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Google rolls out tests that block news content for some users in Canada

Google has launched tests that block access to news content for some users in Canada in response to the Canadian government's online news bill. Bill C-18, or the Online News Act, would require platforms like Facebook and Google to negotiate deals that would pay news publishers for their content. The bill is currently before the Canadian Senate for debate.

The company told TechCrunch that the tests impact "a small percentage" of Canadian users. The tests limit the visibility of Canadian and international news, and affect all types of news content.

“We’re briefly testing potential product responses to Bill C-18 that impact a very small percentage of Canadian users," a spokesperson for the company told TechCrunch in an email. We run thousands of tests each year to assess any potential changes to Search. We’ve been fully transparent about our concern that C-18 is overly broad and, if unchanged, could impact products Canadians use and rely on every day. We remain committed to supporting a sustainable future for news in Canada and offering solutions that fix Bill C-18.”

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said on Twitter that Canadians won't be intimidated by the tests and that tech giants need to be more transparent and accountable.

"It’s disappointing to hear that Google is trying to block access to news sites," Rodriguez said in a tweet. "Canadians won’t be intimidated. At the end of the day, all we’re asking the tech giants to do is compensate journalists when they use their work. That’s why we introduced the Online News Act. Tech giants need to be more transparent and accountable to Canadians."

Last year, Facebook threatened to block the sharing of Canadian news content unless the government amended legislation that would force digital platforms to pay news publishers. In 2021, Facebook briefly restricted users in Australia from sharing or viewing news links on the platform due to similar legislation. Google is now borrowing from the Meta-owned company's playbook.

The move from Google doesn't mark the first time that the company has opposed Canadian legislation. Last year, Google expressed concerns with Bill C-11, or the Online Streaming Act. The bill would force platforms like Google-owned YouTube to more prominently feature Canadian content. Google argued that the bill would negatively affect creators and viewers, and limit content discoverability. The Canadian Senate recently passed the bill with dozens of amendments, and it will be reviewed by the House of Commons.

A few months ago, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai issued a statement noting that the online news and streaming bills discriminate against American businesses. The U.S. government has also raised concerns about the trade implications of the bills.