Written by Nick Heer.

Google Tests Removing News Results in Canada in Response to Bill C–18

Marie Woolf, the Globe and Mail:

Google is testing ways of blocking Canadians’ access to news websites in response to the federal government’s online news bill, which would force the company and other tech giants to compensate news organizations for using their work.

The restricted access to global and Canadian news sites, which began earlier this month, will continue for five weeks, according to Google spokesman Shay Purdy.

To be more specific, it is not the case that Google is “blocking Canadians’ access” to news sites, only that it is not linking to news results for a small ratio of Canadian users.

Michael Geist:

The report that Google is conducting a national test that removes links to Canadian news sites for a small percentage of users sparked a predictable reaction as politicians who were warned that Bill C-18 could lead to this, now want to know how it could happen. None of this week’s developments should come as a surprise. Bill C-18 presents Google and Facebook with a choice: pay hundreds of millions of dollars primarily to Canadian broadcasters for links to news articles or stop linking. Both companies are doing precisely what they said they would do, namely considering stopping linking (Google conducted the same tests in Australia several years ago). Indeed, strip away the hyperbole and the bottom line is this: the costs of Bill C-18 are enormous (the government’s Senate representative suggesting the bill could result in revenues to cover 35% of news expenditures of every news outlet in Canada) and the revenues from news for the platforms are not (Facebook says news only constitutes 3 percent of posts and Google does not even run ads on its Google News product). As some have noted, the government says the companies are stealing content if they link and blocking content if they don’t.

I am apprehensive about bills which require companies like Facebook and Google to pay media outlets for linking to their stories; I disagree with the overall concept and Bill C–18, specifically. But I think it is disingenuous to call out Google’s similar experiment in Australia without acknowledging it ultimately agreed to the government’s terms. Also, while Google may not run ads on Google News, it has disproportionate and possibly illegal control over the advertising on any of the websites it links to.

This link tax scheme seems like a bad idea that will further enrich Canada’s media monopolists. Smaller publications will not benefit. Yet, I get the justification behind these policies from places like Canada, Australia, and countries in Europe: the online advertising market consolidated around a handful of American companies who pivoted to targeting the specific individual viewing a given page. It does not matter if that page is on a local news site or some blog on the other side of the world because it is possible for advertisers to reach the same reader, and for a dramatically lower cost. Advertisers seem happy and big ad companies profit handsomely, but it comes at the expense of smaller publishers. And if one of those ad companies has been tilting the global online ad market in its favour, it changes the calculation for how much we should credit it for linking to so many third-party news sites.