TORONTO, ON, Feb. 23, 2023 – Google’s efforts to prevent some Canadians from accessing news on its platform under the auspices of “rebalancing the power dynamics in the digital news marketplace” is a harmful act that amounts to taking the public hostage in its efforts to undermine legislation currently being studied by the Canadian Senate.

On Wednesday, Google told The Canadian Press that it is temporarily limiting access to news content for less than four per cent of its Canadian users as it evaluates potential responses to Bill C-18, The Online News Act. If passed, the legislation would compel tech giants, including Google, to negotiate with news organizations and provide financial compensation for news articles shared on their platforms. 

“In a digital world, search engines like Google are public utilities that serve vital democratic functions,” said Brent Jolly, president of the CAJ. “This is a crystal clear example of a private tech giant throwing its weight around as a pressure tactic to further its own self-interest. Sadly, at the end of the day, it’s Canadians’ right to know that gets caught in the crossfire.” 

For years, Google has made repeated public statements about its concern for the health, vitality, and well-being of the news and information ecosystem in Canada. While the CAJ acknowledges Google has made past investments to support journalistic training and strike content agreements with some Canadian publishers, this action sets a dangerous precedent where a private corporation can discriminate against some users by making it difficult for them to access local news. 

This is not the first time a tech platform has responded to threats of regulation by a federal government in a similar fashion. Google made a similar move to block news content for one per cent of users in Australia after the country passed a similar law to the one Canada is considering. Google shut down Google News in Spain for eight years after new copyright laws raised liability concerns over the inclusion of snippets. Just two months ago, the tech giant stopped its Google News service in Czechia in protest of new copyright laws.

Google isn’t the only tech company  that has been responding heavy-handedly and interfering with  users’ right to know when confronted with government regulation. Last October, Meta, Facebook’s parent company, threatened to block Canadians’ access to news sites on its platform in opposition to The Online News Act. That came after Facebook instituted a short-lived ban in early 2021 on news articles on its platform in protest to similar legislation enacted in Australia.

“Information is meant to be free and accessible to all,” Jolly said. “Google has a duty to be a responsible gateway to quality journalism. That means giving full access to truthful and factual information. Google should adhere to its own corporate code of conduct and ‘do the right thing.’”

The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization with over 1,300 members across Canada.The CAJ’s primary roles are public-interest advocacy work and professional development for its members.

For further information: Brent Jolly, CAJ President, 289-387-3179, brent@caj.ca

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