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Guilbeault condemns Facebook for unfriending Australia

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Canada’s federal government appears ready to battle it out with Big Tech after Facebook’s retreat from Australia Wednesday. Here’s how the key players are reacting today. 

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Steven Guilbeault blasts Facebook: The Canadian heritage minister called Facebook’s decision to restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing news content “highly irresponsible.” Facebook’s move came after the Australian government proposed legislation that would compel it to pay for news on its social media platform. “I must condemn what Facebook is doing,” Guilbeault told reporters today. “Facebook didn’t only block Australian media, but Australian government information websites, as well, putting the security of Australians in peril.”

Are Canadian Facebook users next?: Guilbeault said Facebook’s reaction Down Under won’t deter Canada from introducing legislation. In fact, as the minister told The Logic earlier this month, the federal government is using Australia’s legislation as a model for its own, thus likely putting the two on a collision course in the coming weeks.

Facebook is waiting and seeing: “We aren’t able to provide a reaction to proposed legislation until we have seen a draft,” Facebook Canada global director Kevin Chan told The Logic. “We believe there are other options to support news in Canada that will more fairly benefit publishers of all sizes and recognize the value that platforms bring to news organizations. We stand ready to collaborate on these complex issues.”

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Google may pay: Google has struck deals with some Australian publishers to pay for content, and intimated it may do the same in Canada. “We have signed over 500 publishers across dozens of countries to News Showcase and remain in active conversations with Canadian publishers about participating in the program,” Google spokesperson Lauren Skelly told The Logic. Guilbeault said the legislation would apply to the search-engine giant nonetheless. “What we are doing is moving away from a volunteer approach. We want something that is fair, that is transparent, that is predictable. And in time, what’s to say that Google—tomorrow, six months, a year from now—doesn’t change its mind and decides that that’s not what they want to do anymore?” Guilbeault said.

A duel of big coalitions looms: Guilbeault said he continues to seek what he called a “formal coalition” of countries, including Australia, Germany, France and Finland, to push back against Big Tech. Big Tech, meanwhile, has coalitions of its own. Several lobbying groups representing Amazon, Facebook, Google and other Big Tech types sued Maryland over its state tax on their massive online advertising revenues.