Following the passage of Canada’s Online News Act, tech titan Google has announced plans to block Canadian news on its platform. The new legislation mandates that tech behemoths like Google and Meta’s Facebook negotiate payment deals with news providers, a move which has also prompted Meta to limit news content for its Canadian users.
The Online News Act, which received parliamentary approval last week, is expected to take effect within the next six months. A similar law was passed in Australia two years ago, but required amendments following a temporary news blackout on Meta’s platforms. These changes resulted in Google and Meta negotiating over 30 agreements with Australian media companies.
Google had previously labeled the Canadian law as “unworkable” and had suggested changes. Both Google and Meta have been in discussions with the government about the new legislation. Despite the pushback from tech giants, the Canadian government insists that the law is necessary to ensure fair compensation for struggling news outlets and to foster “fairness in the Canadian digital news market,” as per the statement by the minister responsible for the file, Pablo Rodriguez.
The new legislation could potentially funnel as much as C$329m ($248m; £196m) per year from digital platforms to news organizations, according to Canada’s independent budget watchdog. However, the decision by Google, which drives significant web traffic to Canadian news outlets, could potentially disrupt the business models of the very news organizations that championed the bill.
For instance, at The Globe and Mail, Google accounts for 30% of the traffic, while for Le Devoir, a prominent French language publication, Google drives 40% of its traffic with nearly 30% coming from social media.
In a blog post, Google declared its plans to “remove links to Canadian news from our Search, News, and Discover products in Canada,” when the law takes effect. However, it did not specify the duration of this ban or whether Canadian users would be given access to Canadian news stories from non-Canadian publishers.
The tech giant’s policy team at Google Canada mentioned that the government has failed to assure them that the “structural issues with the legislation” would be resolved through the regulatory process. Nevertheless, Google still plans to “participate in the regulatory process.”
News Media Canada, representing hundreds of news organizations nationwide and a supporter of the law, remains optimistic about a “viable path forward”. The organization urged all stakeholders to act as responsible corporate citizens and actively engage in the regulatory process to ensure balanced and fair regulation.
As this digital tug-of-war unfolds, it underscores the complex and evolving relationship between tech platforms and news organizations. This dynamic tension poses pivotal questions about news access, monetization, and the responsibility of tech companies in supporting the news ecosystem in the digital age.