News/Media Alliance Asks DOJ, FTC To Probe Google's Partial News Cutoff In California

The News/Media Alliance is calling on the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google’s decision to block news access in Google Search for some people in California. 

Google announced last week that it has started blocking links to news sites for some California users in response to the California Journalism Protection Act (CJPA), a state bill that would require media giants to pay publishers for linking to their content. 

The Alliance has asked the DOJ and FTC to probe whether Google has violated several laws, including the Lanham Act, the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act. 

The letter to the agencies says, in part, “Importantly, Google released no further details on how many Californians will be affected, how the Californians who will be denied news access were chosen, what publications will be affected, how long the compelled news blackouts will persist, and whether access will be blocked entirely or just to content Google particularly disfavors.”



The letter continues, “Because of these unknowns, there are many ways Google’s unilateral decision to turn off access to news websites for Californians could violate [various] laws.” 

A Google spokesperson responds, These baseless claims deflect the real issues with CJPA — this bill is unworkable and will hurt small, local publishers to benefit large, out-of-state hedge funds. We have proposed reasonable alternatives to CJPA that would increase our support for the California news ecosystem and support Californians' access to news. We’ve long said CJPA isn’t the right approach, and we’ve taken a responsible and transparent step to prepare for its possible implementation.” 

Danielle Coffey, president & CEO of the News/Media Alliance, argues that the removal of news in California proves that Google has too much power. 

“No one company should be permitted to control information so singularly that it can make decisions to the detriment of society, as Google has done in California,” Coffee says. 

The Alliance is calling the government agencies to “take action to address the various ways this activity could violate existing antitrust and other relevant laws,” Coffey adds. 

Jaffer Zaidi, VP, global news partnerships for Google, described the news cutoffs: “To prepare for possible CJPA implications, we are beginning a short-term test for a small percentage of California users. The testing process involves removing links to California news websites, potentially covered by CJPA, to measure the impact of the legislation on our product experience.”

However, in a related development, Axios reports that dozens of newspapers owned by Alden Global Capital ran editorials during the weekend, calling Google's threat "a bully tactic."

This story was updated.




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