CRTC President Ian Scott in Gatineau, Quebec, on February 18, 2020.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The chairman of Canada’s streaming regulator says he could ask platforms like YouTube to “tamper” with their algorithms to make Canadian music easier to find, under the powers of the proposed online streaming bill.

Ian Scott told a Senate committee reviewing the bill that while the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission wouldn’t want to tamper with the algorithms itself, it could tell the platforms, “I want you to tamper with it (the algorithm ) to produce particular results”.

His comments have been seized on by critics of the streaming bill, who say it confirms what they have been warning about.

OpenMedia’s Matthew Hatfield said that Scott’s comments confirmed “what we’ve been saying all along”. OpenMedia is an organization dedicated to keeping the Internet open. While it’s mostly funded by people, it does get some funding from Google, whose parent company also owns YouTube.

YouTube has warned that Canadian digital 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 borders, and if a Canadian song presented to the YouTube audience in Canada is not liked or picked up, it may suggest that it is not popular. That, in turn, could lead to it being downgraded around the world.

The bill would update Canada’s streaming laws to apply to platforms like Netflix, YouTube and Spotify, forcing them to take steps to make Canadian content, including music, movies and TV shows, more ” detectable”.

Michael Geist, a research professor of Internet law at the University of Ottawa in Canada, said it has long been obvious that such rules would require algorithmic manipulation.

“In fact, that is precisely why so many Canadian digital creators raised concerns about the bill and the harm it could cause,” he said.

“The CRTC chairman has acknowledged that the law will allow the government to do indirectly what it says it cannot do directly, by pressuring platforms to manipulate their algorithms to prioritize certain content over others.”

Geist said this could lead to Canadian creators downgrading their content globally, leading to decreased revenue and exposure.

But Heritage Minister Pablo Rodríguez has said publicly that the bill will not result in platforms being asked to tamper with their algorithms.

On Thursday, its spokesman stressed that the government’s position has not changed, noting that part of Bill C-11 specifically rules out algorithm manipulation. A clause in the bill would prevent the CRTC from issuing an order that requires the “use of a specific computer algorithm or source code.”

“The government will ask the CRTC to work with platforms to showcase content so that more Canadians can find, choose and enjoy content from Canadian artists and creators,” said Laura Scaffidi.

“It will be up to the platforms to decide how best to meet these goals.”

Scott made his comments Wednesday night when he appeared before the Senate transportation and communications committee, which is pre-studying the bill.

This week’s streaming bill passed the House of Commons, but will now be closely scrutinized in the Senate.

In his opening remarks before the committee, Scott said the CRTC is “largely supportive” of the bill but wants some amendments made, including one that would allow it to continue to resolve disputes.

YouTube, Spotify and the CRTC declined to comment.

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