Google is blocking some Canadian users from viewing news content in what the company says is a test run of a potential response to the Liberal government’s online news bill.
Also known as Bill C-18, the Online News Act would require digital giants such as Google and Meta, which owns Facebook, to negotiate deals that would compensate Canadian media companies for republishing their content on their platforms.
The company said Wednesday that it is temporarily limiting access to news content for under four per cent of its Canadian users as it assesses possible responses to the bill. The change applies to its ubiquitous search engine as well as the Discover feature on Android devices, which carries news and sports stories.
All types of news content are being affected by the test, which will run for about five weeks, the company said. That includes content created by Canadian broadcasters and newspapers.
“We’re briefly testing potential product responses to Bill C-18 that impact a very small percentage of Canadian users,” Google spokesman Shay Purdy said in a written statement on Wednesday in response to questions from The Canadian Press.
The company runs thousands of tests each year to assess any potential changes to its search engine, he added.
In a statement, CBC spokesperson Chuck Thompson said CBC/Radio-Canada does not have a formal partnership in place with Google that compensates the broadcaster for use of its news content.
“We were not given any advance notice Google was taking this step.”
Canadians won’t be intimidated, says the spokesperson
A spokesperson for Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said Canadians would not be intimidated and called it disappointing that Google is borrowing from Meta’s playbook.
“Canadians need to have access to quality, fact-based news at the local and national levels, and that’s why we introduced the Online News Act. Tech giants need to be more transparent and accountable to Canadians,” the spokesperson said.
In a news release, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) said Google’s tactics just reinforce why Bill C-18 is so “vital,” adding that Google and other global digital giants are showing they do not intend to play fair.
“These are bullying tactics, and Google is trying to push the Senate to back down on Bill C-18. We hope senators will see these actions for what they are,” said CAB president Kevin Desjardins.
“Bill C-18 was introduced to set up fair negotiations between news organizations and these global digital giants on the value of their news content. Google has shown they’re willing to block Canadians’ vital access to legitimate news content to maintain their dominance in the advertising field.”
Last year, Facebook warned that it might block sharing of news content on its platform in Canada over concerns about legislation that would compel digital platforms to pay news publishers.
A similar Australian law, which took effect in March 2021 after talks with the big tech firms led to a brief shutdown of Facebook news feeds in the country, has largely worked, a government report had said.
Canada’s news media industry has asked the government for more regulation of tech companies, to allow the industry to recover the financial losses it has suffered in the years that Facebook and Google have been steadily gaining a greater market share of advertising.
More than 450 news outlets in Canada have closed since 2008, including 64 in the last two years.