Alphabet Inc’s (Nasdaq: GOOGL) Google is carrying out tests that block access to news content for some Canadian users. The tests, which are temporary and affect less than 4% of Canadian users, limit the visibility of Canadian and international news to varying degrees, according to a Google spokesperson.
The tests are a potential response to the Canadian government’s proposed “Online News Act,” or House of Commons bill C-18, introduced in April by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, which aims to force big tech companies to negotiate commercial deals and compensate news publishers for their content. A similar law was enacted in Australia and led to a brief shutdown of Facebook news feeds in the country.
“We’re briefly testing potential product responses to Bill C-18 that impact a very small percentage of Canadian users. We run thousands of tests each year to assess any potential changes to Search,” Google spokesperson Shay Purdy said in a written statement.
“We’ve been fully transparent about our concern that C-18 is overly broad and, if unchanged, could impact products Canadians use and rely on every day,” Purdy added.
In a note published in May last year, Sabrina Geremia, Vice President and Country Managing Director of Google Canada said that the tech giant is concerned that the proposed law uses an extremely broad definition for “eligible news businesses” and does not require eligible news outlets to follow basic journalistic standards.
This means that any blog with two or more people could be eligible to receive funds, including foreign state-owned outlets that are known sources of misinformation and propaganda. The company warns that this would force Google to subsidize outlets that do not adhere to any journalistic standards, creating a regime that allows bad actors and those peddling misinformation to thrive and profit.
Laura Scaffidi, a spokeswoman for Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, said in a statement on Wednesday that it’s disappointing that Google is borrowing from Meta’s playbook — the company last year threatened to block news content on Facebook in October and then again in December after the bill was passed in the House of Commons.
“This didn’t work in Australia, and it won’t work here because Canadians won’t be intimidated. At the end of the day, all we’re asking the tech giants to do is compensate journalists when they use their work,” Scaffidi said.
The bill is slated to be reviewed in the Senate over the next few months.
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