Canada Was Warned: Google Begins Testing Blocking News Links in Canada

For months, Bill C-18 supporters dismissed threats to block news links as bluffs. Google is now testing blocking those news links.

The link taxes were never a law that was going to end well. Today, we are learning of a very predictable development. Google has begun testing the blocking of news links in Canada. This is, of course, in response to Bill C-18. The Canadian government has been warned for some time that large platforms would be willing to go this rout.

Similar warnings came from Facebook back in April of last year. In response, Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, incoherently responded by saying that Canadian’s won’t be “intimidated” and accused Facebook of lying. Facebook renewed those warnings in October, but the Canadian government, and the few remaining Bill C-18 supporters, called the move a bluff.

In November, Meta announced that it would be laying off 13% of its workforce. This in the face of decreasing ad revenue and what many were calling a looming recession. So, cost cutting measures were already on the table and it confirmed that Facebook’s threats were no bluff. Still, the Canadian government continued to believe that all of this was a lie and, instead, employed a policy of just wishing the problems away rather than face the reality of what was really going on.

Google, another target of the link tax bill, was also not exactly a fan of the bill. Word has come out that they have begun testing the blocking of news links in Canada. From Global News:

Google is blocking some Canadian users from viewing news content in what the company says is a test run of a potential response to the Liberal government’s online news bill.

[misinformation deleted – explanation]

The company said Wednesday that it is temporarily limiting access to news content for under four per cent of its Canadian users as it assesses possible responses to the bill. The change applies to its ubiquitous search engine as well as the Discover feature on Android devices, which carries news and sports stories.

All types of news content are being affected by the test, which will run for about five weeks, the company said. That includes content created by Canadian broadcasters and newspapers.

“We’re briefly testing potential product responses to Bill C-18 that impact a very small percentage of Canadian users,” Google spokesman Shay Purdy said in a written statement on Wednesday in response to questions from The Canadian Press.

The company runs thousands of tests each year to assess any potential changes to its search engine, he added.

“We’ve been fully transparent about our concern that C-18 is overly broad and, if unchanged, could impact products Canadians use and rely on every day,” Purdy said.

The article goes on to note that the Heritage Ministry was whining about the decision, complaining that Google is intimidating Canadian’s and presumptively believed that because Google went along with the Australian model that they would just bend over and kiss the Minister’s ring instead of taking a stand against this monumentally stupid bill.

Obviously, Google is well within their right to do this. They may no money for posting links to news articles. If the cost of hosting such links suddenly shoots up, then they are fully within their right to just block news links altogether. It’s a private business decision made on a virtual private property. Google is not magically under some legal obligation to host those links. The service was created as a voluntary non-profit project to begin with. What’s more is that news publishers heavily rely on such access in the first place to draw in new eyeballs to their site. Demanding payments for the privilege of Google sending them traffic is obviously an ask too far and showcased a ridiculous level of greed on the publishers part.

Hopefully, Google and Facebook don’t back down on this. Going along with this in Australia was a hugely costly mistake. Many pointed out that other publishers were going to come knocking and demanding payments if they went along with that. People like us who were predicting that were, well, absolutely right. There is not going to be any end in sight. If Canadian publishers get these payments, remaining countries publishers are going to ask for the same thing. When everyone has payments, then they are going to endlessly demand more. In fact, that has already been happening since 2021.

All of this over activity which should be free in the first place. Arguably, the Berne Convention mandates that citation of sources remain free.

The longer the large platforms go along with this, the more expensive this service gets. Publishers need platforms more than platforms need publishers. Cutting off the sharing or publication of news links is a minor inconvenience, but a potential death sentence for a number of publishers out there today. If Google and Facebook are holding all of the cards, there is no need to fold. They need to start playing their powerful hands. The test is ultimately the right decision and shouldn’t have been a hard one at that.

(Via @[email protected])

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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