Google warns Ottawa’s online news law would ‘break’ its search engine

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Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez holds a press conference regarding the tabling of Bill C-18, the Online News Act, in Ottawa on April 5.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Google is stepping up its opposition to the federal government’s online information law, warning that the proposed new law would “break” its popular search engine.

Google Canada Vice President and General Manager Sabrina Geremia released a detailed critique of the bill in a statement on Monday. post onlinestating that the bill as currently drafted would likely worsen the situation of the Canadian news industry and harm the ability of Canadians to find quality information.

One of the social media giant’s biggest concerns is wording in the bill that prohibits “digital news intermediary operators” – a category that would apply to Google and other search engines – from giving ” undue or unreasonable preference” to specific news items.

The company says this language is unclear and jeopardizes the primary function of Google’s search engine, which is to provide ranked answers to a search query.

It also says that asking Google to pay news outlets that appear in search results amounts to a “link tax” and could mean consumers receive less information.

“The ability to freely link websites is fundamental to the functioning of the Internet,” says Geremia. “Canadians expect that when they search for information, they will have access to ALL the content the Internet has to offer. Requiring payment for links risks limiting Canadians’ access to the information they depend on. The Online Information Act would break this essential principle of the Internet for everyone. »

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez introduced Bill C-18, the Online News Act, last month. The bill’s goal is to force global tech companies such as Facebook and Google to negotiate payment deals with news outlets in compensation for news content that appears on major platforms.

The legislation builds on a similar approach adopted last year in Australia.

Facebook and Google lobbied against the original Australian proposal, with Facebook going so far as to temporarily block information sharing on its platform. Google had threatened to do so. The two companies eventually backed down after the Australian proposal was amended.

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Ashley Michnowski, a spokeswoman for Mr. Rodriguez, said in a statement that hundreds of newsrooms have closed because advertising revenue has shifted to the tech giants. She rejected Google’s claim that the bill amounted to a link tax or that it would disrupt Google Search by suppressing or limiting search results.

“There is no link tax. Canadians pay nothing and no money goes to the government. Facebook and Google make money by having links to news sites on their platforms because the work of freelance journalists is valuable,” Michnowski said. “We’ve had constructive conversations with Google, but they’re drawing on their original playbook in Australia when Google tried to avoid regulation by overstating their concerns.”

Like the Canadian proposal, the Australian law allows big platforms such as Facebook and Google to be exempt from certain elements of the law if they have entered into netting agreements with news publishers.

Facebook, Google and Apple have already signed partnerships with news agencies in Canada, including The Globe and Mail.

Paul Deegan, president and CEO of News Media Canada, which represents the interests of member Canadian news publishers, dismissed Google’s claims that the bill amounts to a “link tax.” He said the Canadian bill is “well-crafted and balanced legislation”, similar to Australia’s.

“These claims are absurd. Nothing in Bill C-18 would affect Google’s discretion over hosted news content or the ranking of news sources,” Deegan said in a statement to The Globe.

The Globe is a member of News Media Canada.

Pierre Karl Péladeau, president and CEO of Quebecor, owner of TVA Nouvelles and publisher of the Journal de Montréal and Journal de Québec, weighed in on the bill Monday during a speech at the International Institute of communications in Ottawa.

“The federal government’s Bill C-18 is a first step in the right direction that recognizes that the exploitation and distribution of local news without compensation by foreign platforms is unfair and harmful to the sustainability of news media. Canadians,” he said in his prepared remarks.

The bill is currently before the House of Commons for second reading and has not yet been sent to committee for detailed hearings. During the final day of debate last Friday, Tory MP John Nater pointed out that his party’s 2021 election campaign platform included a commitment to put in place a digital media royalty framework that would incorporates best practice policies adopted by Australia and France.

However, he said the Conservatives have a lot of questions about C-18. He tabled a motion that would see the bill withdrawn in favor of a study by the Canadian Heritage committee.

The Bloc Québécois and the NDP have indicated that they support the bill in principle, which means it will likely go through the legislative process despite the Conservatives’ objections.

With a report by Alexandra Posadzki

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