Google Blocking News for Some Canadians Due to Bill C-18

Google has started blocking news content for approximately 4% of Canadian users on its platforms in what the company is calling a test run for “potential product responses” to the federal government’s Online News Act, also known as Bill C-18 (via Global News).

Proposed last year, Bill C-18 seeks to establish a legal and regulatory framework that will force internet giants like Google and Facebook parent Meta Platforms to pay news media and journalists for linking to their content.

“We’re briefly testing potential product responses to Bill C-18 that impact a very small percentage of Canadian users,” a spokesperson for Google said in a written statement to The Canadian Press.

According to Google, the test will run for about five weeks and affects all types of news media, including content from Canadian broadcasters and newspapers. What’s more, the tech giant is limiting access to news stories across both its search engine and the Discover feed on Android devices, which curates and suggests web content to users.

The spokesperson went on to note that Google conducts thousands of tests each year to evaluate potential changes to its search engine and other platforms. “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.”

Last year, Google warned Ottawa that Bill C-18 could benefit biased news outlets and publications that peddle low-quality content.

A spokesperson for Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said that Canadians will not be intimidated by a move that Google is clearly borrowing from Meta’s playbook.

Back in 2021, Meta (then known as Facebook) banned news content from its platforms in Australia after the country passed a new law requiring the social media giant to pay local publishers for linking to their stories. At the time, Google also threatened to pull its search engine from Australia over the law.

“This didn’t work in Australia, and it won’t work here because Canadians won’t be intimidated. At the end of the day, all we’re asking the tech giants to do is compensate journalists when they use their work,” said the spokesperson from the Canadian Heritage Minister’s office in a statement on Wednesday.

“Canadians need to have access to quality, fact-based news at the local and national levels, and that’s why we introduced the Online News Act. Tech giants need to be more transparent and accountable to Canadians.”

Google has said that instead of bargaining with media outlets individually, the tech giant would be willing to pay into a fund that would pay publishers indirectly. Bill C-18 cleared the House of Commons in December and has been passed on to the Senate, which will review it over the coming months.