Google says Microsoft offered to sell Bing to Apple in 2018, but search-quality issues got in the way

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Apple CEO Tim Cook, left, and Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services attend the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, on July 10, 2019.

Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Microsoft offered to sell its Bing search engine to Apple in 2018, Google said in a court filing earlier this month. The document, from Google’s antitrust case against the U.S. Justice Department, was unsealed on Friday.

The legal battle over whether Alphabet has a monopoly in web search advertising touches on key agreements Google has in place with Apple and Android phone makers to ensure exclusivity of its search engine. In 2021, Google spent more than $26 billion to keep its search engine the default, according to a slide shown during the trial in October. Google has been trying to prove in the case that it competes fairly.

In the filing earlier this month, Google argued that Microsoft pitched Apple in 2009, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2020 about making Bing the default in Apple’s Safari web browser, but each time, Apple said no, citing quality issues with Bing.

“In each instance, Apple took a hard look at the relative quality of Bing versus Google and concluded that Google was the superior default choice for its Safari users. That is competition,” Google wrote in the filing.

The Justice Department said in its own newly redacted filing that Microsoft has spent almost $100 billion on Bing over 20 years. The Windows and Office software maker launched Bing in 2009, following search efforts under the MSN and Windows Live brands.

Today Bing has 3% global market share, according to StatCounter. In the fourth quarter, Microsoft generated $3.2 billion from search and news advertising, while Google search and other revenue totaled $48 billion.

Google said in its filing that when Microsoft reached out to Apple in 2018, emphasizing gains in Bing’s quality, Microsoft offered to either sell Bing to Apple or establish a Bing-related joint venture with the company.

“Microsoft search quality, their investment in search, everything was not significant at all,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services, according to the filing. “And so everything was lower. So the search quality itself wasn’t as good. They weren’t investing at any level comparable to Google or to what Microsoft could invest in. And their advertising organization and how they monetize was not very good either.”

Google said Apple CEO Tim Cook sent an email to Apple executives about the assessment of Bing, but his remarks are redacted in the filing.

Representatives for Google and Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In October, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella testified in the trial that he has “focused every year of my tenure as CEO to see if Apple would be open” to a default arrangement for Bing.

Cue testified that “if Apple did not receive the massive payments it sought from Google, Apple would have developed its own search engine,” the Justice Department asserted in its filing.

Bloomberg reported in September, citing unnamed individuals, that in around 2020 Microsoft executives held “exploratory” talks with Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services, about selling Bing to Apple.

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