By Ismail Shakil and Molly Cone
OTTAWA - Alphabet Inc's Google will stop blocking news articles from some Canadian users' search results on March 16, a company executive told a Canadian parliamentary panel investigating the tech firm on Friday.
Last month, Google started testing limited news censorship as a potential response to a Canadian government bill that aims to compel online platforms to pay publishers in Canada for news content.
Google has claimed that the test is like thousands of other product tests the company conducts on a regular basis.
The tests, which the company says affected less than 4% of Canadian users, began on Feb. 9 and were scheduled to run for five weeks.
Speaking to a parliamentary committee investigating the tests, Google's public policy manager Jason Kee confirmed that the tests would end next week.
"I want to underline these are just tests. No decisions have been made about product changes," Kee said.
Last month, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was a "terrible mistake" for Google to block news content in reaction to "Online News Act," a government bill that created rules for platforms like Meta's Facebook and Google to negotiate commercial deals and pay news publishers.
"It really surprises me that Google has decided that they'd rather prevent Canadians from accessing news than actually paying journalists for the work they do," he said at the time.
During the panel, questions were raised about local journalism outlets, like the 13-14 local, weekly papers that MP Martin Shields has in his riding.
"Blocking is something that I think irritates the local people, the grassroots people. The unintended consequences here of this move, I don’t think is a way to negotiate and I think it's a mistake on your part," Shields said to Sabrina Geremia, the head of Google Canada.
Geremia said Google is a contributor to news in Canada, driving 3.6 billion free visits from Canadians visiting links to news sites, and has licensing agreements in place with over 150 publications coast to coast.
Facebook has also raised concerns about the legislation and warned it might be forced to block news-sharing on its platform.
Canada's news media industry has asked the government for more regulation of tech companies to allow the industry to recoup financial losses it has suffered in the years that the tech giants steadily gained greater market share of advertising.
Ottawa's proposal is similar to a ground-breaking law that Australia passed in 2021, which too triggered threats from Google and Facebook to curtail their services. Both eventually struck deals with Australian media companies after a series of amendments to the legislation were offered.
(Reporting by Molly Cone in Toronto and Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Aurora Ellis)