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Google Plans to Restrict Access to California News Sites

Google (Credits: The Seattle Times)

Google has initiated a test to remove links to California news sites from its search results for a small segment of users. This move is a reaction to the proposed California Journalism Preservation Act (AB 886), which, if passed, would compel tech companies to pay a “journalism usage fee” to publishers when their news content is used alongside advertising.

Google’s vice president of Global News Partnerships, Jaffer Zaidi, has publicly criticized the bill, arguing that it is “the wrong approach to supporting journalism.”

Zaidi expressed concerns that the legislation could lead to Google altering the services available to Californians and the amount of traffic directed to California publishers. He detailed these concerns in a blog post, indicating potential changes should Governor Gavin Newsom sign the bill into law.

Google yanks California news sites over proposed law (Credits: Wikipedia)

The bill, aimed at supporting news organizations as the industry grapples with a shift away from print journalism and financial instabilities—highlighted by recent layoffs at major publications like The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times—has sparked debate.

Zaidi Expanded on the Potential Drawbacks of the Legislation

Proponents argue that the bill could provide much-needed financial support to struggling news outlets. At the same time, opponents fear it might disproportionately benefit large media conglomerates and exacerbate the challenges faced by smaller, local newspapers.

Zaidi further elaborated on the bill’s potential downsides, suggesting it could lead to the proliferation of “ghost papers” operating with minimal staff to produce low-cost and often low-quality content. He also warned that the CJPA could disadvantage small publishers and restrict consumer access to a diverse local media ecosystem.

Google Office (Credits: The Keyword)

The bill, introduced by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks in July 2023, was put on hold for further refinement to ensure it meets its goals of supporting a free press and ensuring fair compensation from large tech platforms using publishers’ content without payment.

This development mirrors actions in other countries, such as Canada, where the Online News Act passed in June 2023 mandates that social media platforms compensate news outlets for their content. This has led to serious changes in how news is shared on platforms like Facebook and Instagram in Canada, with users no longer able to share news articles.

As Google tests the waters with its response to the potential new law, the outcome of this legislation and its effects on the digital landscape, news publishers, and tech companies will be closely watched.

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