wednesday reintroduced the bipartisan bill, which seeks to shift commercial power towards struggling news groups from dominant tech platforms.
It comes several weeks after Australia passed a similar law, which was also supported by Microsoft. During the debate on that bill, Facebook imposed a controversial news blackout in Australia until Canberra agreed to several amendments in its favour.
During Friday’s hearing, journalist Glenn Greenwald, founder of The Intercept, said the US proposals risked further consolidation of media power in the country. “I’m particularly worried that we have a news media that is becoming so increasingly concentrated, where The New York Times is becoming like the Amazon of journalism,” he told the committee.
On Friday, Google’s Walker also claimed Microsoft was attempting to distract from recent revelations that vulnerabilities in its software played a role in facilitating two major hacking campaigns targeting hundreds of thousands of businesses and governments agencies globally.
Microsoft has faced scrutiny this year after cyber experts said suspected Russian spies wielded “systemic weaknesses” in its authentication process to get unfettered access to data in the SolarWinds hack, which saw both US Treasury and commerce departments compromised.
Last week, the company also announced that four flaws in its Exchange software had been exploited by a Chinese state-backed hacking group called Hafnium to gain access to victims’ email systems.
Although it issued fixes for the bugs, a flood of other hacking groups — including ransomware attackers — have now rushed to exploit the vulnerabilities, prompting warnings from US and UK officials. An estimated 30,000 US companies have been hit.
In contrast with its rivals, whose executives have been brought before Congress multiple times in the past year to answer accusations of anti-competitive behaviour, Microsoft has largely escaped much of the criticism levelled at Big Tech.
It diverges with Microsoft’s treatment at the hands of policymakers in the 1990s, when its dominance of the computing industry led to a protracted legal battle, with the company only narrowly avoiding being broken up.