Google is testing blocking news content in Canada after a new law forced Big Tech to pay publishers

Alphabet’s Google is conducting tests blocking access to news content for some Canadian users, the company confirmed Wednesday, in a test run of a possible response to the government’s online news law.

The House of Commons’ “Online News Act,” or Bill C-18, introduced by the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau in April, set out rules to force platforms like Meta’s Facebook and Google to negotiate commercial deals and news publishers for their content to pay.

“We are briefly testing potential product reactions to Bill C-18 affecting a very small percentage of Canadian users. We run thousands of tests each year to assess potential changes to search,” a Google spokesman said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

The tech giant confirmed that the time-limited tests, which affect a sample of less than 4 percent of users in Canada, “limit the visibility of Canadian and international news to varying degrees.”

A spokeswoman for Canada’s Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said Canadians would not be intimidated, calling it disappointing that Google is borrowing from Meta’s playbook.

“Canadians need access to quality, fact-based news locally and nationally, and that’s why we introduced the Online News Act. Tech giants need to be more transparent and accountable to Canadians,” the spokeswoman said.

Last year, Facebook warned it could block news content sharing on its platform in Canada amid concerns about legislation that would force digital platforms to pay news publishers.

A similar Australian law, which came into force in March 2021 after talks with the big tech companies led to a brief shutdown of Facebook news feeds in the country, has largely worked, a government report said.

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Canada’s news media industry has pushed against Facebook, asking the government for more regulation of tech companies so the industry can recoup financial losses suffered over the years as Facebook and Google have steadily gained larger advertising market shares.

More than 450 news outlets in Canada have closed since 2008, including 64 closures in the past two years.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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