What Do Google's Canadian News Blackout Tests Mean For The U.S.?

Even as the Supreme Court of the United States considers rules (Section 230) protecting digital media platforms from publishing liabilities, platforms have begun implementing or testing the means of blocking access to news content in other developed media markets around the world.

Google, for example, disclosed that it has begun tests blocking access to news for some Canadian users, according to a report by Reuters.

Google said the tests are being conducted in response to the Canadian government’s “Online News Act,” which would regulate platforms like Google, Meta and others to negotiate deals and pay news publishers for their content.

The new Canadian law, and a similar on which took effect in Australia in 2021, are reminiscent of the U.S. retransmission consent laws requiring cable operations to negotiate in good faith -- and normally pay -- broadcasters when they provide access to cable their cable subscribers.



No such law was ever created in the U.S. to pay news organization when digital platforms enable users to access their content online, but numerous studies have shown it has devastated the economics of legacy news organizations.

In a related move, the notion that digital platforms are testing how to block or throttle access to news is likely to set off a debate with broader implications, including some partisan ones, including claims of censorship or access to biased news coverage, not to mention the Section 230 regulation protecting platforms from potential news publishing liabilities like libel.

"We're briefly testing potential product responses to [Canada’s] 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 told Reuters.

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