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May 17, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:19am

Google hits back at Canada’s Online News Act, claiming it would ‘break’ its search engine

By William Turvill

Google has hit back at Canada’s attempts to make it pay for news, claiming the government’s Online News Act would “break” its search engine.

In a blog post on Monday, Sabrina Geremia, the vice president and managing director of Google Canada, also suggested the act would harm the nation’s news industry.

Canada’s Online News Act will, like Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code, seek to force Google and Meta/Facebook to negotiate cash-for-content deals with news publishers.

Both Google and Meta spoke out strongly against Australia’s legislation before it was passed into law. Google threatened to withdraw its services from Australia, and Meta blocked news content – as well as other important public information – from its platforms for several days.

Ultimately, both companies remained in Australia and signed content deals with publishers thought to be worth in excess of AU$200m a year.

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Ottawa’s long-anticipated act was unveiled in early April. As reported by Press Gazette, Google’s vice president of news, Richard Gingras, expressed concerns about the law last month, describing it as “the kind of regulation that breaks the internet”. However, Geremia’s statement today marks Google’s first in-depth critique of the Online News Act.

In the blog, she takes issue with an “extremely broad” eligibility criteria for news publishers, which she says “could create a lower standard for journalism in Canada” and force Google to pay money to “outlets that do not adhere to any journalistic standards, creating a regime that allows bad actors and those peddling misinformation to thrive and profit”.

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Geremia also expresses concern that eligibility for payments will be determined by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. “The CRTC would be responsible for determining who is a journalist, what is an eligible news business, and how much money will be directed to each entity — decisions far outside its expertise as a broadcast regulator.”

Under a section titled, “The Online News Act would break Google Search. For everyone,” Geremia claims the Online News Act represents a “link tax”. This characterisation has been challenged by the Canadian journalism industry.

She writes: “Requiring payment for links risks limiting Canadians’ access to the information they depend on. The Online News Act would break this critical principle of the internet for everyone.”

Her blog concludes by saying that Google is “concerned that if the proposed bill were to become law, it would likely leave the news industry worse off and hurt your ability to find quality information”.

Responding to Google’s blog, Paul Deegan, chief executive of News Media Canada, said: “The suggestion that this legislation would break the internet is completely ridiculous.

“Enough with the misdirection, it’s time for parliamentarians to pass legislation that will level the playing field by allowing more Canadian publishers to negotiate content licensing agreements with the platforms.”

Robert Whitehead, who has researched big tech-media regulation for the International News Media Association (INMA) for the past four years, said: “I can’t find any evidence to support Google’s claim that these [Australian/ Canadian] media codes break the internet. It just hasn’t happened.

“It is a fundamental mis-read of how they have worked in practice,” added Whitehead, who is based in Sydney. “There’s clearly no link tax and there has been no threat to Google’s search business whatsoever. With nearly all deals in Australia now wrapped up, media and Google are getting along fine.”

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