Trudeau meets Google boss Sundar Pichai, but no word on whether the tech CEO chewed out the PM over Bill C-18

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      Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued the usual banalities about his meeting on June 9 with a Silicon Valley power broker.

      Sundar Pichai is the CEO of Alphabet, which is the holding company that includes Google.

      "We spoke about Google’s presence in Canada and our capacity for innovation, as well as the increasing importance of protecting democracy through vibrant and diverse online media," Trudeau tweeted.

      What the PM didn't say is whether Pichai took him to task for Bill C-18 (An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada).

      According to Trudeau, this legislation will compensate journalists when platforms like Google use their content.

      It's come under scathing criticism from Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa law professor and Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law.

      In an online post in April, Geist characterized the law as a "shakedown with requirements to pay for nothing more than listing Canadian media organizations with hyperlinks in a search index, social media post, or possibly even a tweet".

      "At a time when we need the public to access to credible news, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez believes that large Internet companies that engage in the act of facilitating access to news—not copying, not using, not even directly linking—should pay for doing so," Geist wrote.

      The bill's summary states that the legislation "establishes a framework through which digital news intermediary operators and news businesses may enter into agreements respecting news content that is made available by digital news intermediaries".

      On May 31, Bill C-18 passed second reading by a 207-116 vote. It's been referred to review by the Commons committee on Canadian heritage.

      Conservative MPs oppose the legislation, which came forward as shares in tech and ecommerce companies were being hammered. Alphabet's Class A share price is down 23.33 percent so far this year.

      Alphabet shares have been in the doldrums in 2022, but their fall hasn't been as steep as the share-price declines at Netflix, Meta (Facebook), Tesla, Apple, and Microsoft.

      If the Bill C-18 becomes law, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission would have greater oversight powers over platforms like Google and YouTube, which are part of Alphabet. 

      For example, the regulator would "maintain a list of digital news intermediaries", which can only be exempted if the operator has entered into agreements with news businesses that satisfy the CRTC's criteria. The federal cabinet would have authority to create regulations setting out how the CRTC would interpret those criteria.

      In addition, the CRTC would have authority to "establish a code of conduct respecting bargaining in relation to news content", according to the summary.

      Moreover, the bill prohibits intermediary operators "from acting, in relation to certain news content, in ways that discriminate unjustly, that give undue or unreasonable preference or that subject certain news businesses to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage". And certain news businesses would have the power to complain to the CRTC about how they're treated.

      Plus, the bill establishes a mechanism by which intermediary operators would pay for certain costs related to the administration of the new rules.

      Google's Canadian head of public policy and government relations, Colin McKay, has written to all Canadian MPs to complain about Bill C-18 being "rushed through" the House of Commons.

      "Let me be absolutely clear, Google is in favour of supporting a sustainable future for journalism in Canada," McKay wrote in his letter. "This includes regulation and financial contributions. 

      "However, Bill C-18, as drafted, would fundamentally and negatively impact millions of Canadians every day by degrading how people interact with Google products and services," he continued. "There has got to be a better way."

      The June 9 meeting in California was not Trudeau's first tête-à-tête with Pichai. In 2019, they met to discuss what action digital platforms could take to prevent the Internet being used as a tool to promote terrorism and violent extremism.

      "The Prime Minister also expressed appreciation for Google’s contribution to the Canadian economy and noted Canada’s strengths as an investment destination and a leader on artificial intelligence," the PMO said in a statement at the time.