Clueless State AGs Attack Google Over YouTube Videos Instead Of Pursuing The Criminals Who Made Them

from the seriously,-guys? dept

We’ve been writing a fair bit lately on the incredible anti-innovation, anti-free speech views of various states’ attorneys general, who seem to be doing anything they can to get themselves shoved into the headlines by making completely bogus threats against internet companies for things their users do. The latest takes this level of pure cluelessness to new heights. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt win our award for “extremely clueless politicians of the week” for their latest misguided, mis-targeted, harmful and backwards attack on YouTube and Google. Basically because some people somewhere have used YouTube to post videos and these AGs think this will get them into the headlines, they’re blaming Google.

After viewing a series of videos promoting dangerous activities such as the sale of illegal drugs, fraudulent passports and sex trafficking on YouTube, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt asked YouTube’s parent company, Google, to provide more information on how much the company has profited from videos.

Right. I’m wondering when Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt are going to demand that Ford explain why bank robbers use their cars as escape vehicles, or when Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt are going to demand that AT&T explain why extortionists have used their phone services.

Let’s go through this nonsense step by step, because it’s really beyond the pale. First off, it takes a special kind of cluelessness for two attorneys general, who are supposed to help their states enforce the law, to be shown videos that disclose crimes being committed and rather than go after those committing the crimes, instead decide to blame the tool that revealed the crimes to them. This is beyond blaming the messenger. This is blaming the manufacturer of a video camera because it was used to tape a crime which the AGs failed to stop. It’s beyond a head in the sand approach. It’s putting your head in the sand and then blaming the sky for shining light on your ass.

Second, there’s an important bit of federal law called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides pretty clear safe harbors for service providers such that that they are not liable for actions committed by their users. In other words, there’s no legal issue here for the AGs to grandstand about, even as they’re hoping to get a personal exception to Section 230 that just applies to state AGs. Threatening companies over things for which they are not legally liable is extreme bullying by politicians who have way too much power.

Third, if the videos themselves are illegal, then there is a clear process by which those who found the videos can seek to get them taken off the site. If the videos are not illegal, as seems likely to be the case, then they’re protected by the First Amendment, and these attacks from government officials seeking to stifle free speech really seem to raise serious questions about the competence of these Attorneys General to enforce the law in their own states, when they appear to be somewhat unfamiliar with both Constitutional basics and the federal laws that bind them.

Fourth, as it stands more than 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. If there’s some magic way that these politicians think that each and every one of those videos can be pre-vetted to make sure nothing that they don’t like gets uploaded, they don’t understand basic math. The alternative, of course, is not to have the ability to have any user-generated content exist online at all. In other words, the “solution” is to kill what makes the internet and things like YouTube useful. Way to go, Jon Bruning and Scott Pruitt. I’m sure your constituents will be thrilled to know that your big accomplishment was to make sure that you killed YouTube and all of their ability to make and share their own content.

In other words, this is an extremely misguided move by two state politicians who are making themselves look incredibly foolish, because someone spread some moral panic FUD about “drugs and sex on YouTube!” And who’s responsible for that? Ah, yes, an astroturfing group out of Washington, DC designed to create moral panics around Google:

Digital Citizens Alliance Executive Director Tom Galvin, who presented a detailed report to the National Association of Attorneys General on YouTube last month, made the following remarks after the letter was released:

“Google has allowed thousands of videos to exist on YouTube that offer drugs, prostitution, forged passports, counterfeits and content theft. Worse, they have profited from them by running ads in conjunction with these videos. Hopefully, the attorneys general will be able to get answers others have failed to get. Namely why such an important, otherwise great company is putting profit over the safety of Internet users. When Google finally takes steps to ensure these dangerous videos are gone for good from YouTube, the Internet will be a safer place.”

Okay, well, here’s the obvious response: Digital Citizens Alliance Executive Director Tom Galvin has allowed bogus, censorious, anti-innovation screeds to be sent by states’ attorneys general. Worse, they have promoted this FUD-filled exercise with PR spam blasts to reporters trying to generate bogus faux-moral panics to promote their own anti-innovation agenda. Hopefully, the public and reporters will be able to get answers that others have failed to get. Namely, why such an obvious bullshit astroturfing group is putting anti-innovation, anti-free speech policies into the mouths of states attorneys general, and doing so in a manner that only leads to it being more difficult for law enforcement to track down actual criminals. When the Digital Citizens Alliance finally takes steps to ensure that it stops these bogus moral panics in targeting third parties and driving the actual crimes further underground, the internet will be a safer place.

As you can see from the full letter that these guys sent, they’re demanding answers to various questions, almost all of which appear to be based on flat-out ignorance of both how the technology of offering a platform for user-generated content works, as well as the automatic nature of internet advertising. Attacking a company by showing your own ignorance of the very basic technology, enjoyed by millions of people, doesn’t seem like a particularly wise strategic political move by these attorneys general.

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Companies: digital citizens alliance, google, youtube

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Comments on “Clueless State AGs Attack Google Over YouTube Videos Instead Of Pursuing The Criminals Who Made Them”

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56 Comments
Mark Harrill (profile) says:

Digital Citizens Alliance

Wait if its wrong for Google/YouTube to profit from these videos, isn’t it wrong for people to watch them and thus generate the revenue in the first place? Since Digital Citizens Alliance has found all these videos, they must have watched them, thus creating ad revenue for Google. Sounds like they are partners in the furtherance of a criminal enterprise.

out_of_the_blue says:

Re: incoming OOTB rebuttal ... Ah, advance publicity!

I like your post twice: because you’ve nothing else to say, and help me with advance notice. — I’m the most pre-commented. — So, thanks, my fanboy. … See, you don’t even say enough to indicate whether you agree with me or not, so I’ll just assume you’re my fanboy!

Alt0 says:

Re: Re: incoming OOTB rebuttal ... Ah, advance publicity!

Meh…I have nothing else to say because I care nothing about the topic. Basically a few politicians making asses out of themselves yet again…
I simply knew the word Google in the title would draw you like a magnet to pick on Mike and rant on…
I agree with some things you post, this is true. Mostly not however (sorry). At my age I can no longer be considered a Boi either. I do at times find you entertaining… thats at least something right?

Anonymous Coward says:

“Based on search results, it appears that an inordinately large number of videos containing potentially objectionable content were removed in the week following a June 7, 2013 article in the USA Today detailed these issues. Please describe any and all measures used to remove these videos and explain why the videos were removed.”

I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that by “objectionable” they mean “illegal”. Surely they are not demanding information about videos that merely “objectionable” but are covered by freedom of speech.

So, either:

The AG’s, upon finding these objectionable videos, told YouTube to take them down, and that is why they were taken down, rendering the question silly… or:

The AG’s searched for and found these videos, but chose NOT to tell YouTube to take them down. That is, unlike YouTube they had direct knowledge of illegal activity, but chose not to act.

out_of_the_blue says:

Another rant from Mike defending his "Precious".

Google is a business, not a “platform”. Statute is not an absolute shield to responsibility under common law. Google exists only by permission of society and can be required to do some policing, just as other businesses, pawn shops say, are for the public good. This isn’t burdensome, nor apparently has Google taken any action, else wouldn’t be a problem.

Google is not a good corporate citizen: it’s working to gain monopoly in advertising; it’s spying on you full time and feeding that info “direct” to NSA; it’s increasing authoritarian and “monetizing” aspects to control users; it’s keeping $45 billion offshore to escape US taxes.

Mike is a pro-Google corporatist. You see his view of laws here, which is practically the purpose of corporations: to escape all responsibility to society while still getting the money.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Another rant from Mike defending his "Precious".

Google exists only by permission of society and can be required to do some policing,…

If society wanted it, sure. Fortunately, a couple of grandstanding AG’s do not equate to “society”.

It seems to me that the majority of “society” doesn’t care to blame the tool manufacturer. Like it was noted above, we traditionally don’t blame car manufacturers for the uses of their autos or gun manufacturers for the uses of their weapons.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Another rant from Mike defending his "Precious".

Let’s repost what you censored, as it was (of course) 100% spot-on correct:

“Google is a business, not a “platform”. Statute is not an absolute shield to responsibility under common law. Google exists only by permission of society and can be required to do some policing, just as other businesses, pawn shops say, are for the public good. This isn’t burdensome, nor apparently has Google taken any action, else wouldn’t be a problem.

Google is not a good corporate citizen: it’s working to gain monopoly in advertising; it’s spying on you full time and feeding that info “direct” to NSA; it’s increasing authoritarian and “monetizing” aspects to control users; it’s keeping $45 billion offshore to escape US taxes.

Mike is a pro-Google corporatist. You see his view of laws here, which is practically the purpose of corporations: to escape all responsibility to society while still getting the money.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Another rant from Mike defending his "Precious".

I can’t speak for Mike, but as for me, it’s not so much that I’m pro-Google; it’s more like I’m pro-Internet. I don’t want precedents that result in EVERYTHING on the Internet being pre-screened and actively monitored.

“Statute is not an absolute shield to responsibility under common law.”

Legally, it sure can be an absolute shield, depending on how the statute is written. Morally, no, it does not absolutely shield from responsibility.

“This isn’t burdensome”

That depends on what exactly they are required to do. Prescreening every video would be an unreasonable burden. And the types of videos described here are tougher to find than copyrighted videos – they can’t use ContentID to automatically find them because they don’t already have a copy.

JMT says:

Re: Another rant from Mike defending his "Precious".

“Google exists only by permission of society…”

And “society” seems to be pretty damn happy with the services Google offer.

“This isn’t burdensome…”

I would love to hear your proposal for pre-screening the “100 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute”. It should be good for a laugh if nothing else.

Baldaur Regis (profile) says:

I’m trying to remember the saying that goes something like ‘believe, but check your source’.

These two AGs seem to be part of a largish group of people whose lives would be immeasurably improved by learning to use the internet for non-lineal searches (e.g., checking the sources of their sources). Unfortunately, the best place to learn about using the internet…is on the internet. Perhaps their children will do better.

Doug D (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Don’t forget to ask Wells Fargo and Chase about criminals banking with them. Once a person has been accused of a crime (that’s close enough to a conviction, right?) the banks should have to document how much they have made from that criminal’s accounts and why they weren’t actively working to stem the criminal deposits.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

On one hand, I’m pretty sure that banks will call the FBI/IRS/DHS if they think that you’re using their banking services for money laundering.

On the other hand, we didn’t prosecute Bank of America when it turned out they had criminals working for them, so it’s clear that our priorities are screwed.

Anonymous Coward says:

so, hands up those who know the answer to this mind-boggling question?

it’s because it’s much easier to throw all the blame at an entity that hasn’t done anything wrong, so is standing in full view, than to have to conduct some investigations to discover who the actual perpetrators are and then take legal action against them.

i have no sympathy for Google from one point of view. it has sat back and let too many things wash over it too many times. it is inevitable that it is going to get the blame for things it hasn’t done (as well as things it has done) because it has no fight, it is seen as a pushover!

Anonymous Coward says:

How nice of them to not include any links, which allows us to speculate on the connection between the illegal activity and the sidebar advertisements “profiting” on them :

Videos promoting the sale of counterfeit merchandise that include sidebar advertisements for weight loss strategies.

which allows us to conclude that overweight people mostly buy counterfeit merchandise.

I learned something new today.

naprotector says:

Are they not?

Are these criminals that are posting these videos doing the public and law enforcement a favor?

A video lesson on how these illegal acts are accomplised, which cand result in raised awareness, methods and procedures to make the process much more difficult, and making it harder to fool the public?

Nah, we cannot be that smart or they cannot be that dumb.

madasahatter (profile) says:

AG idiocy

Their excuse is probably “protecting the children”. As Mike noted the real problem not the service provider but with the users who posted the content. If the content shows a crime or is itself illegal it is the user/poster who is responsible not a third party such as Google.

This smells like someone blaming the messenger (Google) and not the sender for the message. Also, most of the posters have modest means and pursuing each one is very laborious and not likely to net much. Suing Google theoretically has the potential of a large payout relative to the costs and is not very time consuming compared to suing thousands or millions of individuals.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Jurisdiction

I think these AG’s, and the others that have come before, might be behaving in this way because they lack jurisdiction to go after the actual perpetrators of the supposed crimes.

If the perp’s are not in their state, they can’t get them. For interstate crimes, they need to rely on the DOJ, and those folks are much too busy trying to read all that email they collected and prosecuting folks for negligible or even non-existent crimes.

Google on the other hand has some sort of presence in every state, or they wouldn’t be able to do their drive-abouts that collect the street view and open wireless locations.

iambinarymind (profile) says:

More Moronic Attorney Genitals

Can we please make these Attorney Genitals obsolete?

Step #1: Stop putting up with theft/extortion (i.e., “taxation”), as that is how said Attorney Genitals are paid. With there being no choice in the matter, the Attorney Genitals have no reason to do a good job or to think with reason/logic.

I prefer consensual relationships and voluntary exchange. Exchanges where if the customer isn’t happy, they can take their business elsewhere…and Attorney Genitals such as the one’s described in the story would not stay in business very long if they were to engage in such boondoggles of absurdity.

From the what-ain't-no-country-i've ever-heard-of says:

Get real

Right. I’m wondering when Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt are going to demand that Ford explain why bank robbers use their cars as escape vehicles, or when Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt are going to demand that AT&T explain why extortionists have used their phone services. —-

Come on. You’re better than this…….. a site you maintain is different from a product you sell.

From the what-ain't-no-country-i've ever-heard-of says:

Re: Re: Get real

In this context, how so? I fail to see why a site should be held responsible for crimes committed by it users when a product manufacturer is not held responsible for the crime committed by its users.

When you sell a product it comes under the exclusive control of the purchaser. Louisville Slugger is thus not held liable for the many crimes committed with its baseball bats. Same for Ford cars, AT&T phones, etc.

However, a website has servers which hosts content. Much like if you own a building and the law requires that you keep it up to code.

Understand that I’m not making the argument that the decision to go after Google in this instance is wise. But, Google takes down videos based on the supported allegations of copyright infringement by third-party content distribution companies. It stands to reason that if you are enforcing a private party’s copyright-right then you should monitor for compliance with criminal law. (Again, maybe the videos themselves aren’t illegal, but that is a separate issue.)

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Get real

Much like if you own a building and the law requires that you keep it up to code.

Actually, it’s not like that. That analogy would apply if you were arguing that there should be a legal requirement to properly maintain the servers and the software.

A better analogy is this: if you own a building and rent it out, you have no legal obligation to search the building regularly for evidence that it is being used for illegal purposes. Same with YouTube.

It stands to reason that if you are enforcing a private party’s copyright-right then you should monitor for compliance with criminal law.

But YouTube already does treat these two things the same way.

YouTube takes down content once someone has filed a DMCA notice. They also do the very same thing when someone points out that a video violates YouTube’s TOS (and the TOS prohibits all kinds of videos of the sort that are at issue here.)

The difference between the two is ContentID, which is YouTube doing a huge favor to the major content companies. They are not legally required to do this (and shouldn’t be). It barely works for detecting copyrighted content, and would be technically impossible to work even as well as that for detecting illegal actions. At least until we’ve perfected AI.

From the what-ain't-no-country-i've ever-heard-of says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Get real

A better analogy is this: if you own a building and rent it out, you have no legal obligation to search the building regularly for evidence that it is being used for illegal purposes. Same with YouTube.

Whatever, I’m not sure we even disagree. You’re analogy is better than comparing a YouTube video to a car used as a getaway vehicle, BUT there are specific laws that govern landlord-tenant law, which deal with privacy… which is not what we’re talking about with a public YouTube video.

Google makes money off of the advertising associated with the content on its website, and so putting aside a bigger debate about UGC, Google has an implied duty to monitor its site in some fashion. (If you disagree with this, then would you disagree with it in the context of someone posting child pornography or bomb-making instructions?). And, Google obviously does not disagree. Because it DOES monitors its site. And since it polices its site for civil violations against a third party, it should police its site for criminal violations in the public interest.

Baseball bats, cars, and phones…or any consumer product is an entirely different case. The landlord-tenant analogy doesn’t work because tenant’s have a right of privacy in their home. A better analogy would be dinner guests, who, like YouTube users are invited, and operate with the implied consent of the owner. I don’t know whether I would be found guilty if my houseguests did drugs outside, in the open, but I’m not going to take the risk to find out.

From the what-ain't-no-country-i've ever-heard-of says:

Re: Bergman

First, Google hosts the content (and makes money off of it). It is not just “sen[t] through their networks,” as would, you could argue, be the case with torrenting or cloud-sharing.

Second, no one on this forum has advocated for holding Google liable an infringing video. So even assuming your analogy to roads worked–and it doesn’t because you can’t sue public entities, in a lot of circumstances, for public policy reasons–it would not apply to this situation.

But, if, for example, you owned a private road, and you made money off of the use of that road, and then you also enforced third-party rights in your operation of that road (say, you worked with a boating company which you’re road had access to), then I would argue you have at least some duty to monitor for criminal activity.

I am not saying that Google should “responsible for what their customers send.” I am saying that, especially given their aggressive enforcement of third-party rights through DMCA, they may have an implied duty to monitor their website and take down videos that violate criminal statutes.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Bergman

I am not saying that Google should “responsible for what their customers send.” I am saying that, especially given their aggressive enforcement of third-party rights through DMCA, they may have an implied duty to monitor their website and take down videos that violate criminal statutes.

The courts are abundantly clear that there is NO implied duty to monitor. In both CDA 230 and DMCA 512 cases, the courts are pretty clear on this.

There may be some responsibility to take down certain content upon notification (and even then, some courts have found that under Section 230, it’s never the service provider’s fault), but that’s very different than a proactive duty to monitory.

From the what-ain't-no-country-i've ever-heard-of says:

Re: Re: Re: Bergman

What you are saying may be legally, technically, true. But Google is in violation of the spirit of the law in enforcing third-party IP rights against its own users.

In the post-PRISM world, why is the tech community giving Google a pass?

MrAnon (profile) says:

These AGs are sooo right! But they stop too soon! Google needs to ban videos on YouTube like Ylvis’ because “What Does the Fox Say?” teaches littl’uns that animals talk and creates dangerous psychological instabilities in the poor wee bairns. Videos showing video game cheats & exploits should also be banned because those other &$^(@&*$ players are kicking my butt!

But wait, there’s more! News videos must be banned, on YouTube and network ‘casts because they might lead me to believe that we live in a dangerous world where taunting a wild animal in a zoo might get my face torn off, or that Mother Nature can be a cruel bitch, or that some politicians are not trustworthy (oh, the disillusionment!)

On a serious note – how is YouTube/Google supposed to deal with issues that are illegal in one place but not another, like, say…smoking pot?

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