CRTC Chair Says Bill C-11 Will Let Regulator ‘Manipulate’ Tech Algorithms

The federal government’s proposed Online Streaming Act will give the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) the power to influence changes to algorithms used by online streaming platforms to serve content.

CRTC chair Ian Scott confirmed as much to the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications during a Wednesday hearing on the Act, also known as Bill C-11.

According to a blog post from Professor Michael Geist (@mgeist), Canada Research Chair in internet and eCommerce law at the University of Ottawa and outspoken opponent of the proposed legislation, Scott said:

Instead of saying – and the Act precludes this – we will make changes to your algorithms as many European countries are contemplating doing – instead, we will say this is the outcome we want. We want Canadians to find Canadian music. How best to do it? How will you do it? I don’t want to manipulate your algorithm. I want you to manipulate it to produce a particular outcome.

Watch the video below of Scott stating the above:

YouTube video

Bill C-11 was tabled by Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez in February as an amendment to the Broadcasting Act. It aims to give the CRTC authority over online streaming companies in a similar way to which the watchdog regulates traditional broadcasters.

There has been significant public and commercial pushback against Bill C-11. Major concerns among Canadian residents, businesses, and online platforms alike revolve around the possibility of the bill greenlighting regulation of user-generated content and giving the CRTC free rein over discovery algorithms.

The feds, of course, have repeatedly denied both allegations. According to the government, both user-generated content and algorithms fall outside the purview of Bill C-11.

However, Scott previously admitted before MPs that the legislation would give the Commission “some authority” over user-generated content. The CRTC chair has now revealed that Bill C-11 would allow for algorithm manipulation as well.

The regulator simply plans on forcing platforms like YouTube, which uses entire webs of algorithms to suggest content to users, to manipulate their discovery engines to satisfy specific demands instead of taking a wrench to them directly.

Unfortunately, the CRTC is neglecting that doing so might not be in the best interest of Canadian content creators.

Back in March, YouTube bashed the proposed legislation for its potential to ultimately hurt Canadian creators by amending the platform’s discoverability system. Forcing YouTube to serve content indiscriminately could put creators’ content on the screens of users who aren’t actually interested in it, hurting its performance.

Local content creators, the majority of whom get most of their video views from outside Canada, largely agree.

The Liberals passed Bill C-11 in the House of Commons on Tuesday, with the help of the NDP and Bloc Québécois. The proposed legislation is now headed to the Senate floor, where a review is scheduled for the fall.

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