State Attorneys General Really Want To Go After Big Internet Companies; But Claim It's About Privacy, Not Bias

from the we'll-see... dept

We’ve written a few times about how Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ plan to meet with State Attorneys General about going after big internet companies for perceived political bias was a clear First Amendment problem. He still held the meeting earlier this week, and it appears that at least some of the attendees agreed that targeting how the platforms present content was likely a non-starter, even if Sessions apparently kept trying to raise it as an issue. From a Washington Post report that quotes a few people who were in attendance:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions opened the meeting by raising questions of possible ideological bias among the tech companies and sought to bring the conversation back to that topic at least twice more, according to D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine.

Of course, the fact that the others in attendance mostly pushed past the question of political bias isn’t exactly good news for the internet platforms, as the AGs apparently focused on other ways they could and should target the companies:

?We were unanimous. Our focus is going to be on antitrust and privacy. That?s where our laws are,? Jim Hood, Mississippi?s attorney general, said in an interview.

Of course, it seems like almost journalistic malpractice to quote Jim Hood talking about going after social media platforms without mentioning the fact that he was the centerpiece of a the conspiracy by the top movie studios to attack Google with nonsensical complaints about illegal things he found while doing searches on Google. If you don’t recall, the Sony hack revealed a plot by the legacy movie studios to have their lawyers effectively run an investigation for Jim Hood — and even the NY Times revealed that his eventual subpoena to Google was written by the MPAA’s lawyers. A judge reviewing Google’s legal fight with Hood noted that it seemed pretty clear that Hood’s actions were done in “bad faith.” So… consider me at least marginally skeptical that Hood is an objective voice on what is and is not appropriate for a state Attorney General to investigate regarding the big internet platforms.

Obviously, if there are real antitrust violations, then that’s a valid issue to explore. But, so many of the attacks themselves seem to be a hell of a lot more “politically biased” than any of the claims about how the internet companies themselves are politically biased.

And while there was some talk about the privacy practices of the various platforms (which, while they may be concerning, it’s not clear how any of them violate any laws…), some of the talk also involved an astounding incomprehension of the encryption discussion. And, for that, we’ll go back to Jim Hood again:

For other states, the issue was the tech industry?s relationship with law enforcement. That included talk about Apple and ?how we in law enforcement depend on cellphones.? Hood said that Apple has ?waved at us and didn?t use all their fingers? in its handling of encryption.

That is not at all an accurate portrayal of what happened. Apple was making sure that everyone’s information was safe by using strong encryption. The FBI sought to undermine that safety by demanding that Apple make a massive, and very dangerous, change to its software.

Indeed, it’s quite incredible for Hood to bring this up in the context of the AGs discussing “privacy” concerns about how the big tech companies handle data. If you want them to protect data, you want them to use strong encryption. Yet, here, Hood is whining that Apple dared to actually protect people’s privacy.

So… if tech companies actually protect people’s privacy with strong encryption, they get yelled at and threatened with legal action by Attorneys General. And if they don’t protect people’s privacy… they get yelled at and threatened with legal action by Attorneys General. Just what exactly are they supposed to do?

Again, it is entirely possible that these companies have violated various laws. Perhaps they’re in violation of antitrust laws, though the evidence there is lacking so far. But, from everything that’s been said coming out of this meeting, it does not inspire much confidence that there are reasonable and objective reasons for taking legal actions against these platforms. Instead — and this is all too typical for state AGs — there appears to be a lot of grandstanding and bluster without much substance.

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Companies: apple, facebook, google

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Comments on “State Attorneys General Really Want To Go After Big Internet Companies; But Claim It's About Privacy, Not Bias”

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49 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

In Europe the attack on the Internet is via Copyright Laws and privacy laws, while in the US it is via state Attorneys General, but in both cases there is the shadow on the legacy publishing industries one the action. Any bets that they are whispering in politicians ears that destruction of self publishing on the Internet makes it easier for politicians to control the narrative?

Puente says:

Re: So what?

but it’s the government’s solemn duty to regulate all business/commerce in America, especially communications businesses.

Regulation requires human Regulators. You can’t just pick and choose government regulators to your personal liking … those AG’s are there because they are smarter than you, with superior integrity. The duty of all citizens is to obey the regulators… not whine about them.
The American regulatory-model has been thoroughly perfected over the past century.

<sarcasm>

Jak Crow (profile) says:

Re: Re: So what?

It’s almost hilarious you’ve got these intellectually dishonest AGs considering somehow “breaking up” companies that can’t be broken up, functionally or legally, yet they sit back watching the telcom industry contract, losing more competition each year and the large telcos and cablecos becoming even bigger threats to competition, open and unfettered internet access, and free speech than a handful of social media companies that people don’t actually have to use.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Just like pasta, throw everything at the wall to see what sticks

“We were unanimous. Our focus is going to be on antitrust and privacy. That’s where our laws are,” Jim Hood, Mississippi’s attorney general, said in an interview.

No, that’s where your interest is, and only as applied to Google(in your case) and/or Facebook on the part of others who attended.

If you really cared about privacy and antitrust there are much better targets to go after, like say major ISP’s who fought and killed efforts to protect privacy, and have fought attempts to allow competition to enter the market such that they have effective, if not actual, monopolies in their areas.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Clarity would be good, no matter what you believe.

If we built more robust user-curation tools instead of leaving it to the platforms, everyone would be happier and at least a personal blacklist shared by people is opt-in, and not set by default as with platform-wide takedowns.

Sometimes I worry that the multinational nature of Google and other platforms means that they’re in the middle of dozens of kinds of "decency" laws worldwide. It may be a race to the bottom with the most restrictive country "winning" and everyone else losing. Easier to solve the moderation problem just by making one version of Facebook and Google and whatever else be the only one that exists.

Maybe it’s more a question of manpower vs. the money they’re willing to spend on hiring people to moderate. Given how overly capitalistic the platforms have become, it wouldn’t be that surprising.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

I just can't figure the angle...

Ok they want to go after the “big guys”. They supposedly have enough evidence to go after them with an anti-trust suit.

So far, so good – approve or not, they’re following established law.

WHY say something about *bias*, an obvious First Amendment violation?

To get votes? To make SURE that any suit is overturned on Malicious Prosecution claims?

Anonymous Coward says:

After they destroy social media for its obvious bias, I suppose the next target would be the people’s bias. According to polls, a majority of eligible voters do not like trump or his supreme court nominee. This bias obviously needs to be stopped at all cost (to the little people).

I’m certain that trump & friends would really like to have the kind of “loyalty” seen in North Korea. There is no bias in North Korea, there are some very fine people there.

ECA (profile) says:

Lots of solution..

Lets ask if its Proper to stand in a Park and declare anything you wish, anymore..
Not really. But you are supposed to be able to.

Lets do the same..Restrict ALL of them to their OWN CORNER..
Anyone wish to see or speak or debate them can wonder over to that corner..

LETS do the same for News… the EU keeps complaining…lets white wash EVERYTHING..

John Smith says:

The antitrust approach is sound. A company is not supposed to use dominance in one market (infrastructure) to exercise control over another (content).

Bias is fine if you don’t control 95 percent of search results, or X percent of conversations on your platform. A bias on this site would not run afoul of the law, while a bias in Google definitely would.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Google doesn’t control search results, that’s impossible. It does, however, curate them by removing objectionable and illegal content when it’s flagged up.

It also downgrades the search results on websites that try to game the system to get themselves higher up.

It only dominates search to the degree that it does because users don’t use other search engines, which you can discover by looking for them on Google. Therefore no antitrust action is required.

xz11111000000 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You need to learn more about how Google works. If you think “curation” ends at removing “objectionable” content you haven’t been paying close enough attention for the past decade.
Google has a virtual monopoly in most of it’s markets and uses its power accordingly, including the promotion of paid advertising it was forced by EU regulators to identify.
If I pump water out of the sea with a filter and a flow rate regulation device am I exercising control or merely “curating” the output?
Clue about Google search algorithms: not merely a pump and filter, and something Google, um, controls.
But nice try! You get one LOL for effort.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Clue about Google search algorithms: not merely a pump and filter, and something Google, um, controls.

Sure. But Google does not control who uses Google Search. Google has a huge market share because people CHOOSE to use Google Search. How can it be a monopoly if there are other options available? I think you are confusing "popular" with "monopoly".

I guess I just don’t understand why Google needs to held to different standards then other companies just because they were good at what they did and became hugely successful because of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“The antitrust approach is sound. A company is not supposed to use dominance in one market (infrastructure) to exercise control over another (content).”

If I read the above correctly, I assume you are claiming that our benevolent overlords want to disallow large corporations from holding both ISP and platform(s). This is counter to what I have read about their (GOP) legislative Christmas List.

I do not think they want to split up any of them along the lines of infrastructure / content as that would make too much sense. No, they usually go for the more insane and stupid possibilities.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The antitrust approach is sound. A company is not supposed to use dominance in one market (infrastructure) to exercise control over another (content).

That sounds more like what a company like Comcast-NBCUniversal does, as opposed to Google, yet I don’t hear you wining about Comcast.
 

 

Bias is fine if you don’t control 95 percent of search results, or X percent of conversations on your platform.

 

Ahhh, we have another "Blueism", where he pulls made-up rules from his ass.
 

And just so you know, Google does not "control 95 percent of search results". Google may have a 95% market share for internet searches, but that is because 95% of the people CHOOSE to use Google over the multiple other available options.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Comcast was not the subject until you injected it.

 

That’s true. So what? When read that sentence I immediately thought of Comcast and expressed my thoughts.

Also, I was responding to a long-time commentor who uses various monikers but is easily recognizable by his verbiage and his ongoing hard-on against all things Google, but thank you for interjecting your opinions anyways.

Ryunosuke (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So I am curious, and I looked up provisions on what would constitute an anti-trust lawsuit.

Horizontal Mergers – It’s not this because there are PLENTY of alternative search engines out there that one can use. There is also no “no-compete” clause that I am aware of, like ISP’s (HINT HINT).

Vertical Mergers – Google Fiber isn’t deployed in a large enough area to 0-rate Google Search (Why would you do that anyway?) Other Alphabet holdings are mostly R&D with a couple of investment firms.

it seems clear as day this anti-trust suit is bullshit.

Jak Crow (profile) says:

Re: where is the problem??

Yes, an “idea” that came from a former CEO of at&t that one day came up with the horrible idea of double-dipping on content providers to pay up or be blocked from at&t’s customers, like somehow someone was getting a free ride somewhere despite everyone involved already paying for their bandwidth. Now THAT is anti-trust, if it wasn’t for the fact there’s a verizon lawyer running the FCC right now.

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