Why International Media Should Be Watching the Google California Block Test

Google testing news link blocking in California could build up to have considerable implications for outlets beyond the US border.

Earlier this week, I reported on Google testing news link blocking in California. It’s hard to say whether this would eventually translate to Google rolling out full news link blocking given Google’s mixed history on this. After all, Google ultimately didn’t block news links in Australia and Canada, but they did block news links in Spain only to return after 7 years after Spain rescinded their link tax law.

Some out there are convinced that this test won’t amount to much in the end and they do have a good case for that. The other thing to note is the fact that Google ultimately blocking news links in the end is certainly bigger than zero. Factors for this include the fact that Google not only has the Australia and Canada deals to service, but the US is asking for significantly more money – to the tune of $22 billion even. Those bills for Google are going up and they are bills Google doesn’t actually have to pay in the first place.

Even if you believe that a trillion dollar company could easily cut those checks, there’s also the factor of shareholders knowing that Google is basically throwing good money away. Do you really think that shareholders are going to be perfectly content with the company they invested in just throwing money away for no good reason? I personally think that’s a bit of a tough sell in the end.

It’s that non-zero chance why I decided to write this article. What would happen if Google actually ultimately follows through with a full news link block in California? Simply put, it opens the door to Google doing the same thing in response to the federal version of the link tax. These two steps alone would have implications for media companies in other countries.

First of all, California is not exactly a small state when it comes to population. With a population of roughly 39 million people as of 2023, that is not a small population. At minimum, for English news sources, you can ask how many people come from California in the first place. Now, imagine a chunk of that disappearing overnight (because a large portion often comes from Google services). It may not amount to a huge amount, but it probably is enough for your news website to feel a ripple effect of all of this.

Now extrapolate this effect for the event that Google drops news links across the entire US. Ask yourself how much traffic you get from Google and how much traffic comes to your site from the US. In all likelihood, it’s a much larger chunk of traffic. If you can imagine that disappearing suddenly overnight, you’ll realize how much splash damage you could potentially get as a result of this. Now you have an idea of what is at stake for your site in particular.

While this is the short term implications, there are also long term implications to this as well. If Google finally puts it foot down in this nasty link tax business, it opens up some rather upsetting international possibilities as well. Those supposed “victories” that Australian and Canadian publishers scored with Google could very well be in jeopardy as well.

If Google learns that it is not financially worth it to pay off publishers much like Meta has learned this lesson, then it’s entirely possible that Google would turn to countries like Australia and Canada and announce that those deals they made are not going to be renewed – leading to a full news link blocking at the end of it. Essentially, the worst case scenario could unfold for news publishers after all.

Again, it is entirely possible that this nightmare scenario doesn’t happen and Google continues to throw away money for no real good reason. Still, this possible scenario I laid out above is why I am paying attention to how this whole link tax debate shapes up in the US. Hopefully, it doesn’t come down to that because I kind of like this gig as a news writer. I must considering I’ve been doing this since 2005. Still, there are news publishers out there that may have a stake in all of this – even if indirectly for the time being. I don’t know about you, but I am going to be paying attention to this fight as a non-US citizen.

Drew Wilson on Mastodon, Twitter and Facebook.

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