Ottawa’s bid to bring tech giants Google and Meta onside through regulations to its Online News Act has failed to persuade Meta, which says it will press ahead with plans to block Canadians’ access to news on Facebook and Instagram.
But the social-media giant has yet to decide whether it will also block links to news on Threads, Meta’s freshly launched rival to Twitter.
The federal Heritage Department has not clarified whether allowing links to news on Threads would mean Meta would be subject to the Online News Act, which the social-media giant wants to avoid.
The department released details Monday of regulations being drafted governing how the legislation would apply to tech giants, including setting a cap on how much they would have to contribute to Canada’s news industry under the legislation.
But Facebook said Tuesday its position has not changed and it was moving ahead with plans to withdraw access to Canadian news on its platforms in this country.
“Unfortunately, the regulatory process is not equipped to make changes to the fundamental features of the legislation that have always been problematic, and so we plan to comply by ending news availability in Canada in the coming weeks,” said Lisa Laventure, Meta’s spokesperson in Canada.
Google declined to comment on whether the regulations being drafted would be enough to keep it from blocking searches for Canadian news.
The Online News Act, also known as Bill C-18, received royal assent last month. It was designed to support the Canadian news industry, which has seen its advertising migrate to the Big Tech platforms. It would make Facebook and Google negotiate deals to compensate news outlets in Canada for posting or linking to their work.
In blocking links to Canadian news stories, Google and Meta would no longer be regulated under the act or forced to negotiate deals with publishers.
Talks between the government and Google are continuing, while negotiations with Facebook have come to a halt.
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s spokesperson Laura Scaffidi said on Tuesday: “If Facebook truly believes that news has no value, they can say so at the negotiating table. Threats to pull news instead of complying with the laws in our country only highlight the power that platforms hold over news organizations, both big and small.”
At a news conference last week to announce the government would not longer advertise on Facebook and Instagram – a move worth about $10-million a year – Mr. Rodriguez said the government was looking into the situation with Threads, including whether it might advertise there in the future.
Google’s announcement that it plans to block Canadians from accessing news by news outlets here may have led some Canadians to turn to other search engines.
DuckDuckGo said Tuesday more people in Canada have been installing its browser and doing searches since Google’s announcement in late June of its plans to withdraw from news.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in browser installs and searches out of Canada over the last few weeks,” said spokesperson Allison Goodman. “Since we don’t track our users, we can’t say or approximate how many new users that might be.”
The federal Heritage Department said in a background paper Monday that the regulations the minister is proposing to the Online News Act would “establish a financial threshold for contributions to sustainability of the Canadian news marketplace.” This would be “based on a platform’s estimated Canadian revenues and would be specific to each platform and their position within the news marketplace.”
“Once finalized, the regulations will make clear which platforms are captured by the Online News Act and what the agreements negotiated between news businesses and platforms must do to get an exemption,” it added.
The regulations would also provide more clarity on how many deals the tech giants would have to make with local news businesses, Indigenous news outlets and French-language news outlets, the Heritage Department said in a background paper.
They would also spell out that existing commercial agreements between the tech giants and news organizations would be considered under the C-18 regime.
The regulations make clear that training and other “non-monetary offerings to news organizations” would be included in assessments of exemption criteria by the Canadian Radio-television and Communications Commission, which will oversee the bargaining regime.
Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa’s Canada Research Chair in internet law, said the announcement amounted to a U-turn by the government. But Paul Deegan, president and chief executive of News Media Canada, which represents the news industry, welcomed the regulations and said the government is showing “good faith.”