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Ethics committee grills Google over political ads decision

Briefs | 05/10/2019 2:31 pm EDT

OTTAWA In an at-times tense hearing of the House of Commons ethics committee, executives from the Canada office of Alphabet Inc.’s Google made the case that the company was technologically unable to sell political advertisements on its platforms in a way that would comply with Bill C-76.

The bill, which became law in December last year, requires online platforms to create a database of political and partisan ads sold during the course of the 2019 election. They have to set up the databases by June 30.

“It was simply not feasible for us to implement the extensive changes necessary to accommodate the new requirements in the very short time before the new provisions take effect,” said Jason Kee, Google’s public policy and government relations counsel, during his Thursday afternoon appearance.

The internet giant said in March that rather than create a registry for political advertising, it would just not sell political ads at all.

The executives from Google drilled down into what they said was the impossibility of creating a real-time database of political ads. They said it would be too difficult to build a system before June 30 that would both identify an ad as political and place in on a registry within the same day, as stipulated by the law.

Why not create a 24 or 48 hour hold on each ad, asked Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith. “Our engineers told us it wouldn’t be feasible for us to do that,” Kee responded.

“I have to say I find the answers incredulous,” Erskine-Smith said.

“This would be akin to not just one but multiple broadcaster saying we are not running political advertising, because we can’t figure it out. And I don’t view that, in 2019, to be an acceptable answer,” Erskine-Smith told reporters after the hearing.

Colin McKay, Google’s head of public policy and government relations for Canada, told reporters that there’s a strong possibility that political ads might sneak through onto its platforms. “There’s always going to something that either is identified under the obligations of the act or appears that it contravenes the act, and has to then be followed up with a conversation either internally across our teams or with the enforcement agencies,” he said.

Facebook Inc. has said it will comply with the provisions of bill C-76 by June 30.

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