Google Will Appear Before Commons, but Media Suggests Arresting CEO

After Google received a House of Commons summons, the media is suggesting that Google CEO’s should be arrested for sending other representatives.

Here’s a question that even I don’t have an answer for: which story did the media mishandle more: the Bill C-11 story or the Bill C-18 story? At this point, the only safe bet is the idea that the media handled both pretty horrendously. Regardless, the media wound up nuking its own credibility from orbit when they pumped out an endless supply of disinformation for both with the motivation to serve what they consider their own business interests. As a result, the large media outlets have collectively failed Canadian’s hard.

Luckily for Canadian’s, reliable sources like Freezenet still exists to put the story into the proper context and provide the analysis that has been extremely hard to come by these days. After all, we do at least have a reasonable idea of how the internet works and we aren’t afraid to admit that we don’t know absolutely everything there is to know about it. So, when we run into things we don’t know, we are forthcoming about that. Who would’ve thought that honesty is the best policy?

Canada has pushing for a link tax in the form of Bill C-18. Of course, in the last several months, there have been warnings of a recession some time this year and layoffs have been happening across the board in the tech sector. Indeed, the tech sector is far from the only sector seeing a wave of pink slips, but the layoffs in the tech sector has received quite a bit of media attention. Of course, if layoffs are happening, that means that the tech sectors are looking to save money and are willing to drop talent to do it.

Of course, the media is also looking to make money and freeloading off of platforms has been the chosen objective through Bill C-18. So, the media has been trying to re-write the intent of Bill C-18 – which has been about mandating payments for linking to publishers – and lied to the public by saying that platforms are stealing news articles and ad revenue from publishers and not compensating them for their hard work. This while trying to channel the sometimes justified anger towards the larger platforms and steer that anger to a cause that would theoretically benefit their bottom line.

Platforms, understandably, responded by saying that they are actively considering blocking news links altogether should this law move ahead. In fact, Facebook has repeatedly warned that they could block news links altogether should this law move ahead. The Canadian government, especially Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, attacked the warnings, incoherently calling the moves an attempt to “intimidate” Canadian’s. Supporters have also said that the move wouldn’t be ‘popular’ and that all of these warnings were little more than a bluff.

So, with warnings ignored and moving shoulder to the wheel ahead with Bill C-18, Google conducted a test where news links in their Google News service would no longer link to Canadian news outlets. The test only affected 4% and is only going to happen for about 5 weeks. The test has been going on for several weeks and will be ending soon. The idea was seemingly to test a potential response to the link taxes. Should they pull the trigger and block news links, can they block the visibility of news links altogether?

Interestingly enough, the test may have yielded far more results than anticipated. In addition to whatever technical information they were able to get, they also got a preview of how the Canadian political landscape would react as well. The media freaked out and began kicking their disinformation campaign into overdrive. They mislead Canadians by saying that Google is blocking Canadian’s from accessing news – something that, as we explained, didn’t happen nor is it something Google would even have the power to do. Regardless, Big Media Big Lie 2.0 was on.

With Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau calling the move something that “surprises” him. He went so far as to suggest that it’s Google’s job to pay the salaries of third party journalists even though that is clearly not Google’s job. Experts also pointed out that that payments to journalists are not well reflected in the bill in the first place. To say this is an extreme over reaction over what amounts to a test that didn’t affect 96% of Canadians is an understatement. Additionally, none of this is even close to a surprise when you live outside of the political bubble of how the real world works. The warnings were clear and the government chose to ignore those warnings.

Of course, operation extreme overreaction is only continued. Last week, we saw reports of officials meeting on an emergency basis. The results was a House of Commons summons for Google to speak before them about the test. Ultimately, Google not linking to news sources in their news service is one of the ultimate trump cards Google has in this debate. No links, no payments for linking. The media’s plan to shake down platforms falls apart and damages their reach to a wider audience in the process. The media stands to lose a heck of a lot of money because of this. Publishers need platforms far more than platforms need publishers and the reaction showed that this has been true all along.

So, on the leadup to the summons tomorrow, Google said that they will be sending representatives for their Canadian operations. To be clear, the heading is moving ahead unless the government chooses not to continue. The media, naturally freaked out and practically said that Google would be a no show:

I’ll give you a moment to finish your facepalm.

Indeed, if you want answers about an international companies response in Canada, you probably want people who are overseeing the Canadian operations as they would probably have the best knowledge in the situation. After all, if someone is paid to oversee the Canadian operations, you would think that this person would be the best person to answer those questions. Google is sending those people to represent them for a reason, after all.

Of course, the media is spinning this hard and practically treating it as an attempt to evade the questions of MPs. In response, they are all but calling for the arrest of Google’s top executives in response. From the Toronto Sun:

Well, in theory, they could arrest him for not appearing before a committee, though the last time the House of Commons had someone arrested was apparently 1913. They don’t even have access to the jail cell that used to be adjacent to the chamber.

Arrest powers or not, the refusal to appear before the Commons Heritage Committee to explain why Google is now blocking news for some Canadian consumers is a slap in the face. Also refusing to appear are Kent Walker, president of global affairs and chief legal officer at Alphabet Inc., and Richard Gingras, vice-president of news at Google.

Alphabet is sending some junior executives in their place.

The Globe and Mail also published their own piece practically calling for Google’s head:

The Commons can pass motions disciplining, rebuking or even imprisoning people who fail to comply with MPs’ instructions – though it has not exercised its right to jail someone since 1913.

It has no power to force people based outside Canada to testify. But it could vote to force Google’s American executives to appear before the heritage committee if they ever cross the border into Canada, including on vacation.

In 2021, Iain Stewart, president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, received a formal reprimand from the House of Commons over the government’s refusal to hand over documents relating to the 2019 firing of two scientists from the National Microbiology Lab.

The sergeant-at-arms, who has a formal responsibility for Commons security, escorted Mr. Stewart to the bar of the House of Commons – a brass rod across the floor of the chamber – where he was rebuked by the Commons speaker, Anthony Rota, in front of MPs. He did not produce the documents MPs had demanded.

The overreaction and hyperbole over this from the media is staggering. At the end of the day, platforms have openly warned that this would happen. Experts also expressed similar concerns that platforms could actually move in this direction. The government angrily responded by basically saying that they wouldn’t dare. When Google actively conducted a test that affected 4%, the government was angry that Google was seriously thinking of doing… exactly what the platforms said they could very easily do. Prime Minister Trudeau said he was surprised by the move even with several months notice. What’s more, there is nothing to say that Google has already decided to block news. The test was seemingly as a way to keep their options open on the issue.

At the end of the day, this is basically a private company offering a giant cork board for anyone to advertise their business for free and without advertising. Countless businesses took that private company’s offer and advertised their business. Then, some of those taking that free advertising started demanding payments and the company saying “no”, it’s free advertising. When those individuals demanded a law compelling the company issue payments for free advertising, the company responded by saying, “fine, we’ll probably take down that cork board.” The individuals responded by saying that they wouldn’t dare and the company started removing parts of that cork board. Those individuals then started freaking out and demanding the government do something about that. That is an honest to goodness depiction of this debate in a nutshell.

If the media isn’t treading on grounds of demanding a right to reach, they are extremely close to that. After all, despite what the media messaging is, this bill is about demanding payments for links. This isn’t about the republication of whole articles, stealing ad revenue, or profiting off of copies of news articles. All of that is obviously bunk. Any suggestion that mere links and references qualifies as use that demands compensation is completely false. Copyright law and fair dealing doesn’t work like that. If anything, the reaction from the government and media shows that the blocking of news links is the right move for Google (and other platforms for that matter). Should that happen, the media and the government would only have themselves to blame for it.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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