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Google is blocking some news content for users in California.

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Google Slammed for 'Playing Games With California's Democracy' by Blocking News

"This is an extraordinarily inappropriate time for Google to experiment with which voters might or might not see news about elected officials and candidates for office."

California reporters and union leaders are calling out Google for blocking news content for some users amid consideration of a landmark proposal that would make tech giants pay media outlets for links they share—which some experts warn won't solve the journalism industry's financial problems.

To prepare for potential passage of the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), Google is "beginning a short-term test for a small percentage of California users," Jaffer Zaidi, the tech giant's VP for global news partnerships, explained in a Friday blog post.

"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," he wrote. "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 response, Jon Schluess, president of the NewsGuild-CWA; Matt Pearce, president of Media Guild of the West TNG-CWA Local 39213; and Annie Sciacca, president of the Pacific Media Workers Guild TNG-CWA Local 39521 collectively called on state legislators and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to "stand united against Google's undemocratic threats to censor the work of California's journalists by shutting off news access in the middle of an election year."

"Every voter's access to information counts; California's journalists are covering an ongoing congressional election in the 16th District, where two candidates received an equal number of votes," they noted. "This is an extraordinarily inappropriate time for Google to experiment with which voters might or might not see news about elected officials and candidates for office."

While Zaidi claimed that "we've been engaging with California publishers and lawmakers throughout the legislative process and have proposed reasonable and balanced alternatives to CJPA," the trio said "Google is not engaging with California lawmakers in good faith."

"During a December informational hearing related to that bill, amid discussion about the prospect of Google banning journalism from its services in California, Google News executive Richard Gingras testified to committee Chair Sen. Tom Umberg that Google had 'no desire to stop including news in Search,'" they pointed out.

"Given today's events, obviously Google's testimony to our elected leaders was not true," the union leaders added. "Google must stop playing games with California's democracy."

However, not all Big Tech critics support the CJPA and similar legislation, including those passed in Australia and Canada.

Journalist and professor Jeff Jarvis wrote Wednesday for Nieman Journalism Lab—summarizing his lengthy white paper commissioned by the California Chamber of Commerce—that "like its federal cousin, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA)," the CJPA "is the latest in a century's attempts by the newspaper industry to diminish fair use and extend copyright for the benefit of publishers against competitors."

As The Guardianreported on the California measure:

A study conducted by Free Press Action, a media reform advocacy group, found that more than 80% of websites that would benefit from reimbursement mandated by the bill are owned by just 20 major firms. Because of this, major media companies have lobbied heavily against the legislation.

"It's a Google versus corporate media fight, and in the end California residents are the ones being harmed," said Mike Rispoli, senior director at Free Press Action. "It speaks to real challenges facing local news today when how the news is created and how it is accessed is controlled by these large corporations that are just looking after themselves."

When Canada passed its law last year and Meta—the parent company of Facebook and Instagram—announced its plans to pull content from the platforms, Free Press senior director of strategy and communications Tim Karr warned Common Dreams of the "real world impacts" while also criticizing the legislation.

"It feels to me oftentimes that the impetus of the support for the bargaining code bills in Australia, Canada, and the United States is merely to punish Big Tech—and, of course, there are things that Big Tech does that deserve to be punished, but the real goal here is not punishing Big Tech," Karr said.

"Unless we take a serious look at the shifting economics of news production and create legislation meant to address that, we're going to just be kind of bailing water out of a sinking ship," he also stressed.

Google similarly threatened to block news content over Canada's law but struck a deal with the government in November.

Politico noted that Meta "permanently erased news content from its social feed in Canada and has threatened to do the same if Congress and California advance similar legislation."

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