Google Says It Will Start Blocking Canadian News Stories In Response To New Law

August 18, 2023

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In a groundbreaking move, Google has announced its decision to block Canadian news stories, a direct response to Canada's newly introduced "news link tax law." This legislation, which has stirred significant controversy among tech giants, particularly Meta and Google, aims to ensure that news publishers are compensated when their content is shared on digital platforms. The law's proponents argue that it levels the playing field, ensuring that news organizations, many of which have struggled with declining revenues in the digital age, receive their fair share of profits generated from their content.

However, major tech companies view this as an encroachment on their operational freedom. They believe that such regulations could set a dangerous precedent, potentially leading to increased governmental control over the internet and stifling innovation. Google's decision to block Canadian news is a clear indication of its stance on the matter, emphasizing the lengths to which it will go to resist such regulatory measures.

This isn't the first time tech giants have clashed with governments over content-sharing revenues. Similar situations have arisen in other countries, sparking debates about the balance between supporting local journalism and ensuring the free flow of information online. The Canadian "news link tax law" is the latest chapter in this ongoing saga, and its repercussions are being felt not just in Canada but globally. As nations grapple with the challenges of regulating the digital landscape, the tension between tech companies and governments is likely to intensify. The world watches closely as Canada navigates this complex issue, setting a precedent for future digital legislation worldwide.

What is the new law in Canada that Google is responding to?

Here's a detailed breakdown of the new law in Canada that Google and Meta are responding to:

Name of the Legislation: The law is referred to as the Online News Act, or C-18.

Primary Objective:

The intention behind the act is to provide financial support to the journalism industry, which has been facing challenges in the digital era.

The law aims to ensure that news publishers are compensated when their content is shared on digital platforms.

Key Provisions:

Tech companies, such as Meta and Google, are required to pay Canadian news outlets if they host links to their content on their platforms.

This is the primary reason why Meta and Google have threatened to remove news links for all Canadian users if the law applies to them when it becomes effective.

Reactions from Tech Giants:

Meta: Announced that it would end the availability of news on its platforms (Facebook and Instagram) for all Canadian users. This process is expected to take a few weeks. Canadians will no longer be able to see or share news links on these platforms.

Google: Has indicated that it will block Canadian news stories in response to the law.

Global Implications:

The law might have repercussions beyond Canada. Many countries, including the United States, are considering implementing similar laws. The response from tech giants to such laws in other countries will likely be influenced by the outcome in Canada.

Current Status:

The Canadian government is currently in the process of drafting regulations under the Online News Act. However, there are indications that the government might be looking for ways to adjust the law to make it more acceptable to the tech companies.

Potential Future Scenarios:

Brodie Fenlon, the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), mentioned the possibility of a future where news content from platforms like Meta and Google might be inaccessible to Canadians. As a result, news organizations are focusing on ensuring that Canadians are aware of alternative platforms where they can access news.

This law represents a significant shift in the dynamics between tech companies and governments, with both sides aiming to protect their interests in the rapidly evolving digital landscape.

Why are Google and Meta against the law?

While the Canadian government aims to support local journalism through the law, tech giants like Google and Meta view it as a threat to their operational model, financial health, and global strategy. They are concerned about the broader implications of such a law, both in Canada and internationally.

Google and Meta (formerly Facebook) are against Canada's Online News Act, or C-18, for several reasons:

Financial Implications:

The law requires these tech giants to pay Canadian news outlets if they host links to their content on their platforms. This could lead to significant financial costs for these companies, especially given the vast amount of news content shared on their platforms.

Operational Challenges:

Complying with such a law might require significant changes to their platform's operations. For instance, tracking which news content belongs to which publisher and determining appropriate compensation could be complex.

Setting a Global Precedent:

If they comply with Canada's law, it might set a precedent for other countries to implement similar laws. This could lead to a cascade of global regulations, each with its own set of rules and compensation structures, making global operations challenging and potentially costly.

Control and Autonomy:

Tech companies view such regulations as an encroachment on their operational freedom. They believe that these regulations could pave the way for increased governmental control over the internet, which might stifle innovation and the free flow of information.

Strategic Response:

By threatening to block news content or actually doing so, these tech giants aim to showcase the value they provide to news publishers in terms of traffic and visibility. Their hope might be that such actions would lead to a reconsideration or modification of the law.

Concerns about the Law's Structure:

As mentioned in Meta's statement, they believe that the process of drafting regulations under the Online News Act has features that are "unworkable." Their stance is that the only reasonable way to comply with this legislation is to end news availability for people in Canada.

Influence and Power Dynamics:

The law challenges the power dynamics between tech giants and governments. By opposing the law, companies like Google and Meta are signaling their unwillingness to cede control or influence, especially to regulations they perceive as unfavorable.

How does the law propose to tax news links?

Here's a detailed breakdown of how Canada's Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, proposes to "tax" or require compensation for news links:

Framework for Compensation:

Bill C-18 lays out a framework that would require digital giants such as Google and Meta to develop agreements with Canadian news sites.

These agreements are intended to provide news sites with compensation for sharing their online news content through links or other means on these platforms.

Bargaining Framework:

The Bill introduces a new bargaining framework intended to support news businesses.

This framework aims to ensure fair compensation when their news content is made available by dominant digital news intermediaries and generates economic gain.

It seeks to foster balanced negotiations between the businesses that operate dominant digital news intermediaries and the businesses responsible for the news outlets that produce this news content.

Impact on Tech Companies:

The bill requires tech companies to compensate Canadian news organizations when their content appears on their platforms.

The intention behind this is to aid the Canadian news industry, which has witnessed declining subscriptions and ad revenue over time. These profits have largely shifted to platforms like Google and Facebook.

Economic Implications:

According to an analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (an independent body providing economic and financial analysis to the government), the bill is estimated to redirect around $329 million to the Canadian news industry.

Implementation Timeline:

The Online News Act is set to come into effect no later than 180 days after June 22, the day it received Royal Assent.

The federal government is currently working on creating the regulatory framework that will bring Bill C-18 into effect.

Tech Giants' Stance:

Both Google and Meta have expressed their concerns with the Online News Act.

Google has termed the bill a “link tax,” arguing that it disrupts the way the web and search engines have functioned for over three decades.

Meta's stance is that the Act is based on the incorrect premise that they benefit unfairly from news content shared on their platforms, whereas they believe the opposite is true.

Response to the Act:

In the absence of a negotiated deal that addresses their concerns, both Google and Meta have stated that they will block Canadian news from their platforms in response to the new law.

What is the significance of news links for online platforms?

News links are integral to the ecosystem of online platforms. They drive user engagement, generate traffic, and provide economic benefits. However, they also come with the responsibility of ensuring the spread of accurate and credible information.

News links hold significant value for online platforms for several reasons:

  1. User Engagement: News stories, especially those that are trending or of high importance, drive user engagement. Users often share, comment on, and discuss news articles, leading to increased activity and time spent on the platform.
  2. Traffic Generation: Platforms like Facebook and Twitter serve as major traffic sources for news websites. When users click on a news link shared on these platforms, they are redirected to the original news website, generating traffic for that site.
  3. Ad Revenue: Increased user engagement and traffic mean more opportunities for platforms to display ads to users. This translates to higher ad revenue for the platforms.
  4. Content Diversity: News links add to the diversity of content available on a platform. This diversity ensures that users have a wide range of information sources, making the platform more appealing and comprehensive.
  5. Timely Updates: News links provide real-time updates on current events, keeping users informed. This timely information can be crucial during emergencies or significant global events.
  6. Platform Credibility: Associating with reputable news sources can enhance the credibility of a platform. Users might trust a platform more if they see content from well-known and reliable news outlets.
  7. Algorithmic Personalization: Platforms use algorithms to curate and personalize content for users. News links play a role in this personalization, as the platform can suggest news articles based on a user's interests, past behavior, and preferences.
  8. Debate and Discussion: News articles often serve as a starting point for debates, discussions, and conversations among users. This interaction fosters community building and user loyalty.
  9. Economic Value for News Outlets: For news outlets, sharing their links on platforms like Facebook or Twitter can lead to increased readership and subscription rates. It can also boost their ad revenue due to the increased traffic.
  10. Potential for Misinformation: On the flip side, the ease of sharing news links also means that misinformation or fake news can spread rapidly. Platforms have a responsibility to ensure the accuracy and credibility of the news links shared on their sites.

How will Google's decision to block Canadian news stories work?

Google's decision to block Canadian news stories in response to Canada's Online News Act (Bill C-18) will work as follows:

Blocking News Content:

Google will remove news links from its search results in Canada.

This means that when users in Canada search for news topics on Google, they will not see results from Canadian news outlets.

Implementation Timeline:

Google's owner, Alphabet, mentioned in a June blog post that it will begin removing news links in the country when the law takes effect, which is expected in December.

Reason for Blocking:

Google's stance is that the Online News Act is based on the incorrect premise that they benefit unfairly from news content shared on their platforms. They argue that the reverse is true, implying that news outlets benefit more from the visibility and traffic Google provides.

Impact on Canadian Users:

People in Canada will not be able to view or share news on platforms like Google.

Links posted by Canadian outlets will still be visible in other countries but not within Canada.

Response to the Act:

Google's decision to block news content is a strategic move to avoid the compensation requirements of the Online News Act altogether.

Comparison with Meta:

Meta (Facebook and Instagram's parent company) has also taken a similar stance. They have already started blocking news content in Canada on their platforms. This means that users in Canada are not able to view or share news on Facebook and Instagram.

Feedback from Canadian Officials:

The Minister of Canadian Heritage, Pascale St-Onge, labeled Meta's move as “irresponsible” and criticized the company for blocking access to quality and local news instead of paying their fair share to news organizations.

Historical Precedence:

This isn't the first time such a move has been made by tech giants. In 2021, Meta briefly blocked news from its platform in Australia after the country passed similar legislation. However, they later struck deals with Australian publishers.

Is there room for negotiation or compromise?

Yes, there is often room for negotiation or compromise when it comes to such significant legislative actions and their implications for major tech companies.

While the initial responses from tech giants like Google and Meta might seem absolute, there's often room for negotiation and compromise. Both the government and the tech companies have vested interests in finding a solution that supports the news industry without compromising the user experience on digital platforms.

Here are some reasons and potential avenues for negotiation:

  1. Precedence of Negotiations: In similar situations in other countries, negotiations have taken place. For instance, in Australia, after initially blocking news content, Meta (Facebook at the time) eventually reached agreements with several Australian news publishers following negotiations.
  2. Economic Implications: The economic impact on both the tech giants and the news industry can be significant. Recognizing the mutual benefits of cooperation, both parties might be inclined to find a middle ground that ensures news outlets receive fair compensation while tech platforms continue to host their content.
  3. Public Perception: Blocking access to news can lead to negative public perception for tech companies. This public pressure can act as a catalyst for tech giants to come to the negotiating table.
  4. Government Flexibility: Governments, recognizing the value these platforms bring in terms of information dissemination and the potential backlash from citizens due to restricted access, might be willing to adjust certain provisions of the law or offer clarifications.

  5. Alternative Compensation Models: Instead of a direct "link tax," there could be discussions about alternative compensation models. For instance, tech companies might invest in journalism grants, training programs, or other initiatives that support the news industry.

  6. Detailed Regulations: Often, the primary legislation provides a broad framework, and the specifics are detailed in subsequent regulations. There's room for negotiation when these regulations are drafted, ensuring they are acceptable to all stakeholders.
  7. Engagement with Stakeholders: Continuous engagement with all stakeholders, including tech companies, news publishers, and the public, can lead to a better understanding of concerns and potential solutions.
  8. International Coordination: As similar laws are being considered globally, there's potential for international coordination. A standardized approach or shared best practices can make it easier for tech companies to comply and reduce the need for drastic measures like blocking news content.

What does this situation reveal about the challenges at the intersection of technology, media, and legislation?

The situation between Google, Meta, and the Canadian government over the Online News Act reveals several challenges at the intersection of technology, media, and legislation:

  1. Power Dynamics: The standoff highlights the immense power and influence that tech giants wield in the modern world. Their ability to block news content showcases the significant control they have over information dissemination.
  2. Economic Impacts: The shift of ad revenues from traditional media to digital platforms underscores the economic challenges faced by the journalism industry. As tech platforms benefit from news content, the question arises: how should the economic pie be divided?
  3. Regulatory Challenges: Crafting legislation that balances the interests of tech companies, news publishers, and the public is challenging. Governments must navigate the fine line between supporting local journalism and not stifling technological innovation or freedom of information.
  4. Global Implications: Decisions made in one country can have ripple effects globally. If one nation implements a particular law, it can set a precedent for others, leading to potential global shifts in tech operations.
  5. Information Access: The situation raises concerns about public access to information. If tech giants block news, it can limit the public's ability to stay informed, impacting democratic processes and public discourse.
  6. Negotiation and Compromise: The challenges of bringing tech giants and governments to the negotiation table are evident. Both parties have significant stakes, and finding common ground requires careful diplomacy and compromise.
  7. Rapid Technological Change: Legislation often struggles to keep pace with rapid technological advancements. By the time a law is enacted, the tech landscape might have evolved, leading to potential misalignments between regulations and current realities.
  8. Public Perception and Trust: Actions taken by tech companies, whether blocking content or opposing legislation, can impact public trust. Similarly, governments face scrutiny over whether their actions genuinely support public interests or cater to specific lobbies.
  9. Misinformation and Quality Control: The ease of sharing information online brings challenges related to misinformation and content quality. Ensuring that users receive accurate news while also promoting freedom of expression is a complex challenge.
  10. Standardization vs. Localization: While tech platforms operate globally, laws are often localized. This creates operational challenges for tech companies as they navigate different regulatory landscapes across countries.

The situation underscores the complexities of the digital age, where technology, media, and legislation intersect. Balancing economic interests, public access to information, and the rapid pace of technological change presents ongoing challenges for all stakeholders involved.


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