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FutureStarrGoogle Executives Summoned by Canada MPs After Blocking News Content
Google is an American multinational technology company specializing in online advertising, search engine technology, cloud computing, computer software, quantum computing, e-commerce, artificial intelligence and consumer electronics. Its primary business activity stems from its flagship search engine.
On Monday, a parliamentary committee is calling on Google executives to testify regarding their position on Bill C-18, the government's controversial bill that would force them to negotiate deals with Canadian news publishers. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and parent company Alphabet; Kent Walker, president of global affairs and chief legal officer; Richard Gingras and Sabrina Geremia are being summoned by the Heritage committee for testimony regarding their response.
Last week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai spoke to MIT Forefront about their efforts on climate change; diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives; as well as their return to work. Additionally, he highlighted some of the challenges they face such as hate speech and misinformation.
On Tuesday, Canada MPs summoned several Google executives, including its CEO and global affairs chief. These individuals will appear before the House of Commons Heritage Committee, according to CBC.
Last week, Google began restricting news content for nearly 4% of Canadian users - an act they say is a test run in anticipation of Bill C-18, the Liberal government's proposed law which would require online giants to negotiate deals with media outlets.
Some experts warn that Google's strategy could backfire and force it out of Spain. After eight years of shutting down their news service in Spain due to a regulation requiring them and other news aggregators to pay publishers for using excerpts of their news content, the tech giant finally reopened it last year.
Though its approach to news is nothing new, the company has come under scrutiny in recent years due to a variety of reasons. One such reason was its failure to adequately protect users' personal information.
On Monday, Google Plus suffered a security breach which allowed developers to view user profiles even when set to private. This is the second such security lapse within one year and it raises serious concerns about how well tech companies protect user data.
In addition to the summons, the Heritage committee will be asking Google for a list of news organizations that were banned from its platform in Canada and what steps the company is taking to prevent future blockings. The deadline for Google to provide this requested information is March 2.
The Heritage committee's summons comes after MPs have promised to hold tech executives accountable for their actions, even if they're outside Canada. They have repeatedly criticized Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg for failing to respond to a House of Commons summons over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
On Tuesday, Canada's House of Commons heritage committee summoned Google CEO Sundar Pichai and several executives from its head offices to appear before a parliamentary panel over their decision to block news content on their platforms. The motion demanded answers from Sundar Pichai, Kent Walker (President of Global Affairs at Alphabet and chief legal officer), Richard Gingras (Vice-president of News), and Sabrina Geremia (country manager for Google Canada).
Opposition MPs supported the motion, which came after Google last week tested news links on its search engine and "discover" feed for less than four per cent of Canadian users in an effort to assess potential responses to Canada's proposed Online News Act, Bill C-18. Under this law, digital giants such as Google must negotiate deals that compensate Canadian media companies for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online.
Critics contend the Online News Act is an effort to suppress free expression and target media without government funding. Law professor Michael Geist, a Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, stated that the Act assigns value to links even when there is none, requires platforms to pay for their services even if there is no revenue generated, and dictates which sources should receive compensation.
Legislators are concerned about a possible threat to free speech and access to news, but also fear a damaging precedent set by Bill C-18. Last year, Australia passed a law requiring Facebook and Google to pay media outlets for using their work in stories; both companies briefly stopped sharing news content but eventually agreed upon compensation terms.
In Canada, individuals who ignore subpoenas issued by the House of Commons can be summoned back to the chamber or sent a bailiff to enforce them. However, a committee clerk informed MPs that such summonses have little effect outside of Canada and the House has no power to compel those living abroad.
On Tuesday, a Canadian MP summoned Google executives from both Canadian and US headquarters to appear before a House of Commons committee to explain why the tech giant decided to temporarily restrict access to some news content for many Canadians. The Heritage Committee unanimously passed a motion requesting senior Google executives from both countries be summoned to explain their decision.
The parliamentary committee is calling on Google's CEO Sundar Pichai, its Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker and Vice-President of News Richard Gingras as well as country manager for Canada Sabrina Geremia to testify at the hearing. Furthermore, any relevant internal documents related to blocking Canadian news must also be provided.
Pichai and other Google executives must explain why they blocked news content, as well as how the company plans to comply with the new online news bill, Bill C-18. This legislation -- currently being debated in the Senate -- requires digital news platforms like Google or Meta (formerly Facebook) to negotiate with publishers for the republishing and indexing of their materials.
Some industry analysts contend the government's plan is a "link tax," which could harm Canadian news; on the other hand, some argue it's an opportunity for Canada's legacy media to get a fair deal from tech companies. Last month Australia passed their own bill requiring social media platforms to pay legacy news organizations for republishing their content.
Recently, Gingras spoke about Google's work to support news organisations around the world. He discussed their philanthropic and investment initiatives that help ensure their work has a secure future, as well as how they're aiding news partners create ads that better engage readers and boost click-through rates.
Asked his opinion on the current political landscape and its potential effects on news businesses, Gingras stressed the necessity for news organisations to remain vigilant in the face of change. Furthermore, he added that they must be able to differentiate themselves from their competitors by producing high-quality journalism.