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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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2018 @ 1:53pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jak Crow (profile), 26 Sep 2018 @ 1:56pm

    So what?

    Who cares if these companies have biases? If that's how they operate and someone doesn't like that, don't use their platforms. It ironic a bunch of republicans are acting like so-called snowflakes looking for "safe spaces" to spout off their right wing crap.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2018 @ 2:15pm

      Re: So what?

      It's not the platforms they want. It's the captive audience.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Puente, 26 Sep 2018 @ 3:37pm

      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>

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Jak Crow (profile), 26 Sep 2018 @ 4:47pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Wendy Cockcroft, 27 Sep 2018 @ 5:59am

          Re: Re: Re: So what?

          See how quickly that would change if the ISPs and telecom services booted them off for abusive behaviour.

          We're talking instant 180 degree turn, here.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2018 @ 8:10am

          Re: Re: Re: So what?

          considering somehow "breaking up" companies that can't be broken up, functionally or legally

          Functionally, Google would be no harder than AT&T to break up. (Search, Mail, Play, Android, Doubleclick, ...)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2018 @ 9:14am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: So what?

            Breaking up Google will not fix the fundamental problem, and that is companies collecting as much data about people as possible. That requires laws to limit what data companies can collect, and how long they can keep it.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Jak Crow (profile), 27 Sep 2018 @ 11:08am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: So what?

            Oh right. We can't have a software company making all that software, can we?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              JEDIDIAH, 27 Sep 2018 @ 2:45pm

              Re: So what?

              No. It's a bad idea to have a "software trust " or a "platform trust".

              A software or network monopoly is just as bad as any other for the same exact reasons the others are bad.

              You are just applying the rules as it suits you and your political tribalism.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2018 @ 2:54pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: So what?

              The point was that it could be broken up, not that it should be. The breakup of AT&T may not have accomplished much in the end; we've still got giant minimally-competitive telcos, including an AT&T.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Jak Crow (profile), 27 Sep 2018 @ 4:57pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: So what?

                Well yeah, it "could" be broken up using no legitimate reason, except again, no one is being forced to use these apps. You can use an android device and not use gmail or google search. There are lot of android devices that already do that.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2018 @ 2:19pm

    Sessions is the kind of guy I'd love to take a bong rip with

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 26 Sep 2018 @ 2:37pm

    There is no limit to the amount of the publics money these asshats will burn to try and get reelection soundbites.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 26 Sep 2018 @ 2:38pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ryunosuke (profile), 27 Sep 2018 @ 9:51am

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

      Jim Hood... wasn't he the AG mole for the MPAA that wanted to shut google down for "Because we are no longer the gatekeepers we once were and we want google to pay us!" that had that MPAA written lawsuit about 5 years ago?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 29 Sep 2018 @ 12:28am

        'I have no idea who wrote the letter I sent out.'

        Not even five years, TD had an article on Dec of 2014 about how he'd sent a letter that was almost entirely written by the MPAA's lawyers, despite claiming that he had no idea who they were and that he'd never met them.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2018 @ 2:48pm

    On one hand they say private business can discriminate and yet on the other hand they say private business can not discriminate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2018 @ 8:30pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2018 @ 7:36am

        Re: Re:

        Clearly, there is no solution to this problem. Never has been and never will be.

        Now, what to do about it? Well, there will be plenty of solutions offered and they will certainly make a lot of money for some if implemented but it will not solve anything.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Monkey (profile), 26 Sep 2018 @ 2:49pm

    Were you now ...?

    "We were unanimous"...

    So, you're saying that you're not now? So ... what happened? Others realized that it wasn't gonna go your way and backed out?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 26 Sep 2018 @ 4:07pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2018 @ 4:52pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 26 Sep 2018 @ 7:00pm

    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..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Smith, 26 Sep 2018 @ 10:24pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 27 Sep 2018 @ 6:03am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2018 @ 7:45am

        Re: Re:

        Sorta is a reflection of the user's preferences, yeah?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Wendy Cockcroft, 28 Sep 2018 @ 5:48am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Precisely. And the fact that they're uninterested in other search engines for whatever reason. Competition requires that the punters check out competitors. If they're not doing that, it's not Google's fault.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        xz11111000000 (profile), 27 Sep 2018 @ 8:21am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Gwiz (profile), 27 Sep 2018 @ 9:06am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2018 @ 9:23am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            The pretzel logic seen in their attempts is quite impressive at times, although it has become a bit boring lately.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Ryunosuke (profile), 27 Sep 2018 @ 9:55am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              nothing from stopping you using bing, duckduckgo, aol, ask.com, etc.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2018 @ 12:52pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                No - I mean the twisted logic that gets some to the point of saying search engines are censoring them

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2018 @ 2:51am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Well, what do you expect from a pack that has decided on its next prey, and are discussing how to bring it down? Doesn't this sound a lot like them going after Backpages?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2018 @ 7:44am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2018 @ 8:03am

      Re:

      Which law, specifically, is "bias" violating?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gwiz (profile), 27 Sep 2018 @ 8:12am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        xz11111000000 (profile), 27 Sep 2018 @ 8:26am

        Re: Re:

        Comcast was not the subject until you injected it.
        I offer a list of 1,000 things I don’t hear you complaining about but my strawman is hungry and I need to feed on another thread.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Gwiz (profile), 27 Sep 2018 @ 8:50am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2018 @ 9:27am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Comcast was not the subject until you injected it."

          Smith did that when he said the line should be drawn between infrastructure and content.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Jak Crow (profile), 27 Sep 2018 @ 11:12am

        Re: Re:

        Talk of anti-trust against companies like google or facebook can't be taken seriously while ignoring real anti-trust violations by companies like Comcast, at&t, verizon, disney, etc.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ryunosuke (profile), 27 Sep 2018 @ 10:48am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2018 @ 1:52pm

      Re:

      It’s only bias when your side does not run things right john?
      See that ? That’s a bad faith argument. That’s what you are doing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2018 @ 3:52pm

      Re:

      Sue them you pussy. Or are you gonna get you big brother to beat up google?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 27 Sep 2018 @ 2:07am

    where is the problem??

    What do you consider BIG??
    The amount of media that is owned by 1-4 corps??
    Cellphones, Wired Phone, Cable and SAT TV, and the ISP..

    Google and many of the rest dont OWN that stuff..
    But those corps want the Other services that they have NO CONTROL over to Pay...in some way..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jak Crow (profile), 27 Sep 2018 @ 5:05pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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