Alphabet’s Google has become the second big name tech giant to announce it will block Canadian news on its platform in Canada.

It comes after the Canadian parliament passed the Online News Act, or Bill C-18, which resulted in Meta Platforms announcing last week it will end access to news on Facebook and Instagram for all users in Canada.

Now Google is following suite, after it announced that it had “informed the Government that we have made the difficult decision that when the law takes effect we will be removing links to Canadian news from our Search, News, and Discover products and will no longer be able to operate Google News Showcase in Canada.”

Playing hardball

Kent Walker, President of Global Affairs at Google and Alphabet said Canada’s Online News Act “remains unworkable”.

The Act had been modelled on similar legislation passed in Australia back in 2021.

“The Government of Canada has enacted a new law called Bill C-18 (the Online News Act), requiring two companies to pay for simply showing links to news, something that everyone else does for free,” wrote Walker.

“The unprecedented decision to put a price on links (a so-called “link tax”) creates uncertainty for our products and exposes us to uncapped financial liability simply for facilitating Canadians’ access to news from Canadian publishers,” wrote Walker. “We have been saying for over a year that this is the wrong approach to supporting journalism in Canada and may result in significant changes to our products.”

“We have now informed the Government that when the law takes effect, we unfortunately will have to remove links to Canadian news from our Search, News and Discover products in Canada, and that C-18 will also make it untenable for us to continue offering our Google News Showcase product in Canada,” Walker wrote.

“We’re disappointed it has come to this,” wrote Walker. “We don’t take this decision or its impacts lightly and believe it’s important to be transparent with Canadian publishers and our users as early as possible.

Google pointed out it has already pay to support Canadian journalism through its programs and partnerships – and it was clear it was prepared to do more. As part of its Google News Showcase program, Google said that it had negotiated agreements covering over 150 news publications across Canada.

Now these agreements are at risk.

Broader law

“Last year alone, we linked to Canadian news publications more than 3.6 billion times — at no charge – helping publishers make money through ads and new subscriptions,” wrote Walker. “This referral traffic from links has been valued at $250 million CAD annually. We’re willing to do more; we just can’t do it in a way that breaks the way that the web and search engines are designed to work, and that creates untenable product and financial uncertainty.”

Walker said that ever since the Canadian Government introduced C-18 last year, Google had shared its experiences in other countries and been clear that unworkable legislation could lead to changes that affect the availability of news on Google’s products in Canada.

Walker said that Google has argued Canada’s law is broader than those in Australia and Europe, arguing it puts a price on news story links displayed in search results and can apply to outlets that do not produce news.

The search engine giant had proposed that the displaying of news content, rather than links, be a basis for payment and that only businesses that produce news according to journalistic standards are eligible.

“We advocated for reasonable and balanced amendments to the legislation for over a year,” said Walker. “None of our suggestions for changes to C-18 were accepted.”

Australia move

Meta and Google have faced similar publisher demands in other jurisdictions. Australia was the first country in the world to actually introduce publisher compensation laws.

Both Alphabet and Meta had protested to Australia officials when that country sought to pass the ground breaking law back in 2020 and 2021.

The Australian government however took no notice of the protests from Meta and Alphabet, and pressed ahead with the legislation.

Facebook responded and then pulled all local and international news on its platforms (including Instagram) in Australia, before restoring it after the Australian government agreed to change parts of its ‘media bargaining law’.

Meta then made deals with news publishers in Australia, France and other countries.

Canadian response

It remains to be seen whether the Canadian government will actually engage with these tech firms over possible concessions.

Indeed, Canada’s federal government has so far pushed back against suggestions to make changes.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Meta and Google were using “bullying tactics” as they campaign against the legislation.

California legislation

Earlier this month Meta Platforms issued a stark warning to officials in its home state of California, over a proposed new law that mirrors the one passed in Australia in 2021.

The Californian state government is considering legislation known as Assembly Bill 886, or the California Journalism Preservation Act, which would require social media platforms to pay a monthly “journalism usage fee” for work appears on their services.

The fee would be determined via an arbitration process – based on the social media platform’s monthly ad revenue.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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