Media coalition asks the feds to investigate Google’s removal of California news links

The News/Media Alliance, formerly the Newspaper Association of America, asked US federal agencies to investigate Google’s removal of links to California news media outlets. Google’s tactic is in response to the proposed California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), which would require it and other tech companies to pay for links to California-based publishers’ news content.

The News/Media Alliance, which represents over 2,200 publishers, sent letters to the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission and California State Attorney General on Tuesday. It says the removal “appears to be either coercive or retaliatory, driven by Google’s opposition to a pending legislative measure in Sacramento.”

The CJPA would require Google and other tech platforms to pay California media outlets in exchange for links. The proposed bill passed the state Assembly last year.

In a blog post last week announcing the removal, Google VP of Global News Partnerships Jaffer Zaidi warned that the CJPA is “the wrong approach to supporting journalism” (because Google’s current approach totally hasn’t left the industry in smoldering ruins!). Zaidi said the CJPA “would also put small publishers at a disadvantage and limit consumers’ access to a diverse local media ecosystem.” Nothing to see here, folks: just your friendly neighborhood multi-trillion-dollar company looking out for the little guy!

Google described its link removal as a test to see how the bill would impact its platform:

“To prepare for possible CJPA implications, we are beginning a short-term test for a small percentage of California users,” Zaidi wrote. “The testing process involves 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 organizations, and planned expansions of the Google News Initiative.”

In its letters, The News/Media Alliance lists several laws it believes Google may be breaking with the “short-term” removal. Potential federal violations include the Lanham Act, the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act. The letter to California’s AG cites the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, regulations against false advertising and misrepresentation, the California Consumer Privacy Act and California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL).

“Importantly, Google released no further details on how many Californians will be affected, how the Californians who will be denied news access were chosen, what publications will be affected, how long the compelled news blackouts will persist, and whether access will be blocked entirely or just to content Google particularly disfavors,” News/Media Alliance President / CEO Danielle Coffey wrote in the letter to the DOJ and FTC. “Because of these unknowns, there are many ways Google’s unilateral decision to turn off access to news websites for Californians could violate laws.”

Google has a mixed track record in dealing with similar legislation. It pulled Google News from Spain for seven years in response to local copyright laws that would have required licensing fees to publishers. However, it signed deals worth around $150 million to pay Australian publishers and retreated from threats to pull news from search results in Canada, instead spending the $74 million required by the Online News Act.

Google made more than $73 billion in profits in 2023. The company currently has a $1.94 trillion market cap.

[colabot4]

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