The chairman of Canada’s broadcast regulator says he could ask platforms like YouTube to “manipulate” their algorithms to make it easier to find Canadian music, under the authority of a proposed online streaming bill.
Ian Scott told the Senate committee studying the bill that while the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission wouldn’t want to manipulate the algorithms itself, it could tell the platforms, “I want you to manipulate it (the algorithm) to get certain results.”
His remarks have been echoed by critics of the live streaming bill, who say he confirms what they warned against.
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Matthew Hatfield of OpenMedia said Scott’s remarks confirm “what we’ve been saying all along”. OpenMedia is an organization dedicated to keeping the Internet open. While it is primarily privately funded, it does receive some funding from Google, whose parent company also owns YouTube.
YouTube has warned that Canadian digital content creators, including influencers and streamers, could lose foreign revenue if the government forces digital platforms to promote Canadian content.
This is because the algorithms cross boundaries and if a Canadian song presented to YouTube’s audience in Canada is not liked or selected, it may mean that it is not popular. This, in turn, could lead to a downgrade in his rating worldwide.
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The bill would update Canada’s broadcast laws to apply to platforms including Netflix, YouTube and Spotify, forcing them to take steps to make Canadian content including music, movies and TV shows more “discoverable”.
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Michael Geist, chair of Internet law at the University of Olx Praca in Canada, said it has long been clear that these rules will require algorithmic manipulation.
“Indeed, this is why so many Canadian digital content creators have expressed concern about the bill and the harm it could cause,” he said.
“The CRTC chairman acknowledged that the law would allow the government to indirectly do what he says it can’t do directly by putting pressure on platforms to manipulate their algorithms to favor certain content over others.”
Conservatives say the containment of debate over the live streaming bill is “draconian” and “disturbing.”
Geist said this could result in Canadian authors downgrading their content globally, resulting in lower revenue and exposure.
But heritage minister Pablo Rodriguez has publicly said the bill will not result in platforms asking to manipulate their algorithms.
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On Thursday, its spokeswoman stressed that the government’s stance had not changed, pointing out that part of Bill C-11 expressly excluded manipulation of algorithms. A clause in the bill would prevent CRTC from placing an order requiring “the use of a certain computer algorithm or source code.”
“The government will ask the CRTC to work with content showcase platforms so that more Canadians can find, select and enjoy content from Canadian artists and creators,” said Laura Scaffidi.
“Platforms will have to decide how best to achieve these goals.”
Scott made his announcement Wednesday night, speaking before the Senate Transportation and Communications Committee, which is conducting a preliminary study of the bill.
The live streaming bill passed the House of Commons this week but will now be scrutinized in the Senate.
In his opening remarks to the committee, Scott said the CRTC “largely supports” the bill, but wants several amendments to be made, including one that will allow it to continue to resolve disputes.
YouTube, Spotify and CRTC declined to comment.
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