Google threatens to cut off news after California proposes paying media outlets

Google says it will start removing links to California news websites in a “short term test for a small percentage of California users.” The move is in response to the pending California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), which would require Google to pay a fee for linking Californians to news articles.

“If passed, CJPA may result in significant changes to the services we can offer Californians and the traffic we can provide to California publishers,” Jaffer Zaidi, Google VP of global news partnerships, wrote in a blog post announcing the decision. “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.”

Zaidi adds that Google will also pause “further investments in the California news ecosystem,” referring to initiatives like Google News Showcase, product and licensing programs for news organizations, and the Google News Initiative.

The conflict centers on Google’s impact on journalism. As it stands, Google (as well as Meta) receives a much larger cut of online advertising than publishers. An Electronic Frontier Foundation report notes that half of every ad dollar gets eaten up by fees, while subscriptions are subject to app store taxes.

Supporters argue the California bill gives publishers leverage to make profit sharing more equitable. Google alleges that it already drives traffic to publishers and that this sort of legislation favors media conglomerates at the risk of further hollowing out local papers.

Complicating matters, it’s difficult to put a number on how much money Google makes from news. Technically, it doesn’t host ads on Google News, but media companies argue that linking out to news content benefits the platform more broadly. A 2023 study estimates that Google would owe US publishers around $10 to 12 billion annually should the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act — a national bill — come into effect.

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