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Google stops linking to news for some California users over payment law

Google stops linking to news for some California users over payment law
Google stops linking to news for some California users over payment law

Google says it is removing links to California news sites from its search engine for a “small percentage” of users there as the state legislature weighs whether to pass a law that would force tech giants to pay publishers for their content.

The tech giant is also pausing new payments to publishers in California through its News Showcase, Google News Initiative and other product and licensing.

The California Journalism Preservation Act (CPJA) is currently pending in the legislature, and if passed would require Meta and Alphabet, the parent companies to Facebook and Google, to negotiate with publishers over potential compensation owed for the use of their content.

The bill is similar to Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code and Canada’s Online News Act, which both caused Meta to pull news from its platforms in those countries. Meta quickly relented in Australia and returned news links to its services, but news remains blocked on Facebook in Canada.

In a blog post on Friday, Google vice president for global news partnerships Jaffer Zaidi said the company is beginning “a short-term test” that will involve “removing links to California news websites, potentially covered by CJPA, to measure the impact of the legislation on our product experience.

“Until there’s clarity on California’s regulatory environment, we’re also pausing further investments in the California news ecosystem, including new partnerships through Google News Showcase, our product and licensing program for news organisations, and planned expansions of the Google News Initiative.”

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Zaidi claimed the CPJA “would create a ‘link tax’ that would require Google to pay for simply connecting Californians to news articles” and argued that the CJPA is supported by “media conglomerates and hedge funds” who may use revenue generated by the law to “continue to buy up local California newspapers, strip them of journalists, and create more ghost papers that operate with a skeleton crew to produce only low-cost, and often low-quality, content”.

Publishers lobbying for news payment laws around the world argue that Meta and Alphabet have swallowed up much of the advertising revenue that used to sustain the news industry. They claim that although they produce the expensive content that attract users to the tech platforms in the first place, they do not receive adequate compensation in return.

The tech giants in turn argue that they increase the size of publishers’ audience, at no cost to those businesses, and dismiss suggestions that their users are even particularly interested in news in the first place. Zaidi claimed in his blog post that “just 2% of queries on Google Search are news-related” while Meta has said less than 3% of posts people see on their news feeds are news links.

In both Canada and Australia Google has struck payment deals with publishers following the passage of news payment laws. Google agreed to pay publishers CA$100m annually late last year despite earlier threats to remove Canadian news links from its Search, News and Discover platforms. (It did trial removing the links for around one million people on Google News, however.)

One of the architects of the Australian news payments law estimated that Meta and Alphabet have agreed to pay publishers more than AU$200m a year – although Meta announced last month that it will stop entering into deals to pay publishers potentially leading to a showdown with the Australian government, which has powers under the News Media Bargaining Code to compel the tech giants to negotiate.

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