Content Moderation At Scale Is Impossible: Google Removes Podcast Addict From Play Store Because It Has COVID-19 Related Podcasts

from the the-fight-against-misinformation-has-consequences dept

Today's example of the Masnick Impossibility Theorem is quite a doozy. Podcast Addict, a very popular mobile podcast player, says that Google removed its app from the Play Store, supposedly for violating Google's new rules related to COVID-19. Like pretty much all big internet platforms, Google's Play Store is trying to combat "misinformation" and "disinformation" about COVID-19. A few months back we saw this issue play out with Google advertisements, in which it was blocking politicians from advertising about the failed response of various elected officials to the pandemic, because it said only "official" government entities could advertise about COVID-19.

In this case, the "problem" seems to be that via Podcast Addict... you can get podcasts about COVID-19:

As the notice says, the app has been suspended because "apps referencing COVID-19, or related terms, in any form will only be approved for distribution on Google Play if they are published, commissioned, or authorized by official government entities or public health organizations." But, uh, the app doesn't "reference" COVID-19. It just had podcasts about it (as, I should note, does Google's own podcasting app and YouTube).

Podcast Addict has also clarified that it made no mention of COVID-19 in any of its description or keywords. It wasn't promoting its app as a way to get COVID-19 info (though, even if it did, it seems like that shouldn't be a problem).

So, at the very least, it's a little perplexing why Google's Play Store removed the app, but it's almost certainly yet another example of the Impossibility Theorem: I'm sure that the Play Store has a bunch of people frantically trying to spot and pull down a variety of apps that are spewing dangerous mis- and disinformation (and, rest assured that when they inevitably miss some, reporters and others will quickly call out the company's "failure" to properly police this stuff). And somehow, the sweep of such apps got Podcast Addict caught up in the mess, most likely because a bunch of podcasts right now are talking about COVID-19, and a few new podcasts have sprung up recently entirely focused on the pandemic. I don't remember how Podcast Addict works exactly (I had tried it out last year, but went with a different app personally), but it's likely that it would have parts of its app promoting popular or trending podcasts, and it's likely that some COVID-19 ones would be in that list. That's not a good reason to remove such an app (and if it were, a ton of other platform related apps should be pulled too...), but it is at least a possible reason for why it happened.

That's not a good thing, by any stretch of the imagination, and hopefully Google fixes this quickly. Also, Google could do more to be transparent about how it decided to remove Podcast Addict, and what processes it's putting in place to avoid those kinds of mistakes in the future. But, again, it's doing all of this while simultaneously trying to keep other, actually problematic, apps out of its store, because lots and lots of reporters have published stories slamming Google repeatedly for allowing "dangerous" apps in its store in the past.

Meanwhile, in an odd twist, the Google Play Store's Twitter account responded to Podcast Addict's Twitter account to suggest they were escalating this issue:

Hopefully this gets fixed soon.

Filed Under: apps, content moderation, content moderation at scale, covid-19, masnick's impossibility theorem, play store, podcasts
Companies: google, podcast addict


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  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 11:57am

    In the meantime…

    I guess people can sideload the Podcast Addict app into their Android phones and tablets. While I no longer have an Android phone and am an iOS user now (because of the consistency of there being less bugs on iDevices than Android Devices (I should know, I test them for my job)), I do miss the ability to install apps that were denied from the Google Play Store on the phone. Fortunately, I still have 2 Barnes & Noble Nooks in case I need an Android device…

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  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 12:02pm

    While I am sure this was just an accident and a case of overzealous automation, I could imagine that a lawsuit could be crafted saying that Google is using it's dominant market position to harm a competitor. Have to love the double standard Google has for itself and other apps.

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    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 12:04pm

      Re:

      I could imagine that a lawsuit could be crafted saying that Google is using it's dominant market position to harm a competitor.

      No need to go that route just yet. Here's why:

      1. Google has yet to resolve the situation
      2. Apple does that all the time and it's not illegal. I don't like it either but it's not illegal.

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      • icon
        btr1701 (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 3:04pm

        Re: Re:

        Apple does that all the time and it's not illegal. I don't like it either but it's not illegal.

        It's not illegal yet because a court hasn't ruled it to be. There's a pretty good chance one would if Google was found to be censoring podcast apps for rules it doesn't adhere to with its own podcast app.

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      • icon
        Taur10 (profile), 20 May 2020 @ 8:02am

        Re: Re:

        Ah, but does Apple have a podcast app? If not, that would make the difference here

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        • icon
          Thad (profile), 20 May 2020 @ 10:08am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Of course Apple has a podcast app. Where did you think the "pod" in "podcast" came from?

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          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 21 May 2020 @ 12:40am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Well, to be fair it was originally a section in iTunes rather than a separate app. But, yes, it is certainly a separate app now.

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            • icon
              Thad (profile), 22 May 2020 @ 9:10am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Well, to be fair it was originally a section in iTunes rather than a separate app.

              Yes, because podcasts predate the iPhone and the App Store. Again, the platform they were designed for is right there in their name.

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    • icon
      btr1701 (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 3:09pm

      Re:

      Other media reporting on this indicates the developer is talking directly with Google, so this isn't some 'moderation at scale impossibility" thing. Google is dealing with this guy individually, which means they're making this decision about this specific guy and this specific issue.

      Beyond the massive censorship issues raised here where Google-- the most massive communication company on the planet-- won't allow any discussion of the most significant event of the last 20 years unless it has the government's stamp of approval, is that Google is making the podcast player responsible for the speech of everyone that uses it.

      That's like holding Google itself responsible if someone uses one of their phones to call in a bomb threat.

      I bet they'd scream like a scalded cat if the government tried to do that to them, but they have no problem holding others to that standard.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2020 @ 3:34pm

        Re: Re:

        so this isn't some 'moderation at scale impossibility" thing.

        Considering that that conversation didn't start until after the action had been taken, it is a moderation at scale issue. The app developer is lucky that he managed to gain the attention of someone at Google to try and get the problem resolved, probably because there are enough angry users of the app to make enough noise so that Google hears it.

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      • icon
        Mike Masnick (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 3:49pm

        Re: Re:

        Other media reporting on this indicates the developer is talking directly with Google

        "Other media" including this story itself?

        so this isn't some 'moderation at scale impossibility" thing

        No, it still is. Even though the company is interacting with him, they're still dealing with the flood of other apps as well.

        Google is dealing with this guy individually, which means they're making this decision about this specific guy and this specific issue.

        That does not appear to be the case. If you read his latest tweets. Yes, the company reached out and asked for details to escalate the issue, but once he sent the details, he got caught in some ridiculous customer service automation loop in which they just kept sending him the same nonsense series of DMs in a row.

        There is no evidence that any human is dealing with this issue yet.

        That's like holding Google itself responsible if someone uses one of their phones to call in a bomb threat.

        Yes, to some extent, but again, very different from an issue involving gov't (like the bomb threat) to a private company, who remains free to moderate, even stupidly.

        I bet they'd scream like a scalded cat if the government tried to do that to them, but they have no problem holding others to that standard.

        Yes, but again, government and private company are two very different things.

        You know that, right?

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        • icon
          btr1701 (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 5:21pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I bet they'd scream like a scalded cat if the government tried to do that to them, but they have no problem holding others to that standard.

          Yes, but again, government and private company are two very different things.

          They're only two different things with regard to constitutional law. It's not different when it comes to basic issues of liability (and stupidity).

          The government could hold Google legally liable for people who misuse its products. It would be stupid and unfair, but there's no constitutional prohibition that would invalidate such a law.

          And, of course, on just a basic level of morality, there is no difference between the government doing it and Google doing it. Both are equally immoral, as is Google's censorship of anything other than the party line.

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          • icon
            Mike Masnick (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 5:40pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            They're only two different things with regard to constitutional law. It's not different when it comes to basic issues of liability (and stupidity).

            Um. This is a nonsensical statement. There is nothing to respond to because it means nothing.

            The government could hold Google legally liable for people who misuse its products.

            It could, but why would it? And what does that have to do with the question at hand?

            It would be stupid and unfair, but there's no constitutional prohibition that would invalidate such a law.

            Actually, the 1st Amendment would likely invalidate much of that law if it involved punishing a platform for choices it made about what speech it allowed on its own platform.

            And, of course, on just a basic level of morality, there is no difference between the government doing it and Google doing it.

            You can't be serious? You honestly cannot be this clueless?

            Both are equally immoral, as is Google's censorship of anything other than the party line.

            OMG. You are that clueless. You have every right to kick an asshole out of your house, don't you? Is that immoral? Then why is it immoral for a private company to kick an asshole out of its property?

            What do you have against private property, anyway? You always present yourself as a more "property rights" kind of guy, yet here you're arguing that its "immoral" for a company to curate its own property? REALLY?

            A government kicking someone out is a different issue entirely.

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            • icon
              btr1701 (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 7:00pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              This is a nonsensical statement. There is nothing to respond to because it means nothing.

              That's simply not true. It's not nonsensical at all and it clearly does mean exactly what I said.

              It could, but why would it?

              Money, power, who knows? Not sure why the government's motivation matters here. It's a hypothetical.

              And what does that have to do with the question at hand?

              It was an analogy.

              Actually, the 1st Amendment would likely invalidate much of that law if it involved punishing a platform for choices it made about what speech it allowed on its own platform.

              Which isn't the scenario I posited. I said the government could hold Google legally liable for people who misuse its products, like committing a crime by calling in a bomb threat or running a credit card fraud scheme. Not punishing the platform for its censorship choices.

              You have every right to kick an asshole out of your house, don't you? Then why is it immoral for a private company to kick an asshole out of its property?

              The great thing about morals is that, unlike the law, everyone has their own and yours are not the objective standard by which all others are judged. My kitchen hasn't become a de facto town square the way the social media giants have. Acting as if the two are equivalent is what's truly nonsensical here and it's not 'clueless' to factor that into one's moral beliefs.

              I understand what the law says and I'm not arguing that Google can be legally sanctioned for its censorship, but I can hold the opinion that their actions are nevertheless immoral and that doesn't make me 'clueless' merely because it doesn't line up with your own personal beliefs.

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              • icon
                Stephen T. Stone (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 7:43pm

                I said the government could hold Google legally liable for people who misuse its products, like committing a crime by calling in a bomb threat or running a credit card fraud scheme.

                The government doesn’t hold responsible the companies that sell mobile phones and mobile phone service when someone uses a mobile phone to facilitate criminal acts. For what reason should the government hold Google responsible if someone uses its products for the same purpose?

                Not punishing the platform for its censorship choices.

                I can’t believe I have to repost this again so soon, but the reposting will continue until some of y’all that need it find some goddamn sense:

                Moderation is a platform operator saying “we don’t do that here”. Discretion is you saying “I won’t do that there”. Censorship is someone saying “you can’t do that anywhere” before or after threats of either violence or government intervention.

                The great thing about morals is that, unlike the law, everyone has their own and yours are not the objective standard by which all others are judged.

                Yours haven’t become that standard, either. Don’t act like it.

                My kitchen hasn't become a de facto town square the way the social media giants have. Acting as if the two are equivalent is what's truly nonsensical here

                Even if I accept the idea that social media platforms have become a “de facto town square”, that doesn’t make them any less privately owned. To say their status makes them “public property” or some theoretical equivalent makes no sense when you consider the law instead of your personal moral righteousness.

                I'm not arguing that Google can be legally sanctioned for its censorship

                You do sound as if you think it should be legally sanctioned for its moderation decisions, though. Last time I checked, the United States has a law about interactive web services, moderation decisions, and the legality thereof. We refer to it as “Section 230”.

                that doesn't make me 'clueless' merely because it doesn't line up with your own personal beliefs

                Your ignorance, real or willful, of the laws surrounding moderation decisions and legal liability makes you “clueless”.

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                • icon
                  btr1701 (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 2:20am

                  Re:

                  The government doesn’t hold responsible the companies that sell mobile phones and mobile phone service when someone uses a mobile phone to facilitate criminal acts.

                  No kidding. That's why I said Google would find it outrageous if the government did do that.

                  Not punishing the platform for its censorship choices.

                  I can’t believe I have to repost this again so soon, but... moderation is a platform operator saying “we don’t do that here”.

                  No kidding. That's why I said my example was NOT-- note the word "not"-- not the government punishing Google for its platform censorship choices.

                  As for your self-serving definition of censorship, the actual definition from the dictionary I pulled down off my shelf just now is NOT -- note the word "not"-- "you can't do that anywhere", as you claimed. It reads: "The practice of examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts, usually but not always done by government officials". That fits Google's behavior.

                  Yours haven’t become that standard, either. Don’t act like it.

                  Never said they were and I'm not. I only ever spoke for myself and I was exceedingly clear about that.

                  makes no sense when you consider the law instead of your personal moral righteousness.

                  But I WASN'T considering the law. I acknowledged that the law allows for Google's behavior here. All I was considering was the morality of the situation and I consider their actions immoral. You may not. That's great. But you're no more 'correct' on the morality issue than I am. Each of us can have different beliefs on what is right and wrong with regard to this issue independent of what the law says about it.

                  I'm not arguing that Google can be legally sanctioned for its censorship

                  You do sound as if you think it should be legally sanctioned for its moderation decisions

                  Well, buddy, I don't know what to tell you. I clearly and unambiguously stated that I acknowledged the law was on Google's side here. I don't know what else I can do. If me saying straight up that Google can't be sanctioned legally for its behavior and you still somehow think that means I'm saying the exact opposite of the words I type, then the problem lies with you and your ability to comprehend plain English.

                  Last time I checked, the United States has a law about interactive web services, moderation decisions, and the legality thereof. We refer to it as “Section 230”.

                  No shit. Once more for the cheap seats:

                  I'M NOT ARGUING THAT GOOGLE CAN BE LEGALLY SANCTIONED FOR ITS CENSORSHIP. THE LAW IS ON THEIR SIDE.

                  Maybe the all-caps will enable it to penetrate your skull and we can dispense with the condescending little lessons about what "we" refer to the law as.

                  Your ignorance, real or willful, of the laws surrounding moderation decisions and legal liability makes you “clueless”.

                  Holy fucking balls, what is it with you? I said-- for the fourth time now-- I know and acknowledge what the law says and how it allows for Google's actions.

                  Someone here is certainly clueless and it ain't me.

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                  • icon
                    PaulT (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 2:43am

                    Re: Re:

                    "I'M NOT ARGUING THAT GOOGLE CAN BE LEGALLY SANCTIONED FOR ITS CENSORSHIP. THE LAW IS ON THEIR SIDE."

                    But, you apparently are arguing that they should be able to be sanctioned for it, which is what other people are responding to. The law doesn't allow for this at the moment - but there's a very good reason for that.

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                  • icon
                    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 4:28am

                    That's why I said Google would find it outrageous if the government did do that.

                    But you did say the government could try, and you didn’t object to that idea in the slightest even though you claim to know the law says such an attempt would fail.

                    I said my example was NOT-- note the word "not"-- not the government punishing Google for its platform censorship choices

                    You called it “censorship”. I’ll get to why you made a mistake there, but first…

                    the actual definition from the dictionary I pulled down off my shelf just now is NOT -- note the word "not"-- "you can't do that anywhere", as you claimed. It reads: "The practice of examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts, usually but not always done by government officials". That fits Google's behavior.

                    …I wanted to put that quote up there so I can dismantle it at the same time.

                    When I say that “[c]ensorship is someone saying ‘you can’t do that anywhere’ before or after threats of either violence or government intervention”, I mean it. Google can’t censor books, movies, etc. — not in the sense that it can fully suppress speech. If Google boots your speech from any of its services, you can repost it anywhere else. Google can’t stop you from reposting it and the booting of your speech shouldn’t make you feel like you can’t speak. Now compare getting the boot from YouTube to, oh, I’unno, being arrested by the police for criticizing a government official. Because that literally happened in the story described in the article on which you are commenting.

                    Moderation doesn’t involve legal threats or government action. Censorship does. Until you can prove that YouTube banning someone for violating its TOS equals someone being arrested for criticizing the government, you won’t convince me to change my bit or stop believing in it. I meant what I said and I said what I meant; you need to bring more than some weak-ass dissent.

                    I clearly and unambiguously stated that I acknowledged the law was on Google's side here.

                    And yet, as I said above, you at least implied that the law shouldn’t cover Google’s ass.

                    condescending

                    I’ll stop condescending when you stop doing it, sweetie.

                    I know and acknowledge what the law says and how it allows for Google's actions.

                    Ah, but you never answered a key question: How much do you wish the law didn’t cover Google’s ass?

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                    • icon
                      Paul (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 9:26am

                      Re:

                      Why do you hold that censorship means total suppression of speech? That's certainly not at all the way it was discussed in my long-gone years of j-school. In much the same way that you can have a monopoly in a five-player market, you can have censorship (or, as often argued here, just-as-impactful chilling effects) when a megacorporation or publisher or HR department polices speech on "their" communication platform.

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                      • icon
                        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 10:55am

                        Lemme go through my bit one by one to explain my position.

                        • Moderation is a platform operator saying “we don’t do that here”. Inspired by an article on that phrase, I attribute the phrase to moderation because any such decision essentiallly comes down to saying that phrase. A platform like Twitter has rules that everyone must follow — the Terms of Service — and it ostensibly gives warnings to people who break those rules. One could easily construe that warning to mean “we don’t do that here”: Twitter doesn’t care if you do “it” elsewhere, but it doesn’t want you doing “it” on Twitter. A decision to suspend or ban a user for repeated violations of the rules means the same thing, but has the force of actual consequences (in this case, expulsion from the service) to back it up. And in case I need to remind you or anyone else, Twitter has no obligation of any kind to host any third party speech, let alone speech its TOS already says it won’t host.

                        • Discretion is you saying “I won’t do that there”. Some may call this “self-censorship”, but “discretion” has a more positive air to it — a sense of personal responsibility, if you will. You know that you could say something offensive on Twitter, but you also know that Twitter could go “we don’t do that here” to you for saying it. You weigh the pros and cons, then decide that instead of saying the thing on Twitter, you’ll say it elsewhere. (Twitter can’t stop you from doing that, after all.) You chose discretion over impulsive behavior — i.e., you chose not to do the thing there.

                        • Censorship is someone saying “you can’t do that anywhere” before or after threats of either violence or government intervention. Y’know the article that came after this one, the one about Hungary’s government using its new power to have critics silenced — which featured a story of a man whom the police arrested for criticizing a government leader? That is censorship. When the government does something to either suppress speech from public view (e.g., the Trump administration hiding CDC guidelines for reopening the country despite people knowing those guidelines exist), chill future speech (e.g., the man in Hungary saying he would post fewer criticisms of government leaders after his arrest), or otherwise silence people (e.g., the police arresting that man in Hungary in the first place), that counts as censorship.

                          But censorship also comes into play when lay people use the power of government for the purpose of suppressing speech: Devin Nunes’s lawsuits against his Twitter critics, Trump’s lawsuits (threatened or real) against his myriad critics, or Shiva Ayyadurai’s lawsuit against Techdirt all give us examples of people trying to suppress speech through the power of the courts (a government institution).

                          Such people, and such efforts, all come down to one phrase: “you can’t do that anywhere”, with “do that” meaning “express this specific idea”. And unless Twitter can legally leverage some kind of government power to stop you from saying something on any platform instead of Twitter alone, that platform (or any other platform like it) can’t engage in censorship.

                        Therein lies the differences between moderation, discretion, and censorship.

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                        • icon
                          unimpoachable (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 11:04am

                          Re:

                          I asked you a "why" question and you responded with a "what" answer. I understand the distinction you are trying to make and am asking why you are insisting on it.

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                          • icon
                            Stephen T. Stone (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 11:18am

                            I owe you no explanation for why I do what I do. Die mad about it.

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                            • icon
                              unimpoachable (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 1:21pm

                              Re:

                              It's really quite interesting that you've ended the conversation this way. You clearly want to assert your own definition of "censorship" across conversations, but also want anyone who doesn't understand to...die mad pondering over your motivations. Forgive me, but does that sound particularly cohesive to you? This odd sort of flippant end to conversations has never made particular sense to me--I'd rather have thought it a clear signal that you weren't participating in good faith, but you seem quite happy with it.

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                              • icon
                                Stephen T. Stone (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 1:48pm

                                I assert a definition of censorship, not the definition. Whether anyone else agrees with it, I largely don’t care. But since you will apparently only feel satisfied if I explain myself…fine, I’ll give you the explanation: I do it to keep my arguments coherent and cohesive across multiple conversations. When new information of perspectives cause me to change those arguments, I do so.

                                The bit I do now on moderation/discretion/censorship coalesced after many years of consideration of censorship, how people in general define it, and how I define it for discussions like these. It also takes into account how platforms moderate speech, including the legal protections for those decisions. However distasteful I might think of a decision to ban legal speech from a platform, so long as that platform doesn’t assert a right to stop that speech from showing up anywhere else, I don’t call it censorship. I’d urge others to join me in that regardless of whether they do, but that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) carry any weight.

                                And when I say “I owe you no explanation”, I mean it. I told you what I do and how I do it; at no point do you deserve to know “why” unless what I do or how I do it affects you. And that idea applies to the inverse as well: You owe me no explanation for why you replied to me or why you think or feel a certain way about what I said.

                                As for “die mad about it”: Typically, people don’t like hearing that someone doesn’t owe them an explanation for something. “Die mad about it” means “you can stay angry about it for the rest of your life, but that still doesn’t mean I’ll tell you”. If someone can’t deal with that, well…repeating the phrase in that situation seems redundant.

                                No one needs to know why I assert the difference between moderation, discretion, and censorship for them to have a discussion about it with me. When someone says they want to, need to, or must know why, I have no choice but to question their motives. You have my arguments laid before you; must you really know why I made them to argue against them?

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                                • icon
                                  unimpoachable (profile), 20 May 2020 @ 5:42am

                                  Re:

                                  I think you make the point perfectly yourself when you say that me being curious why you're asserting the definitions you are makes you question my motives. Surely, then, you understand why I'm curious of your motives, if you're curious of mine?

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              • icon
                PaulT (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 11:05pm

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

                "I said the government could hold Google legally liable for people who misuse its products"

                Why would they do that? The post office has never been found responsible for threatening letters, hone companies have never been held responsible for threatening hone call, knife companies have never been held responsible for stabbings, why should Google be held responsible for people misusing their products?

                "My kitchen hasn't become a de facto town square the way the social media giants have"

                I'll ask the same question your type has never been able to answer - what is the magic size a company has to be before it loses its rights? Also, do they regain those rights once they get smaller?

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                • icon
                  btr1701 (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 2:30am

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

                  I'll ask the same question your type has never been able to answer - what is the magic size a company has to be before it loses its rights?

                  That would be determined by a court. The same way they figured out what the magic size the phone company had to become before it was broken up by the judiciary for the good of the country.

                  Also, do they regain those rights once they get smaller?

                  Probably. It would depend on their ability to influence the political process of the nation.

                  For the life of me I'll never understand why your type clutch their pearls and run for the fainting couch over "Russian interference" that turned out to have zero measurable influence on the actual election, but you seem bizarrely sanguine with the monolithic sway a handful of unelected tech overlords in Silicon Valley have over the country's public discourse and political communications.

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                  • icon
                    PaulT (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 2:41am

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

                    "That would be determined by a court"

                    OK. What criteria should they be using to determine that? I'm just interested to see what aspect of these companies make them in need of being seized by the government in your opinion.

                    "The same way they figured out what the magic size the phone company had to become"

                    That wasn't about size, it was about it being a literal monopoly. None of the sites you're complaining about fit that criteria.

                    "Probably. It would depend on their ability to influence the political process of the nation."

                    So, your problem is with political speech, of which most of the communications on those platforms are not. Which is interesting, since what you seem to be proposing is that the government seize and control these sites because you don't agree with the way their political free speech rights are being exercised. Which is a little more troubling than the fact that some of their users misuse the platform to spread misinformation.

                    "For the life of me I'll never understand why your type clutch their pearls and run for the fainting couch over "Russian interference" "

                    For the life of my I'm not sure what qualities the fictional version of me you just invented has, but they probably won't fit with the one in the real world.

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

                  • icon
                    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 4:42am

                    Okay, so…let me get a couple things clear here about your little theoretical.

                    You think a social media company that reaches a certain size should lose its legal rights. But you didn’t come up with a cogent argument for determining the moment at which a company reaches “hi, we’re the government, and we’re here to take over your shit” status.

                    In lieu of such an argument, you assert that the courts can figure out that magical “too big” size requirement like it figured out how to bust up the phone company. But you didn’t (and possibly can’t) come up with an argument that explains why the courts should come down as hard on a non-monopoly as it did on an actual monopoly.

                    And now you say that any social media company that loses its rights could get those rights back. But doing so “would depend on their ability to influence the political process of the nation”.

                    Fox News can influence the political process of the nation. So can the New York Times. So can fucking Infowars. I don’t see you calling for those entities to face some sort of government interference because of their size and their “ability to influence the political process of the nation”. What makes Twitter, Facebook, etc. so special that you think the government should literally take them over at some arbitrary moment, revoke all their rights, and only give those rights back when they can no longer “influence the political process of the nation” to some arbitrary degree?

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

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2020 @ 11:50am

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

                    Are for example McDonald's restaurants to be considered a de facto public square, or are they entitled to ban people whose objectionable speech upsets the majority of their customers.

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

              • icon
                Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 2:51am

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

                "My kitchen hasn't become a de facto town square the way the social media giants have."

                So if your kitchen de facto became a town square then that kitchen becoming nationalized is, in your moral argument, ok?

                You realize you've just managed to arrive to a justification for nationalizing private property normally only seen in classical communism?

                "...but I can hold the opinion that their actions are nevertheless immoral..."

                Plenty of crap to be said about how Google does things. But in this case let's examine your own argument, above, which provides the conclusion that if Google doesn't govern the part of the covid debate on their platforms with an iron fist then that lack of moderation will be the lever used to sanction them even worse. Thanks to a lot of disingenious shit brought mainly by the current GOP and the various lobbies of data gatekeeper corporations, Google is now stuck in Morton's Fork.

                They only get to pick the lesser of two evils.

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

            • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
              identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2020 @ 9:44am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Masnick and his acolytes in the comment section will twist and turn and do and say whatever is necessary to justify corporate censorship.

              The left wing used to be the side in support of the concept of Free Speech - capitalized here to capture that I mean the general spirit of Free Speech, not just the legalism/1st Amendment/"it's only censorship if the government does it" stuff - while the old fuddy-duddy conservatives were the ones wanting to protect the delicate sensibilities of the little old lady down the street.

              Now the right wing seems to be the advocates of unfettered free speech (barring actual illegal expressions, namely true threats and CP), while the leftists like Masnick, Cushing, et al are the ones wanting to "SHUT IT DOWN" when someone's feelings are hurt.

              (caveat: unless the 'someone' is a heterosexual White person.)

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

              • icon
                Stephen T. Stone (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 10:21am

                The left wing used to be the side in support of the concept of Free Speech

                As someone often described as a leftist, I support the concept of free speech. But that includes support for the social and legal consequences of speech. When someone speaks a true threat, I say “toss them in jail”. When someone does a (provable) defamation, I say “hope the court takes them to the cleaners”. When someone says something ignorant, I say “wow that’s a bad take” and make no calls for arrests, lawsuits, etc.

                “Free speech” does not have “consequences” chopped off the start of the phrase. You have a problem when you can’t stand having a corporation tell you “you can’t do that here” before it boots that speech from its platform. I can’t solve that problem for you.

                the old fuddy-duddy conservatives were the ones wanting to protect the delicate sensibilities of the little old lady down the street

                What do you mean, “were”? If you surveyed the people who, in the here and now, regularly call for things like “take these books out of libraries” and “take gay people out of TV and kids’ movies” (hi, One Million Moms!), I would bet even money that most of them would identify as conservative.

                the right wing seems to be the advocates of unfettered free speech

                The lawsuits filed by Devin Nunes against his critics, the lawsuits threatened by Donald Trump against media outlets, and the existence of groups like One Million Moms (who want things they deem “distasteful” taken out of any kind of media) say otherwise. If anything, their advocacy has become part of their grift — they claim to hold the principles of free speech in high regard, but whine when people use their own speech to criticize conservatives/their ideas, or express ideas that conservatives don’t like. Conservatives will then use that whining to separate Republican vo—I mean, ignorant rubes from their money by saying “I need this money to fight all the mean people”. Lather, rinse, repeat.

                You seem to forget that free speech runs two ways. Yes, you have the right to express yourself freely. But so do other people. And nobody has immunity from the social consequences of their speech.

                unless the 'someone' is a heterosexual White person

                You ever hear of the phrase “punching up”?

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

          • icon
            Samuel Abram (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 6:10pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            [O]n just a basic level of morality, there is no difference between the governmental [making some entity responsible for all the speech of people who use it (sorry If I misrepresent your argument, btr1701; it's not clear)] and Google doing it. Both are equally immoral, as is Google's censorship of anything other than the party line.

            The difference is that governments can jail you, bomb you, deny you from leaving the country, and other ways of killing you and harming you. Google, Apple, Facebook, et al. would be held liable by said governments if those ever happened.

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

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 2:44am

        Re: Re:

        "I bet they'd scream like a scalded cat if the government tried to do that to them, but they have no problem holding others to that standard."

        I really hate to have to tell this to someone who usually stays informed...but you are aware that no matter how big a private entity gets, it literally can not censor anyone? Not this side of actual bona fide corporatism.

        If government tried to censor google then they'd probably scream like a scalded cat, yes. So would I. And if you're sensible, so would you. Because that'd mean the first amendment had been abolished.

        "...won't allow any discussion of the most significant event of the last 20 years unless it has the government's stamp of approval..."

        Given that they're likely to catch ten times the amount of flak if they allow too much bad information and "fake news" to get spread through their platform...I honestly can't blame them at this point. Now if section 230 wasn't constantly under fire it'd be a different thing but if Google's legal department is telling them they can, at some point, be held legally responsible for what users on their platforms have allowed to pass today then they have only bad options to choose between.

        There's plenty of things to be said about how Google does business but in this specific case I think they've gotten wedged hard in Morton's Fork.

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

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2020 @ 9:30am

          Techdirt is now just a hagiography of Big Brother

          Nowhere but on Techdirt will you find so many anti-Free Speech, pro-corporate censorship advocates who claim to be the precise opposite.

          This site now functions almost solely as a repository for big business apologia.

          ("Almost" because - with Cushing on staff - Techdirt's other hobbyhorse is being pro-criminal, anti-law enforcement.)

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

  • icon
    mcherm (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 12:15pm

    At least there's an option

    On these sorts of matters, it appears that the Apple AppStore does a slightly better job of providing moderation. But when they decide to kick something off their platform (perhaps because they now have their own competing product), there is no other choice. At least Android still allows side-loading.

    Perhaps the real opportunity is for someone to make a competing app store with its own level of review ("none" doesn't seem to work). Competition can work wonders at forcing folks to up their game. However, because of network effects, this will only work if there is a simple, effective way for app publishers to submit to MULTIPLE AppStores simultaneously without additional effort.

    In the meantime, I just added PodcastAddict to my Patreon list of monthly donations, right alongside some others that I regularly support.

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

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 12:25pm

      Re: At least there's an option

      On these sorts of matters, it appears that the Apple AppStore does a slightly better job of providing moderation. But when they decide to kick something off their platform (perhaps because they now have their own competing product), there is no other choice. At least Android still allows side-loading.

      I completely agree with this. Speaking as a professional bug tester for both iOS and Android products (though the COVID-19 pandemic has limited me just to testing iOS devices), I found iOS devices to have far, far fewer bugs than Android devices, perhaps because Apple is also in charge of the hardware. While I do not think that Apple's gatekeeping of the app store is a desirable situation for anyone except Apple and regard the Android devices as better in this regard, I do find testing on iOS devices to be less prone to headaches than Android devices.

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

  • icon
    tz1 (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 12:55pm

    Gabbed?

    This is the reason given for removing the Gab app. Not that the app was a problem, but that you could access objectionable content. Google (and apple) need to ban all browsers, RSS feed readers, and anything else.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2020 @ 1:32pm

      Re: Gabbed?

      Well... they should just ban themselves, and be done with it, seeing as there are things like search results and email. No need to shoot the messenger when you can skip right to vaporizing entire methods of communication.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 11:07pm

      Re: Gabbed?

      "Not that the app was a problem, but that you could access objectionable content"

      Yeah, apps whose primary purpose is for white supremacists to talk to gather en masse will tend to get a polite "yeah, we'd rather not host that" reaction from right-minded people. If that's your thing, you still have the option to get it, Google would just rather not provide the easy option on their property.

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

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2020 @ 9:23am

        Re: Re: Gabbed?

        "Someone offended? SHUT IT DOWN!!!"

        (caveat: unless the offended party was a heterosexual White person … then it's not only tolerated, but lauded.)

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Agammamon, 18 May 2020 @ 12:59pm

    You know, we used to say that the answer to misinformation was more information.

    Now we say LALALALALALALLALALALLAA!!! I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!!!!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2020 @ 1:00pm

      Re:

      That was before we figured out that most of the world is stupid and absorbs misinformation at a greater rate than truth.

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

      • identicon
        Agammamon, 18 May 2020 @ 5:49pm

        Re: Re:

        Ah, I see. We need to be controlled. For our own good, of course.

        "Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master."

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

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 11:10pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "We need to be controlled. For our own good, of course."

          If all it takes for you to be controlled is for a single information source to not host something, you have bigger problems than what Google chooses to do with its own property.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2020 @ 4:13am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Because we all need to be informed about the wonderful benefits of chlorine.

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

          • icon
            Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 6:19am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "Because we all need to be informed about the wonderful benefits of chlorine."

            Well, we certainly do need to know who is trying to inform us about the wonderful benefits of chlorine.

            In an ideal world if a politician opens his mouth and proves himself a raging idiot that politician would be gone next week.
            In a less than ideal world that politician would not be re-elected if he kept blithering moronic nonsense.
            ...and then there's the US where the president's suicide cult keep coming out in force defending the idiot who in front of open camera repeatedly gives truth to the old adage that it's better to hold your mouth and be thought a fool than open it and remove all doubt.

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2020 @ 7:40am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              I remember reading that donny had investments in a producer of hydroxychloroquine, now I see him promoting same on the television.

              I have not seen this level of self promotion from a president - ever. This is just the latest in a series of self enrichment by these grifters, but possible the most blatant and in your face insult yet.

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

              • icon
                Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 20 May 2020 @ 5:21am

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

                "I have not seen this level of self promotion from a president - ever. "

                The key is that every previous president went into the job with some form of ideology - no matter how twisted - behind him.

                Trump has none of that. He's the first US president who truly doesn't give a rat's ass about anything other than his current approval ratings and the ways his new job can make him money directly or indirectly. Recommending an international summit be held at his personal resorts just to make a measly few extra bucks is trivial but point out that the current leader of the free world sees his own office as nothing but yet another moneymaking scheme in the exact same way he's seen the last 40 years of his career as a shameless grifter.

                Take 30 points of IQ and all the charm out of P.t. Barnum and what you're left with will be something like Trump.

                What truly scares me is that public perception on the acceptable minimum standard of a presidential candidate have dropped all the way to the literal bottom of the septic tank. From this point on both parties know for a fact that as long as their candidate is marginally less bad compared to the other guy the swing voters will just hold their noses and vote for them anyway.

                2020 will feature Trump - a largely unintelligent grifter whose only assets are unshakeable shamelessness and low cunning, pitted against a political weathervane who has more experience selling himself than all the streetwalkers in Vegas combined and whose career has been marked by never being trusted with any position of importance until that day he had to be added as the opposite counterweight to a young and dynamic president as the "utter nonentity" meant to dodder around as a ball-and-chain around Obamas ankle.

                And you know something? I think it's all downhill from there.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 11:09pm

      Re:

      "You know, we used to say that the answer to misinformation was more information."

      Sure. Then we realised that dangerous idiots have a tendency to ignore the actual information and dig deeper into their false information echo chambers. So, rather than screaming into the void, some have chosen not to host the false information to begin with.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2020 @ 12:59pm

    "ban all browsers, RSS feed readers, and anything else"

    What good is the Internet if no one is allowed to use it?

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

  • icon
    Koby (profile), 18 May 2020 @ 1:57pm

    Ban chrome?

    If I create a webpage which offers fake information about the Coronavirus, does that mean someone could report Google Chrome for violating the policy, since it can access the fake information website?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2020 @ 7:07pm

    It's not possible to fix if the "misinformation" "not eligible to be police" continue to be the same network.

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

  • identicon
    Junkyardmagic, 18 May 2020 @ 11:04pm

    Don't mention the pandemic

    We had our last app rejected. It is for a festival that has had to go online, and the description mentioned why

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

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 18 May 2020 @ 11:23pm

    This is what happens when you only have one centralized place to get apps.

    While you may be able to get apps elsewhere and/and install them on an Android phone, if you need to take any extra steps beyond selecting an app from a list and clicking "Get it", it's too complex for 99% of today's users.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2020 @ 2:00am

    Podcasts apps allow people to download apps or subscribe to them. Google policy on covid 19 is wrong. Covid 19 is the no 1 news story now.
    Banning podcasts that discuss it is wrong. Podcast addict is not a news app. If there's some podcasts that spread fake news or covid conspiracys then maybe Google should block them or ask podcast apps to not list them. Many people just have a smartphone in 3rd world countrys as their source of news Eg they can't afford a pc.maybe Google should
    Just have an email help@playstore for people to dispute banned apps.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2020 @ 9:18am

    Here's an idea...

    More excuse-making from Masnick on behalf of our corporate Thought Police.

    Here's a simple idea that makes it very easy to do the handle the "content moderation is hard at scale" … STOP FUCKING MODERATING CONTENT.

    If it's not something actually illegal (CP, threats), leave it alone. "Hate" speech? Leave it alone. "Misinformation"? Leave it alone. ___-phobia? Trolling? Mean jokes? Someone somewhere feelings hurt? Just leave it alone.

    We don't need a bunch of squares in suits to police every little things we say and do. The amount of babysitting we tolerate nowadays is pathetic.

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

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 9:58am

      Re: Here's an idea...

      Here's a simple idea that makes it very easy to do the handle the "content moderation is hard at scale" … STOP FUCKING MODERATING CONTENT.

      Yeah, sure. Then the platform is overrun with spam, abuse, and harassment. Brilliant suggestion from someone who has clearly never thought about this issue at all.

      If it's not something actually illegal (CP, threats), leave it alone. "Hate" speech? Leave it alone. "Misinformation"? Leave it alone. ___-phobia? Trolling? Mean jokes? Someone somewhere feelings hurt? Just leave it alone.

      Except that doesn't work. Platforms have tried that, and they've all failed, because they fill with spam.

      I see this suggestion from a lot of truly ignorant people.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 10:02am

      Here's a simple idea that makes it very easy to do the handle the "content moderation is hard at scale" … STOP FUCKING MODERATING CONTENT.

      You know what happens when someone does that?

      8chan happens.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 11:23pm

      Re: Here's an idea...

      "Here's a simple idea that makes it very easy to do the handle the "content moderation is hard at scale" … STOP FUCKING MODERATING CONTENT."

      If you think the fallout from that is easy, you haven't thought about the issue very much.

      "If it's not something actually illegal "

      Oh, so you should moderate, but only within criteria you choose? OK.

      ""Hate" speech? Leave it alone. "Misinformation"? Leave it alone. ___-phobia? Trolling? Mean jokes? Someone somewhere feelings hurt? Just leave it alone."

      ...and watch as the majority of your user base and suppliers decide they no long wish to use your services and your company goes under.

      They're not moderating because they feel like it. They doing it because most of their customers do not want that shit on their feeds.

      "We don't need a bunch of squares in suits to police every little things we say and do."

      No, but they are needed to keep disruptive hateful assholes out of their property for the enjoyment of the majority of their patrons, just as you'd expect a bar or restaurant owner to do. Don't like being kicked out of those laces? Stop being an asshole...

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


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