MPs Try to Summon Google Execs to Explain ‘News Blocking’ in Canada

MPs on Tuesday passed a motion that summons Google CEO Sundar Pichai and other executives from head offices in both the U.S. and Canada to appear before a House of Commons committee next week and demands answers for blocking access to news content in Canada — reports The National Post

The motion, proposed by Liberal MP Chris Bittle, won unanimous support from opposition MPs and was passed by the Heritage committee. Apart from Pichai, other execs named in the motion include Kent Walker, President of Global Affairs and Chief Legal Officer at Google parent Alphabet, Google VP of News Richard Gingras, and Sabrina Geremia, Google’s VP and country manager for Canada. 

This comes after Google last week started blocking news content for some Canadian users across its search engine and the Discover feed on Android devices in what the company called a test run for “potential product responses” to the federal government’s Online News Act, also known as Bill C-18. 

However, the summons is only enforceable for individuals located in Canada and, as a committee clerk told MPs, has “little to no effect” outside the country. Out of the execs named, only Geremia is based in Canada. 

According to Google, the news-blocking test affects less than 4% of the company’s Canadian user base and will run for about five weeks.

“It’s troubling that Google was doing this in secret, but was caught by the press,” Bittle said to the committee on Tuesday. “It’s important for Parliament to take a look and see what Google is doing. I don’t particularly like their track record on this.”

Bill C-18 is designed to force internet giants like Google and Meta to compensate news media and journalists for links to their content. Last year, Google warned the Canadian government that the legislation could benefit biased news outlets and publications peddling low-quality content.

The Online News Act is currently in second reading in the Senate, after passing in the House of Commons in December. 

In addition to summoning executives, the Heritage committee also voted in favour of ordering Alphabet to provide “any and all internal or external communication, including but not limited to emails, text or other forms of messages related to actions, plans to take or options considered, in relation to Canada’s Bill C-18, including but not limited to those in relation to the testing and blocking of news sites in Canada.”

MPs are also asking Google for a list of all news organizations blocked from the tech giant’s platforms in Canada, with a deadline of 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 2, for the tech giant to deliver the requested information.