Google is testing restrictions that prevent some Canadian users from viewing news content in response to a Canadian government online news bill, escalating the battle between Big Tech and Western governments about the control of information online.
Bill C-18, the Online News Act, would force tech titans such as Google and Meta to negotiate deals compensating Canadian media for republishing content on their platforms. Meta owns Facebook and Instagram.
In response to the legislation, Google said it had temporarily limited access to news content for some Canadians last week, with changes tested on its search engine and the Discover feature for Android devices that carries news and sports articles.
“We’ve been fully transparent about our concern that C-18 is overly broad and, if unchanged, could impact products Canadians use and rely on every day,” the company said in a statement. “We remain committed to supporting a sustainable future for news in Canada and offering solutions that fix Bill C-18.”
The company said its product response tests affected a “very small percentage of Canadian users” and were among thousands of tests it conducts each year.
The Canadian government is furious about Google’s tested restrictions. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ripped Google’s actions as a terrible mistake, according to The Globe and Mail, a Canadian news outlet.
“It really surprises me that Google has decided that they’d rather prevent Canadians from accessing news than actually paying journalists for the work they do,” Mr. Trudeau said a Friday news conference. “I think that’s a terrible mistake, and I know Canadians expect journalists to be well paid for the work they do.”
Canada is not the first western government to battle Big Tech over how it deals with media outlets. A 2021 Australian law giving the government power to negotiate content deals with media outlets led Facebook to briefly restrict the sharing of news on its platform. Facebook lifted the restrictions in 2021 after reaching an agreement with the Australian government.
The Canadian and Australian tussles with tech are expected to be watched closely by policymakers in the U.S., which has flirted with similar proposals in recent years.
Federal lawmakers proposed the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act in 2021 in an effort to diminish Big Tech companies’ negotiating power over advertising and distribution in the news industry.
The bipartisan bill has stalled, with Meta warning in December 2022 that it would consider removing news on its platforms if Congress passed the antitrust journalism bill.
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.