Google says it will stop blocking Canadian news links next week following test

OTTAWA — Google will stop blocking news links next week following a five-week test that limited access to news for some Canadian users, the company confirmed Friday.

The test began in early February and affected users were prevented from seeing news links on Google's search engine and Discover panel on Android phones.

The company said the test was meant to assess the impacts of a potential response to Bill C-18, the Liberal government's controversial Online News Act.

"I want to underline that these are just tests. No decisions have been made about product changes. We’re simply doing our due diligence in the most responsible way possible," said Jason Kee, public policy manager for Google.

Kee attended the House of Commons heritage committee meeting on Friday virtually alongside the head of Google Canada. Company executives were summoned to the meeting by MPs who are studying Google's activities in reaction to the Online News Act.

Sabrina Geremia said the bill, which would put a price on free links to web pages that produce news, sets a dangerous precedent that threatens the open web and free flow of information.

She said the Online News Act is no longer about supporting local journalism and will benefit legacy media and broadcasters the most, while incentivizing clickbait content over quality journalism.

"C-18 is intended to encourage voluntary agreements with news publishers," Geremia said.

"But the exemption and eligibility criteria have shifted so significantly that it would require subsidies to media companies even if they don’t produce news, are not online, and we don't link to their content."

Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu raised a similar concern, saying the bill could cause misinformation and clickbait to be more prominent on the web.

Google has said it would rather pay Canadian media outlets through a monetary fund than be regulated by the government.

Large Canadian media companies and the federal Liberal government have argued the proposed law would level the playing field for news outlets that compete with tech giants for advertising dollars.

But Google said it is already a major financial supporter of journalism, because the traffic it sends to news sites helps publishers increase their readership and earn money from page views, and because Google licenses news from more than 150 publications across Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2023.

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press