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Google tests blocking news content for some Canadians

Google tests blocking news content for some Canadians
February 23, 2023 Web Desk

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O) Google is rolling out tests that block access to news content for some Canadian users, the company confirmed on Wednesday, in what it says is a test run of a potential response to the government's online news bill.

The "Online News Act," or House of Commons bill C-18, introduced in April by Justin Trudeau's Liberal government, laid out rules to force platforms like Meta's (META.O) Facebook and Google to negotiate commercial deals and pay news publishers for their content.

"We're briefly testing potential product responses to Bill C-18 that impact a very small percentage of Canadian users. We run thousands of tests each year to assess any potential changes to Search," a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

The tech-giant confirmed that the time-limited tests, which impact a random sampling of less than 4% of the users in Canada, "limit the visibility of Canadian and international news to varying degrees."

A spokeswoman for Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said Canadians will not be intimidated and called it disappointing that Google is borrowing from Meta's playbook.

"Canadians need to have access to quality, fact-based news at the local and national levels, and that’s why we introduced the Online News Act. Tech giants need to be more transparent and accountable to Canadians," the spokeswoman said.

Last year, Facebook warned that it might block sharing of news content on its platform in Canada over concerns about legislation that would compel digital platforms to pay news publishers.

A similar Australian law, which took effect in March 2021 after talks with the big tech firms led to a brief shutdown of Facebook news feeds in the country, has largely worked, a government report had said.

Canada's news media industry has pressed against Facebook and asked the government for more regulation of tech companies, to allow the industry to recoup financial losses it has suffered in the years that Facebook and Google have been steadily gaining greater market share of advertising.

More than 450 news outlets in Canada have closed since 2008, including 64 closures in the last two years.