Google's president of global affairs says Canada must be careful in how it crafts legislation forcing tech giants to pay for the use of news because it could have unintended consequences.
"The question is what's the best framing to avoid unintended side effects of new regulation, things that might expand the definition of publisher far beyond what people in Canada would think it would cover or making sure that in trying to avoid what's called undue preference, we can no longer moderate content and help promote the most valuable, authoritative content that's available," said Kent Walker, in a visit to Toronto.
His emphasis on what should be considered for federal Bill C-18 — the Online News Act — comes as the legislation is winding its way through Parliament. The bill completed its second reading in May and has since been referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage for consideration.
The bill would make tech giants such as Google and Meta pay for reusing journalism produced by Canadian news organizations. The goal is to level the playing field between news agencies and social media companies, which have eaten up ad revenues while publishers have struggled to remain profitable.
However, smaller publishers have worried they'll be left out because the bill only forces tech giants to strike deals with news companies that have two more or more journalists in Canada and create content beyond a single topic like sports or arts.
Walker said there are a lot of issues to resolve to find the right balance between large and small publishers, said Walker, who stressed "we're confident that we can work collaboratively to iron out some of these issues and get to something good for everybody."
Asked what that balance might be, he said, "we've talked over time about the notion of a digital fund that would support publishers that might be an open and transparent way of doing this and we're happy to continue to contribute financially."
As of June, the company had signed agreements with more than 150 Canadian publications, including Torstar, the Globe and Mail, Black Press Media, Postmedia and Le Devoir, as part of its Google News Showcase.
The platform provides customizable space for newsrooms to produce, distribute and explain essential information to readers, giving Canadians access to a wide range of news content and potentially driving subscriptions for the media outlets.
Google has not revealed the terms or value of the agreements.
On Monday, it announced additional spending in Canada, saying the company will allocate $2.7 million toward grants helping Indigenous Peoples prepare for technology jobs and teaching media literacy to under-represented communities.
More than $1.3 million will be given to Winnipeg professional development and training charity ComIT to close the skills and education gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations.
The money will be spent on ComIT's Recoding Futures program, which teaches Indigenous Peoples programming languages and software that employers are looking for.
Google will also give $670,000 to Ottawa-based science, technology, engineering, and mathematics organization Actua to expand a program teaching youth from vulnerable groups how to be safe online and detect misinformation.
Another $670,000 will be handed to Ottawa-based digital literacy organization MediaSmarts to develop an education program helping under-represented communities learn how to use critical thinking skills when engaging with online content.
"Part of our commitment — and this is not unique to Canada, but important for Canada as well — is making sure that the information revolution is working for everybody," said Walker.
"Digital skills are going to be increasingly important in the 21st century, so ... how do we make sure that we have something that brings the entire community in on the prosperity?"