Google starts removing links to California news outlets ahead of proposed bill

The Google logo at Google's Pier 57 building in New York City
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • While lawmakers ponder the making of the proposed Journalism Preservation Act law, Google is previewing the consequences of that decision in a limited test.
  • Google is removing links to California news sites for a limited number of users due to the proposed law, which would require the company to pay publishers for links and aggregated content from news articles.
  • Additionally, Google is pausing investments in the California news ecosystem due to a lack of "clarity on California's regulatory environment."

Much like Canada's Bill-C 18, which surprised Google, California might also get this fair share of link tax. Google has consistently opposed calls for a "link tax" that would require the company to pay publishers for linked and aggregated content appearing in search results. While the California state legislature ponders the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), which will do just that, Google is starting to remove links to California news sites. The company announced this move in a blog post on April 12, and although it's only a test for now, this change could become permanent if the bill becomes law.

"If passed, CJPA may result in significant changes to the services we can offer Californians and the traffic we can provide to California publishers," said Jaffer Zaidi, Google's vice president of Global News Partnerships. "If enacted, CJPA in its current form would create a level of business uncertainty that no company could accept."

Essentially, instead of paying publishers for their content as would be required by the JCPA, Google plans to stop linking to news sites that would be covered by the law. The company has outlined plans for similar laws and jurisdictions, such as Canada. To prepare for the implications of the JCPA, Google says it is conducting a limited test that removes links to California news sites. 

Google also will pause investments in the California news ecosystem "until there's clarity on California's regulatory environment."

The bill's supporters want to help news publishers survive at a time when their content is often aggregated in search results or shared on social media. In these cases, news outlets may receive little or no compensation for their work. The JCPA would shift this model, forcing companies like Google and Meta to pay for links to certain news outlets.

“Google’s suppression today of California news demonstrates exactly why the California Legislature needs to pass legislation to rein in the tech colossus," said Charles Champion, the president and CEO of the California News Publishers Association, in a post on X (formerly Twitter). "The fact that one company can shut down the means by which 90% of the public find online content in order to achieve their own political and business ends show just how much policymakers need to act, and act now."

Champion urged California lawmakers to look to examples of similar situations in Australia in Canada. Despite pushback, legislators in both countries proceeded with "link tax" laws, and Champion says "journalism jobs surged as a result."

Google uses information from news outlets and other sites in "featured snippets," which summarize the sites' contents and disincentivize users from clicking through to the original source. In turn, this can cut out opportunities for news sites to earn through ad revenue. While we don't know exactly how much Google makes due to these practices, one study estimated the company owes publishers $10-12 billion annually. 

Brady Snyder

Brady is a tech journalist covering news at Android Central. He has spent the last two years reporting and commenting on all things related to consumer technology for various publications. Brady graduated from St. John's University in 2023 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. When he isn't experimenting with the latest tech, you can find Brady running or watching sports.