Google Summoned Before Government for Test Blocking News Links as Warned

Canada’s link tax law (Bill C-18) is on the ropes and MP’s have summoned Google over their test. It’s over the worlds most predictable move.

The Canadian government is quickly running out of options in the Bill C-18 link tax debate. The bill itself demands that that platforms pay for the privilege of letting journalism organizations voluntarily post links to their platforms and sending those publishers traffic afterwards. In short, lawmakers are wanting publishers to have their cake and eat it too.

The platforms, for their part, have warned for months, if not, the better part of a year now, that if the Canadian government goes ahead with the law, they will simply disallow publishers from posting links to their platforms. The government has responded to those warnings by angrily calling them bluffs, lies, and a move that would be “unpopular” with Canadian’s. So, all bluster. As a result, the government just marched ahead with moving this bill forward anyway. One MP in particular even went so far as to absurdly claim that Google is “stealing” news articles when they allow links on their platforms to those publishers.

So, it is not surprising that we find ourselves in this situation. After warnings came from platforms, experts, and observers, that this would be a move that the platforms are likely to just block news links, Google conducted a test for 4% of Canadian users to test the blocking of Canadian news link on their Google News service. The move of just the test alone is probably the least surprising thing to come out of the debate yet, being the most obviously predictable thing a platform could possibly do in this situation.

In response, both Big Publishing and the Canadian government hit the panic button. The lie that platforms are profiting off of media’s intellectual property fell apart because you can’t actually publicly “steal” something that never existed on your platform in the first place. Lobbyists then hit the panic button, freaking out that their entire scheme of freeloading off of platforms is falling apart. Additionally, the media cooked up an entirely new lie and said that Google is supposedly blocking Canadian’s accessing news. Such a lie, of course, is also very easily debunked.

In light of the news, reports were floating around that lawmakers were having an emergency meeting to decide what to do about this entirely self-inflicted problem. What they were discussing was not clear at the time, but it appears that a decision was made to summon Google before a parliamentary committee about the test that didn’t affect 96% of Canadian’s. From CP24:

OTTAWA – The CEO and other top executives of Google are being summoned to appear before a parliamentary committee after the company decided to temporarily block some Canadians from accessing news through its search engine.

They are expected to testify at a meeting of the House of Commons heritage committee on Monday.

The committee is also requesting documents related to Google’s news ban.

It’s difficult to really see what MPs could possibly gain from this outside of generating headlines that Google is getting a scolding or grilling from MP’s. The decision on Google’s part was entirely well within their right to do so. It is, after all, their web service, their platform, their business. The only card that could possibly be played by the government at this stage is to push an amendment forcing platforms to carry news links. Even then, such a move would be a really bad one. Either that would allow platforms to sue over a law that is blatantly unconstitutional or give them a reason to pull out of the country altogether. At that point, the Canadian government would be completely out of options.

At any rate, the move proves, yet again, that publishers need platforms far more than platforms need publishers. If news links are blocked altogether, publishers would suffer massive heavy losses while platforms would come out pretty much unscathed. What’s more, Google showed that blocking news links is a possibility that they are seriously considering (as if there was any credible doubt about that in the first place).

At any rate, it looks like MPs will get their chance to throw a public temper tantrum that their scheme is collapsing before their very eyes. The media will band together and try and pretend that the government did something meaningful and put this publicity stunt on the loudest megaphones possible, and nothing will likely really change as a result of this summons. Way to shoot yourselves in the foot Big Publishing.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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