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Public Policy

Our concerns with Bill C-18, the Online News Act

Google’s mission has always been to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. For more than twenty years, we’ve helped Canadian users connect with more sources of news.

That’s helped give people access to a wider range of information than ever before. Today, nearly 80% of Canadians get their news from a wide variety of sources — such as online news sites, apps, newsletters, aggregators, social media feeds, TV, and print. And across the globe, we help users find news sites more than 24 billion times each month.

Of course the internet has caused some disruption to news business models. Consumer behaviours have shifted and business models have followed. People now use e-commerce instead of looking for department store ads, take advantage of digital loyalty programs instead of printed food coupons, and shop on online marketplaces instead of through classified ads. We’ve been actively supporting the news industry throughout this transition — providing billions of dollars in tools, training, and support, while working with the industry to adapt to new digital realities. We share the goal of building a strong future for Canadian news and we are committed to playing our part.

The government has proposed the Online News Act as a fix for all of these challenges. While we support regulation that enables a diverse, sustainable, and innovative Canadian news ecosystem, we’re concerned that the current draft of the Online News Act will actually hurt Canada’s news industry and Canadians’ ability to safely find and share news online.

The Online News Act could create a lower standard for journalism in Canada.

The proposed law uses an extremely broad definition for “eligible news businesses” and doesn't require eligible news outlets to follow basic journalistic standards. The bill would effectively subsidize any outlet that “explains current issues or events of public interest.” This means that any opinion or commentary blog with two or more people could be eligible to receive funds. It also means that foreign state-owned outlets could be eligible, even if they are known sources of misinformation and propaganda.

In other words, the bill would force Google to subsidize outlets that do not adhere to any journalistic standards, creating a regime that allows bad actors and those peddling misinformation to thrive and profit. This stands in stark contrast to the thoughtful and considered qualifying criteria for today’s journalism tax credits. We have to believe this isn’t the outcome policy-makers intended.

The Online News Act would benefit spammers and peddlers of misinformation.

Canadians trust Google to connect them to the most relevant and authoritative news and information. The current bill could allow blogs, foreign state-owned media, or any other “eligible news business” to insist on artificially inflating their ranking in your search results, preventing Google Search from presenting you with the most reliable and useful content, making Search (and the internet) less useful and less safe.

We work hard to ensure that Canadians don’t come across harmful content on Google Search. But a section of the bill prohibits “undue preference” re “eligible news businesses”, without saying what that means. And it could mean making us liable for not displaying spammers, foreign propagandists, and those who seek to mislead and defraud you.

Our highest priority is connecting people to relevant and reliable information, and we share the desire of Canadian policy-makers to fight against misinformation. Unfortunately, the current Online News Act works explicitly against these goals.

The Online News Act would break Google Search. For everyone.

Right now, anyone can search for information and find relevant websites. Publishers and businesses want to be found by Canadians. If they don’t, they can easily opt out of Search. The Online News Act would change this, requiring companies like Google to pay news businesses simply so that we can help you find what you’re looking for.

This is what’s known as a “link tax” and it fundamentally breaks the way search (and the internet) have always worked.

Before the internet, publishers paid newsstands to display their papers and magazines, so that they could be discovered by new audiences. An internet search engine is essentially a modern newsstand. Google sends more than five billion visits to Canadian news publishers a year — at no cost to them — helping them grow their readership, build trust with readers, and make money. This traffic drove an estimated $500 million worth of value. Yet, the proposed legislation flips that on its head, and would require Google to pay news publishers every time we connected you to their websites. It’s like a restaurant owner who asks taxi drivers to pay them for the privilege of delivering diners to their door. Search traffic drives people to news websites and brings tremendous value to news publishers.

The ability to link freely between websites is fundamental to how the internet works. Canadians expect that when they search for information, they will have access to ALL the content the internet has to offer. Requiring payment for links risks limiting Canadians’ access to the information they depend on. The Online News Act would break this critical principle of the internet for everyone.

The Online News Act would give regulators unprecedented influence over news.

The bill gives the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) unprecedented, sweeping new powers to regulate every aspect of the Canadian news industry. The CRTC would be responsible for determining who is a journalist, what is an eligible news business, and how much money will be directed to each entity — decisions far outside its expertise as a broadcast regulator. It would oversee and govern all negotiations between the news publishers and technology companies, including setting mandatory terms, while also resolving any resulting disputes and having the power to issue penalties. The bill would also give the CRTC virtually unlimited authority to demand information from both platforms and news business.

The bottom line is that the CRTC would have enormous power when regulating the news Canadians rely on, with few if any checks and balances.

We need to work together to get this right.

We are aligned with the government’s goal of enabling a vibrant future for the news industry in Canada, and Canadians expect us to work together on this. We’ve invested significantly to support Canadian journalists and news publishers in transforming their strategies and models to meet the needs of today’s world, through our training programs, our newsroom tools, and our commercial partnerships and products. Last year, we launched Google News Showcase, a product experience and licensing program for news with over 100 local, regional and national news outlets, in both official languages, from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

We support thoughtful regulation. And we are willing to play our part in supporting Canadian journalism. But we’re concerned that if the proposed bill were to become law, it would likely leave the news industry worse off and hurt your ability to find quality information. We’re pleased to hear the Government is open to constructive conversations and we look forward to working together as it refines its approach. Over the coming weeks we are eager to listen, engage, and work with the government, industry and others to find a path forward. And we’ll continue to keep you updated as we go. There is a better path. Let’s work together to find it.