Searching for Canadian news? Google ready to remove links over Online News Act

OTTAWA – News stories published by Canadian media outlets will soon disappear from Google search results, the digital giant warned Thursday as it revealed its planned response to the Liberals’ online news law.

The California-based company also said it would end existing deals with local news publishers over the newly passed legislation, which will force global tech players to compensate Canadian outlets for content they share or otherwise repurpose on their platforms.

Google did not say exactly when the changes will happen, but it will be before the Online News Act, formerly known as Bill C-18, comes into force by the end of this year.

The company said the block, which will also involve links on Google News and Google Discover, will apply only to Canadian publishers. Canadian users will still be able to find news produced by international outlets such as the BBC, the New York Times and Fox News.

The company said it will also end Google News Showcase in Canada, a product it uses to license news from over 150 local publishers. Those existing deals will stay in place until the change happens later this year.

“Once the law takes effect, we wouldn’t anticipate continuing the agreements,” said Kent Walker, president of global affairs for Google and its parent company Alphabet, in an interview Thursday.

“We won’t have a news product to be able to feature, (and) the agreements are premised on the ability to showcase Canadian news.”

Walker said he told Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez of the decision in a letter sent early Thursday morning.

Rodriguez said Thursday that Google made an “irresponsible” decision.

Walker said Google has begun briefing federal, provincial and regional authorities “just to make sure they’re aware of all the Google tools at their disposal to get the word out as they need to for crisis response, (and) forecasting other circumstances.”

He said Google will continue to create resources for government agencies to use in those situations.

“We want to stress this change won’t affect the SOS alerts we use to surface safety information during crisis situations, like the fires (in Canada) or floods or earthquakes,” Walker said.

Meta announced last week it will also be removing news in Canada from its Facebook and Instagram platforms before the law is in force.

It is already running a test to block news for up to five per cent of its Canadian users.

Meta is also ending existing deals with local publishers. That includes a contract for a fellowship program that supports the hiring of a limited number of emerging journalists at The Canadian Press.

“Big tech would rather spend money to change their platforms to block Canadians from accessing good quality and local news instead of paying their fair share to news organizations,” Rodriguez said.

The Online News Act requires both companies to enter into agreements with news publishers to pay them for news content that appears on their sites if it helps them generate money.

The act aims to create new government oversight for digital giants who dominate the online advertising market.

The Liberal government views Meta and Google’s dominance on the internet, and their decision to remove news, as a threat to Canadian democracy at a time when the news industry continues to face cuts due to declining ad revenue.

Since 2008, nearly 500 newsrooms have closed across the country, Rodriguez said.

Walker said the law is unworkable because it puts a price on links, resulting in an uncapped financial liability “that no business could accept.”

“I think we need clear financial expectations, and we need a clear and realistic path toward exemption that takes into account our commercial agreements and the other support we provide for news in Canada,” Walker said.

While the bill was being debated in Parliament, Google called for lawmakers to consider alternative ways to support news, such as creating a fund for journalists.

Google had also been seeking assurances about how much the changes could cost the company, and how the bargaining process will unfold. Those details are likely to become clear after the bill’s regulatory process is complete.

News Media Canada, which advocates for the domestic news industry, urged all stakeholders to “act in good faith” and engage in the regulatory process.

“We believe there is a viable path forward,” said Paul Deegan, the group’s president and CEO, in a statement.

Earlier this week, Rodriguez told The Canadian Press he is hopeful the government will come to a positive resolution with both Meta and Google to prevent them from blocking access to news through their platforms.

Rodriguez also said the government will continue to support newsrooms, though he did not say exactly how that will be done.

“The effort to find a solution feels genuine, but unfortunately we don’t have the assurances we need to create financial certainty or product certainty, but we do hope that changes,” Walker said.

“We hope the government can work through the details. It’s their bill, they know it best, so we’ll have to wait and see how the regulatory process unfolds, what the government comes forward with, and see if there’s a satisfactory outcome.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2023.

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