Unsurprisingly, MPs Made the Google Committee Hearing a Colossal Waste of Time

Google’s appearance before a House of Commons committee happened and Liberal and NDP MPs made it a massive waste of time.

Last week, we reported on the news that Google was ordered to testify before the Canadian Heritage House of Commons committee. This after Google simply conducted a test to see if blocking access to news links was a viable option for them.

Obviously, Google wound up collecting a whole lot more data than originally anticipated after the media lost their collective minds over it and launched political attacks against Google in response. The unprofessional behaviour of the large media corporations in Canada showcased the changing talking points the media was willing to make. The big media’s financially motivated talking points went from Google is stealing news by linking to them to Google is blocking Canadians from news by not linking to their websites. The lies by the media is so comically bad that only a complete idiot or the technologically illiterate could possibly believe them.

The hearing itself, though, was scheduled for Monday. However, technological problems meant that the hearing was delayed to today. It was an embarrassment for the Canadian government because the Canadian government was issuing all of these unreasonable demands including demanding a huge swath of documents be produced practically overnight. As some critics point out, ATIP requests often get delayed by months, so the government can’t even live up to their own expectations of Google. The technological delay was the cherry on top of it all, showcasing that it was the Canadian government was woefully unprepared for the hearing in the first place.

Today, the hearing took place and, unsurprisingly, Liberal and NDP MP’s made the entire process a massive waste of time. Google brought with them a head of Canadian operations and their resident product expert which is probably the best people that the committee could have hoped for here.

The Hearing

The hearing did start off reasonably with opening statements and questions from the Conservative party off the top. Unfortunately, it went off the rails right as Liberal MPs started asking bad faith questions and twisting what was said. Among the talking points is that Google was not forthcoming with their position even though Google was, in fact, open and transparent about their position on Bill C-18.

Another question was why Google didn’t produce everything in the committees broad request at the drop of a hat. Google, of course, responded that they did produce a number of documents and that their teams are working with the governments teams to produce what else is being requested. So, clearly, the process is ongoing, but because Google can’t produce miracles, the MPs got all angry at them – possibly for show for the Canadian public. Of course, ironically, as bad faith questions were being asked about whether a representative wrote an e-mail about anything that was covered, the committee ran into technical problems where translations weren’t going through. This forced them to suspend as the government, once again, worked on getting their own act together on this.

At another point, MPs were trying to direct questions at the wrong witness, then when the witness tried to direct the question to the person that was best suited for the answer, was interrupted and accused of being evasive. So, clearly, some members of the committee were not looking for answers to their questions, but rather, trying to manipulate the situation to make Google look as shifty as possible.

There was also a moment where one MP freaked out and said that other specific CEOs are not present and that Google was somehow not showing up. This despite two perfectly qualified witnesses were staring back at them ready to answer questions.

Google, of course, said right off the top that Google is not blocking access to Canadian news. This has been a false talking point pushed by the big media corporations for some time and some MPs, in response, walked in lock step with this false narrative. Google corrected the record by pointing out that Canadians can still access these news sites on their apps and web browsers. Factually speaking, Google doesn’t have the power, and will never have the power, to stop people from accessing news sites entirely. In response to this reasonable explanation, MPs accused Google of not answering the question (WTF?).

Another MP demanded to know when they will get those documents. Google was unable to tell them a specific date for obvious reasons, but it apparently is an ongoing process. The MP in question then got angry and said that, because the witness is a CEO, the witnesses can set deadlines. Deadlines can be set, but it doesn’t mean the deadline would be reasonable. Unsurprisingly, because Google can’t perform miracles, the MP got even angrier with Google for the crime of failing to perform miracles.

That same MP erroneously accused Google of censorship of news content. Obviously, censorship is generally a government effort to suppress information. What Google is doing is allowing publishers to put links on their website. Even if Google discontinued the use, it’s not censorship because it’s their own private property. The MP also incorrectly said that all news organizations support the bill (we do not support the bill along with many other independent online news outlets).

Another MP accused Google of playing games with the test. This despite it being a very clear option for Google at this stage. The MP mischaracterized this as a move that irritates ‘the grassroots people’. It’s hilarious because the grassroots people such as myself and a number of others are pretty much betting on an outright removal of news links on Google’s services and saying that we wouldn’t be surprised if it happens. What’s more, we’re saying that it is the most logical course of action should this bill become law as-is. What’s more, some of those grassroots people appeared in the September 23rd hearing denouncing the legislation and warning this is a potential consequence of this.

Hypocritically, that same MP accused Google of having unintended consequences for their actions. To put it bluntly, Bill C-18 is what is causing these consequences both intentionally and unintended. Those small newspapers he’s going on about are the ones getting hurt by Bill C-18. The MP can go on and on about how people perceive Google being the antagonist in all of this, but many Canadian’s actually think the government is being the antagonist of this story. The MP in question really is out to lunch on his observations.

Notorious Liberal MP, Lisa Hepfner commented about how the Australian model worked quite well. This despite the evidence suggesting otherwise, but the hearing at this stage for some MPs has been pretty evidence free, so why stop now? Of course, since the whole committee was clearly just for show, the MPs put the witnesses under oath under the false accusation that the witnesses were not giving answers (they were giving the best answers under the circumstances that I could tell).

Hepfner accused Google of targeting journalists in this (I was not affected by this test). Google denied this after saying that this was a random test. Hepfner then continually interrupted the witnesses from answering afterwards. So, clearly not looking for answers to her questions there.

The next MP was equally interruptive, but towards the end, he asked if Google will respect the bill if passed. The response from Google was, unsurprisingly, a very confused yes. The question showed just how clueless the MP was because even if Google decided to remove all news links from their service and sever all agreements they had with publishers, they would be in compliance with the law. If Bill C-18 was made even more unreasonable than it already is, if Google pulled out of the country, they would be in compliance with applicable laws. It was a really boneheaded question.

Another MP kept insisting that Google is somehow censoring news which is obviously incorrect. The Chair accused Google of not giving answers at this point.

The next MP tried to accuse Google of playing games and asked why no advance warning was given about the test. Google, of course, like any other company isn’t obligated to give advance warning of a test of any kind. The MP then refused to hear an answer afterwards. He demanded a list of tests that Google is conducting because he says Google is engaged in election interference like China (WTF?). He accused Google of taking away the rights of Canadians (again, WTF?). He then went on a massively long rant, shouted about how he doesn’t want to hear answers from the product expert, and ended his time.

Afterwards, the truly disgusting Liberal MP, Chris Bittle, opened his mouth. He made several accusations of Google being evasive. Afterwards, Bittle blocked Google from answering his questions for a good portion of time. He then made some ridiculously irrelevant questions. Afterwards, he threatened Google with legal action (dude, you’re not going to get the result you are looking for).

The next MP repeated the false accusation that Google is censoring the news. After interrupting Google, he put words in her mouth saying that Google is censoring the news (even though this is false).

After that, the next MP asked a question, then proceeded to block Google from answering and called on the chair for Google to answer the question (facepalm). Afterwards, the MP blocked Google from answering his question.

The next MP accused Google of imperilling the lives of Canadians. He then demanded Google stop the testing because the testing was “unjustified” (eye roll). After that, he blocked Googles answers afterwards.

The MP afterwards accused Google of censorship. Google responded by correcting the record, again, that Google is not blocking news in Canada. The MP insisted that Google is censoring news.

At this point, I couldn’t keep watching this farce of a hearing.

The Media Reaction

Another unsurprising result of this hearing is the fact that the big media corporations are able to make their headlines out of this. For instance, the CBC published a headline that said “MPs denounce Google for blocking news sites as executives testify before committee“. So, really trying to push the blatant lie that Google is somehow magically blocking Canadians from viewing news even though this is demonstrably false. While the organization was pushing the narrative, it seems that even people in their own comments section wasn’t bhuying it. James Biggar wrote:

“I think you’ve over-exceeded your boundaries,” – no, they’re a private, foreign company that has no obligation to provide any services here and has every right to choose what services they provide, or pull them when regulations make conditions unfavourable. You can’t force them to do anything but leave. MP’s are overstepping their boundaries. Google and FB don’t rule the world like you pretend they do. People know better. They can leave entirely and media can still push it’s version of events onto Canadians Korea style through conventional government approved and regulated means like tv and radio. The bottom line is that paying for link sharing is nonsensical. Links aren’t content, they’re addresses. Facilitating access to news via addresses sharing is HELPING news media, not competing with it

Nate Poe wrote:

So the government proposes a new bill that affects Google’s business. Google reacts to that said bill and starts preparing their business to adapt. Now the government says Google’s the problem? Only in Canada.

leonard wrote:

Why am I suddenly reminded of the kitchen utensils “pot and kettle” ?

Kevin wrote:

I get the sense that this bill was written by people who don’t understand how the internet works.

So, there are a number of people out there laughing at the complete stupidity of both the media and the government in all of this.

Drew Wilson was Right

All of this, however, was predictable. Back on February 28th, I wrote on Twitter the following:

I can only see the summons being little more than a publicity stunt for MPs to pretend that they are holding Google to account over a perfectly reasonable decision. The media will have their headlines, the MPs will have their temper tantrums, and nothing of value comes from this

This hearing, in spite of the delay, played out exactly as I had predicted. The MPs threw their temper tantrums, the media got their headlines, and nothing of real value came from this hearing. Some might argue that getting a date for the end of the test might be considered valuable, but honestly, I’m of the opinion of “who cares?”

At the end of the day, MPs had no interest in getting answers. They tried to manipulate the situation to make Google look as evasive as possible, and they completely and utterly failed at that. They tried launching as many defamatory accusations as possible, hoping something will stick, but non of it really did (though the big media corporations will no doubt give it their best shot). All I can say is that the hearing was a complete and total farce and Google came out of it largely unscathed for anyone who has half a clue about how the internet works.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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