The silhouettes of attendees at the Google booth during the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, US, on 11 January 2018. (Photo: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg)
Alphabet said it will remove links to news from Canadian publishers on its Google search engine after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government passed a law requiring digital platforms to pay local news outlets.
The Online News Act “creates uncertainty for our products and exposes us to uncapped financial liability simply for facilitating Canadians’ access to news from Canadian publishers”, Kent Walker, the Mountain View, California-based company’s president of global affairs, said in a statement.
The links will be removed when the law takes effect, Walker said.
The move followed Meta Platforms’ announcement last week that it will end the availability of news on Facebook and Instagram for all users in Canada. Both Alphabet and Meta had tested blocking news on their platforms in recent months.
Tech giants have argued that the law would unfairly force them to pay for content that has no economic benefits, but the government says the bill would bring needed revenue to a Canadian media sector that saw 450 outlets close between 2008 and 2021.
This isn’t the first time Alphabet has pulled news from its platform. In 2014, the company shut down Google News in Spain after that country passed a law requiring news aggregators to pay publishers. After a nearly eight-year hiatus, the service became available again last year following an updated copyright law allowing media outlets to negotiate with digital platforms.
Apart from blocking news in Canada, Alphabet said it will also end its negotiated agreements covering 150 news publications in the country.
In 2022, Google linked to Canadian news publications more than 3.6 billion times, with referral traffic valued at C$250-million ($189 million) annually, according to the company.
“We hope that the government will be able to outline a viable path forward,” Walker said. Otherwise, the legislation could “make it harder for Canadians to find news online, make it harder for journalists to reach their audiences, and reduce valuable free web traffic to Canadian publishers”.
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said in a statement that big technology firms would rather spend money to change their platforms to block Canadians from accessing local news than pay the organisations that produce it.
“This shows how deeply irresponsible and out of touch they are, especially when they make billions of dollars off of Canadian users. Canada needs to have a strong, free and independent press, it’s fundamental to our democracy.”
News Media Canada, which represents some 500 outlets in the country from major newspapers to small independent players, scorned Alphabet’s move.
“Rather than demonstrating their extraordinary market power by withholding access to timely, accurate news for Canadians, this is a time for all stakeholders to act in good faith, as responsible corporate citizens, and engage actively in the regulatory process to ensure that regulation is balanced, predictable and fair,” Paul Deegan, the group’s chief executive officer, said by email.