5 Problems Bill C-18 Supporters Claim Their Bill Solves, But Actually Don’t

Throughout the Bill C-18 debate, supporters have sold the bill as a cure-all solution to a lot of problems. Well, not so much.

There has been no shortage of tall tails and outright disinformation from Bill C-18 supporters. Sometimes, they completely fabricate things like how platforms are supposedly stealing journalism content wholesale, repost that content, and make off with the advertising dollars afterwards. Other times, those supporters make up completely contradictory claims such as how platforms linking to their site is theft of their content while, at the same time, not linking to their content is the platforms censoring their content and blocking Canadians from accessing news. This is generally among the most egregious forms of disinformation about Bill C-18 that we are aware of.

Of course, completely fabricating things and making up tall tails is not the only tactic Bill C-18 supporters use to sell their legislation. One such tactic is to identify very real problems in the digital world and claim that Bill C-18 will somehow magically solve these problems. This despite the truth being that Bill C-18 does nothing to solve these problems. So, we have compiled a list of 5 real problems that have been identified by Bill C-18 supporters who claim that their bill solves, but in truth, the bill does nothing to solve these problems.

1. The Monopoly-Like Power of Facebook and Google

There is little question that Google and Facebook command a lot of power on the internet. For instance, there used to be a wide variety of free online e-mail providers out there. Now, everything is gradually funnelling into Google’s offering of Gmail. Want to watch a video? Chances are, you’ll get directed to YouTube, an Alphabet owned product. What to search for information? Chances are, your device is defaulted to Google search. Browsing the web and seeing some ad supported websites? Chances are, those ads are from Google’s Adsense property. A lot of online activity, sooner or later, does tend to funnel towards a Google product sooner or later.

Facebook isn’t any better. For a large portion of the online community, communication is handled through Facebook. If you ever wanted to message someone, how often is it that they will only bother with communicating with Facebook? A lot. The only real exception is text messaging, though text messaging isn’t really a solid replacement to Facebooks services.

What’s more, whenever a scrappy new service pops up to start drawing attention away from those services, those services either die off eventually on their own or get bought up by these conglomerate organizations. Examples of this include Instagram which is now owned by Facebook or YouTube which is now owned by Alphabet. While the quality of services gradually decrease on these platforms, alternatives can be very hard to come by. Just ask any website owner that attempted to run advertising not tied to a Google ad network. As a result, innovation might be stalling out in the search and social media sector (with ActivityPub the only thing in recent memory that really stands a chance at shaking things up to a significant effect).

The lack of any real competition in both the social media and online search space is a very real problem. Yet, Bill C-18 supporters seems to seize on this problem and proclaim that part of the cure-all solution that Bill C-18 offers is “solving” the problem of powerful tech giants. How do they think they do that? It boils down to this idea that taking money from one industry (search and social media) and injecting it into another (news media and broadcasting) somehow “solves” this problem. This is partly built on the fake idea that news, social media, and online search is the same industry.

Obviously, all three are separate industries. Just because all three happen to be ad supported doesn’t make them all the same thing. At best, it may mean that they have something on common, but it doesn’t make them the same industry. Further, by pulling revenue from one industry and siphoning it off to another industry, you are not adding new players into either the social media or online search market. If anything, the prospect of added liability if one were to take on either space would act as a deterrent to new startups hoping to finally shake things up.

Even if you subscribe to the completely insane idea that being ad supported means you are in the same industry, it still doesn’t solve for the fact that you aren’t going to have more players in the online search or social media sectors as a whole.

So, while the lack of competition is, indeed, a very real problem these days, Bill C-18 simply fails to address these issues.

2. The Lack of Regulation in the Ad-Tech Sector

A somewhat similar problem is the lack of regulation in the ad-tech sector. Witnesses hawking Bill C-18 have even pointed out that the platforms set the price, set the rate, and there is no accountability in taking out advertising. What’s more, it is actually true that there is litigation action alleging that Google may have suppressed publisher revenue by as much as 40%. Where is the transparency on this front? How do we know that Google isn’t pocketing more than they claim they are pocketing from a publisher perspective? How do we know that advertisers taking out ads are being charged appropriately? Simply put, we just don’t have any answers to these questions.

All of this and more provide very real and strong arguments that there needs to be regulation in the ad-tech sector to guard against potential abuses on the ad network side. What’s more, I would be totally supportive of legislation that addresses the many real concerns in this sector.

The problem is that Bill C-18 does nothing to fix any of these problems. Not a single provision in the bill addresses this issue at all. The only thing it does do, in theory, is take money directly from the platforms and put it into another specific sector. This doesn’t address the problem at all. Instead, it plays favourites with those in the news business. More worryingly, it only further encourages platforms like Google to be even more egregious with their cut of the advertising pie just to pay for the added liability of news links floating around on their platform.

A real solution would be oversight, transparency, and accountability in this sector. We’re talking across the board regulations to ensure that everyone gets a fair shake in all of this. So, if you run a website that talked about video games, sells products, offers general information and educational materials, or a whole lot more, everyone would be on board and fairness can be restored to the sector.

While there is a dire need for regulation in the ad-tech sector, Bill C-18 not only doesn’t even really fix anything in this area, but also encourages the platforms to be even worse in this area of the internet.

3. The Lack of Privacy Laws to Protect Users from Data Trackers Online

For the last two decades, there has been an explosive growth in tracking technology. Such technology is, generally speaking, extremely useful for those developing websites – such as myself. Indeed, the early days of tracking technology was innocent enough. This might include a hit counter on the bottom of a website (think of those old AngelFire or Geocities websites) or, more impressively, click heat maps. This sort of information told the web developer a lot about how users use their website and what kinds of content users were interested in.

So, for instance, if a website had a brief history of sand and almost no one clicked on it, that can tell the web developer that such content may not be what users want. So, the developer could be clued in to develop content that is more exciting such as different techniques in sand blasting, for instance. Everyone generally wins in this scenario. The web developer is able to learn from past mistakes on what content to develop, and the users get a much better website as a result. All of this is aided by some simple web tracking.

Of course, as we know now, things have really gone off the rails over the years. Data analytics has gotten more powerful. So, web tracking can consist of tracking not only on what users clicked, but also the age of the users, gender, location, device used, screen resolution, preferred language, service provider used, and tonnes of other analytic data points. For most web developers, including myself, that is generally overkill, but a lot of the more powerful tracking technology bundles that all in anyway. That is, of course, only the beginning.

Large platforms have been not only known to collect and store huge caches of data on its users, but also use that data to sell advertising space to potential advertisers. As a result, you have the hyper targeted advertising you see today. Not only that, but you have the rise of data brokers, the buying and selling of personal information, a rise in hacked and stolen information, and, of course, a slew of stories of negligence by large web companies in general.

For Canadian’s, the big question in this ocean of complexity is generally something like this: what are my rights and how can I protect my personal information? In the world of Canadian law, there really isn’t much. While there is the much lauded law of PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act), this law is notoriously out of date. I mean, for crying out loud, it was published in the year 2000. A lot has changed on the internet since that time. A major critical flaw in privacy is the fact that if your personal information is mishandled or lost in a way that violates the law, the consequences almost invariable wind up being a strongly worded letter from at least one privacy commissioner. There’s no mechanism for sanctions, fines, or legal requirements to follow more strict protocols. At most, citizens will have to file their own lawsuit in court to recoup losses, but that puts the onus on citizens to foot the costs for investigations and legal costs among other things.

To say that Canada’s privacy laws is outdated is a massive understatement. Europe did pass their own privacy law known as the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) all the way back in 2018. At the time, a number of observers were hailing this as a gold standard for the world to follow. Is the GDPR perfect? Not really. Is it better than what Canada has today? Unquestionably yes. If a platform like Facebook is found to have handled your personal information improperly, in Europe, there could very easily be massive fines to the tune of a percentage of annual turnover. In Canada, however, the platform might get a strongly worded letter – a letter that the platform might just opt to shred and result in the platform telling the commissioners to pound sand.

There is no question, Canadian law needs to change, but that change has not happened thanks to years of foot dragging by lawmakers who would rather look around before shoving their own hands in the cookie jar of personal data themselves, hoping to get an edge in the next election rather than look out for the best interests of the very constituents that they are supposed to represent.

Indeed, Bill C-18 supporters have no problem pointing these problems out. They often say that the platforms have become a driving force in the toxic surveillance-capitalism we see today. Quite frankly, on that point, they are not wrong. Where they are wrong is when they say that Bill C-18 is supposed to fix that. To that, I say that such claims are downright laughable.

Simply put, Bill C-18 is a link tax bill, not a privacy reform bill. Nowhere in the bill does this problem get addressed in the first place. In fact, much like the ad-tech criticisms, Bill C-18 would only encourage the platforms to further engage in this behaviour. Again, if the platforms are taking on more liability, that funding is going to come from somewhere. If it means selling of more cache’s of personal information, well, so be it from the platforms perspective.

For some, there was an effort to convince lawmakers to take Bill C-18 “further” by incorporating provisions that protect people’s privacy. These efforts were always destined to be futile thanks to how the lawmaking process works. If you want to protect people’s privacy through Bill C-18, you have to ask questions like what kinds of activities are targeted, what constitutes personal information and what doesn’t, what types of businesses do these privacy protections apply to, how do you identify what is mishandling personal information and what is a normal course of doing business, which governmental organization enforces these laws and how does that governmental organization enforce it, what kind of fines are we talking about, what triggers said fines, is there a reporting mechanism to consider, and a whole pile of other questions. Simply put, you aren’t going to solve all of those problems with a 30 word amendment. That is a fools errand.

Such a problem isn’t exactly new, either. During the final stages of the legislative process of Bill C-11, senators hastily and sloppily slapped an age verification provision into the bill. The provision basically demanded that when websites deal with pornographic material, that people must verify their age first before accessing said content. We won’t get into why it is problematic from a technical point of view (as that can create its own article entirely), but from a lawmaking process, this was hugely problematic. You have questions of who would enforce this, how does one identify pornographic content, what constitutes compliance and what doesn’t, what services are we targeting, what are the fines for non-compliance, and a whole pile of other questions. The provision didn’t really answer those questions. From both a lawmaking and technical perspective, it was a relief for all involved that it got rejected by the House of Commons afterwards.

Simply put, if we are going to be talking about privacy reform, you need a whole separate privacy reform bill. A small amendment wouldn’t have a hope in changing anything at all. So, not only was this bill never going to solve this problem, but there was no shot in actually shoehorning this complex issue into this bill.

4. The Growing News Deserts in Small Town Communities

Probably one of the most repeated talking points revolves around the fears of news deserts or the growth of news deserts in this country. This is often paired with the talking point that this bill is all about the small players and supporting the small players – which is a talking point that has no bearing on reality in and of itself.

The breaking down of small community news sources has been something I have witnessed personally. The sole newspaper in a small town shuts down despite the newspaper basically having a newspaper monopoly. In other cases, daily newspapers get reduced to weekly newspapers or some newspapers fold completely, leaving fewer players in a given town. Former co-workers of mine often talk about how the news organizations they are working for seems to be on the verge of financial ruin as well. Of course, one thing you’ll often note when these talking points are voiced, it focuses exclusively on the shut downs, then it’s about how it’s all the platforms fault despite the huge list of factors that has nothing to do with the platforms.

What is so often left unsaid is what those news sources look like before the shut down. When going down this path, you start seeing a multitude of reasons why the business folding beyond just blaming Facebook for it. For newspapers, a major thing is the constant use of wire report services like Canadian Press or the Associated Press. You can easily count up all the articles credited with this filling the newspaper. What’s more, news published by staff has a tendency of just reporting on the surface details of a story and not dig into the details. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the reports as it is often the result of understaffing and putting far too much on the plate of the few journalists that are there.

As a result, the newspaper becomes a glorified news aggregator, churning out press releases and wire reports with scant in-depth reporting. News aggregators are all over the internet and, what’s more, thanks to the time it takes to print these newspapers, the internet is always going to be faster at getting scoops to users anyway. What’s more, the diversity of online news is much larger anyway. So, the question is, if there is no in depth original reporting, what use is a newspaper to most readers anyway? This generally leaves those who have no working knowledge on the internet (which is typically old people) or people who are simply trying to help out a local business (yes, they do exist). You have to give people a reason to pick up that newspaper and, more often then not, newspapers are churned out as products that are cheaply produced. No wonder people prefer using the internet to read the news.

Indeed, many newspaper executives love to say that they are a bastion for high quality journalism, but you need more than talking points. You need to actually have the product to back this up and, more often then not, the product doesn’t really back up those claims. As a result, such claims smack of newspaper bosses simply on an ego trip more than anything else.

Broadcasting isn’t any better on that front. While they do have an advantage over newspapers in terms of speed of delivery, the quality produced doesn’t seem to match the wild claims half of the time. For 24 hour news networks, there is often not enough content to justify a half an hour show. There are days where a network simply runs a single story for hours on end, trying to fill time and make do with less while on the air. Sooner or later, viewers are going to tune out because there is only so many times the network can beat a dead horse before it becomes tiring.

Smaller networks have their own issues. So often, people supporting the bill love to talk about how small websites like this one don’t offer original reporting or that it’s opinion only and “not news“. Yet, when you look at what is broadcast here in Canada, broadcasters aren’t exactly innocent in “relying on larger news outlets for their news” either. For instance, some broadcast news shows cover a couple of stories that came out of chasing ambulances or monitoring police activity. Sometimes, there is a press release they basically run in video format from a business or local institution.

Get past that and you immediately get hit with a huge block of time of news stories that aired the previous day on a larger network. This might be Global News or even something like CNN. A large portion of the day is seemingly spent probably downloading news stories off of some random FTP servers, copying and pasting the lead, and throwing it on the air afterwards. This is far removed from the “high quality” journalism that executives love to boast about. If anything, smaller sites actually look better simply because everything produced needs to have some semblance of originality at minimum. Broadcasters, in a lot of cases, aren’t even bothering to do that and just copy pasting stories for their own products. Saying that online journalism outlets are the ones doing that winds up being quite rich coming from these players.

Over top of that, these smaller broadcasters are supposed to be coming up with and producing original programming. This is thanks to mandates that say that these stations need to air a certain percentage of Canadian programming. Unfortunately, more often then not, the station chooses to, instead, rebroadcast American programming. Just looking at prime time programming and you’ll see the rebroadcast of shows like Modern Family, CSI:Whatever, Hell’s Kitchen, and a whole lot more. There’s probably no shortage of people who would love to produce their own program and license out their efforts to the station for pennies on the dollar, but you don’t see such programs at all. It’s just ripping whatever airs on American cable companies and rebroadcasting that.

So, how do these stations get away with that? All they do is simply take whatever program they happen to produce and re-air it at times when no one is watching. So, something like their news program airs repeatedly at 1AM, 2AM, 3AM, 4AM, and 5AM for instance, thus technically fulfilling the mandates. It’s why prime time programming on these stations just feels like just another American television station.

Now, what does this tend to do for audiences. If there are online news aggregators that can replace the role of the newspapers, not to mention getting them the news faster, what’s the point of the newspaper? If television stations are airing programming that can be watched on streaming services and offer scant original programming, what’s the point of watching that? Heck, social media like YouTube provides loads of original programming anyway that hit on far more tastes than the mainstream mass produced TV shows that fail to be an audience “catch all”, so why bother tuning in at all? The result is simple: audiences are going to leave for superior alternatives. More often than not, that alternative source happens to be online.

This means that things start to break down from a business perspective. If your audience is leaving, then why should advertisers purchase ad spaces from you? They can easily hop onto the internet and reach the audiences there, ditching the local television station and newspaper. The dollars tend to leave as a result. More corners get cut and you have yourself a vicious cycle. With a vacuum of quality, online sources happily fill those voids.

Supporters of the legislation, at this point, will happily chime in at this point and exclaim, “AHA! But if we give these smaller players more money, then we break the cycle!” Not really. For one, if we are constantly bailing out these services, then that reduces the need to seek out audiences. At best, debts will get paid off, but that stubborn nature will kick in where the executives will say how they have always done business a certain way and there’s no way they will change. If they are the only game in town, why bother putting out a better product? There’s no incentive to really change and giving them money in the first place is only going to discourage this further.

What’s more, all the evidence points to the fact that the most profitable and biggest players are going to get the most money out of these deals in the first place. The estimates floating around suggest that 75% of the funding will go to larger players while the remaining 25% will get divided up with everyone else. Moreover, people who oversaw the Australian model admitted to senators that there is ‘not a lot’ of money involved here for players in general. If you are a news business on the verge of financial collapse, maxing out credit cards and being $5 million in debt, does the idea of receiving a couple hundred dollars a month sound like the thing that swoops in and saves the day? Not in a million years.

If anything, in a big to try and push this bill forward, the larger players suckered in a couple of smaller players, convincing them that they are in for an era where they can feast off of the Horn of Plenty if they just go along with this. News organizations love to tell consumers that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably us. In this case, the smaller news organizations probably should’ve taken their own advice in this debate.

Of course, that isn’t the end of the problems here for small news outlets. On top of not likely seeing anything beyond, to paraphrase another witness, a few crumbs in the end, you also have the very real risk of the platforms cutting off news links. So, whatever small amounts of innovation the smaller outlets did to get online and reach audiences through the internet, they are likely to see that source suddenly dry up overnight. For some out there, that could be the straw that breaks the camels back because it would be the final hit that finally knocks them out of business.

Regardless, Bill C-18 not only does nothing to solve the problem of news deserts, but in every possible scenario, it only makes this problem worse.

5. The Decreasing Funding in Journalism

These days, the news is a hard sell to audiences. With that and the above, it’s much harder to keep funding something that some may see as a money pit. Not helping matters is the fact that the media sector has become even more highly concentrated. Billionaires own huge swaths of news organizations. Hedge funds swallow up newspapers. What’s more, conglomerates like Bell Media become vertically integrated, so not only are they holding the purse strings for news companies, but they also sell subscriptions to access the content as well. In a lot of these scenarios, there is a huge incentive to tighten up those purse strings for journalists. This over top of the smaller outlets constantly bleeding out money in the first place.

The thing is, what’s going to likely provide a better product? A well funded staff of 100 digging heavily into the stories that need to be told or a small news room of about 6 journalists who are barely paid more than minimum wage to just do the basics and shovel content out the door? The former, obviously. The problem is, because news doesn’t really sell all that well, investors are going to demand to see a return on those investments. If news doesn’t sell, what’s the point of actually putting money into such operations. If anything, there will be a motivation to put money into operations that actually offer a greater return. Maybe, in their minds, it’s live sports. Maybe it’s selling internet subscriptions. Regardless, money sometimes has a hard time flowing into the news rooms in the first place.

Indeed, throughout the debate and subsequent hearings, we so often hear witnesses talk about how vital journalism is for our democracy and how you need to hold government to account. This is all well and good, but there are plenty of investors out there that simply do not care. They want to know if their $12 million will eventually turn into $15 million or not. If that is your news operation they are invested in, and they just lose money, those investment dollars, sooner or later, are going to head for the exits.

What a number of the bills supports would say, however, is that getting money from platforms will just solve that problem. Well, not really. In some instances, investors might see that windfall and just redirect that funding away from journalists to whatever that investor will see fit. This is a big reason why people like us pushed for accountability and ensuring that the money that came out of so-called “deals” with platforms are actually directed at the production of journalism. It’s unclear if that goal ever came to be. For some, this windfall would be something to strive for and, when that money rolls in, an executive could take that money for themselves, lay everyone off, and close up shop afterwards. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this does nothing to further the objectives of journalism.

If anything, Bill C-18 represents a blank check for management to do whatever they like. If that involves simply not putting it back into journalism production, then so be it. Nothing is stopping them. Of course, this assumes that the “deals” actually get struck in the first place. Again, if the platforms pull the plug on news links, then they also pull the plug on any potential new “deals” out there. This over top of the threat of the platforms pulling out of existing deals on top of it all.

To make matters worse, a number of funding programs are scheduled to end soon. So, this only worsens the picture for the funding of journalism on top of it all.

How do we turn things around on this front? That’s not an easy question to answer. What doesn’t change things? Bill C-18. In every scenario, it’s hard to see how more funding will flow to local journalism – especially for the smaller operations. If anything, this problem will only continue post the passage of this bill.


We’ve seen a lot of big claims and tall tales from the supporters of this legislation. Sometimes, the claims are outright fabrications. Other times, the claims actually point to very real problems in the news sector. As a result, they try and push the idea that Bill C-18 is a cure-all solution. It was only recently that we saw some admit that this bill is ‘no panacea’ or that it doesn’t solve every problem. Yet, even then, they push the notion that this is a huge step forward in tackling problems like these.

Simply put, these problems are not likely to get fixed by this bill, but if anything, will only worsen these issues in a number of cases. Unlike the outright lies of how all of the news organizations problems can be placed at the feet of the likes of Facebook and Google, the above efforts highlight that some of these efforts show a degree of sophistication. Nevertheless, misinformation is misinformation and disinformation is disinformation no matter how convincing it may be.

If anything, unless something absolutely drastically unexpected happens at the 11th hour or in post passage of this bill, people are right to be bracing for impact in this sector. Even some supporters of the bill are now admitting that they may have screwed up in pushing for this bill.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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