Google begins removing California news from search in response to Journalism Preservation Act

Tech giant Google announced Friday that it will begin experimenting with removing links to California news websites on its search platform, in response to an Assembly bill that would require the company to pay for journalism content that it links to.

The move was a major preemptive escalation in opposition to the bill, which has not yet become law but has already sparked debate over who would benefit, and whether restricting access to news content might inhibit democracy.

AB 886, dubbed the California Journalism Preservation Act, would require social media companies such as Google and Meta, parent company of Facebook and Instagram, to pay a fee for every article that is shared on their platforms. The bill has passed out of the Assembly and currently sits in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In a blog post Friday, Jaffer Zaidi, Google vice president for global news partnerships, called that proposed fee a “link tax” and said that that would be “unworkable.”

“To prepare for possible CJPA implications, we are beginning a short-term test for a small percentage of California users. The testing process involves removing links to California news websites, potentially covered by CJPA, to measure the impact of the legislation on our product experience,” Zaidi wrote in the post.

He added that “until there’s clarity on California’s regulatory environment,” the company will pause any further investment in the state’s news ecosystem, “including new partnerships through Google News Showcase, our product and licensing program for news organizations, and planned expansions of the Google News Initiative.”

Google declined to respond to an immediate request for comment about the number of California users who would be impacted by the change or how long the changes might last. It is also not clear which California news organizations will have their links removed from Google results.

Google isn’t the only company to threaten action in response to AB 886. Last year, Meta threatened to pull all news content off of Facebook and Instagram if the legislation becomes law.

Many news organizations, meanwhile, have come out in favor of the bill.

Danielle Coffey, president of the News/Media Alliance, a sponsor of AB 886, called the announcement a “power move” by Google to try and sway the government and said that the act makes it all the more important for the bill to become law.

“Google removing news is undemocratic and antithetical to open access to information,” she said.

Chuck Champion, president of the California News Publishers Association, another bill sponsor, said in a statement that “Google’s suppression today of California news demonstrates exactly why the California Legislature needs to pass legislation to rein in the tech colossus.”

Champion accused Google of leveraging its monopoly power “to brazenly undermine our democracy.”

He said Google has tried these “scare tactics” before in Australia and Canada. Neither nation backed down, Champion said.

“The fact that one company can shut down the means by which 90% of the public find online content in order to achieve their own political and business ends show just how much policymakers need to act, and act now. Google is not above the law, and they should not be allowed to act as if they are,” he said.

In a statement, Billie McConkey, chief administrative officer for McClatchy, which owns The Sacramento Bee, said: “Numerous countries worldwide have passed journalism compensation laws to recognize journalism’s vital role in a democracy. This is typical of how the dominant tech platforms have responded. They would rather block citizens’ access to essential information than simply pay fair market value for the content from which they profit.”

The bill’s author, Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, said in a statement that her bill is “about basic fairness.”

“It’s about ensuring that platforms pay for the content they repurpose,” Wicks said. “We are committed to continuing negotiations with Google and all other stakeholders to secure a brighter future for California journalists and ensure that the lights of democracy stay on.”