Hypocritical AT&T Makes A Mockery Of Itself; Says 230 Should Be Reformed For Real Net Neutrality

from the oh-shut-the-fuck-up dept

I regret to inform you that AT&T is at it again. For over a decade now, the company has had a weird infatuation with Google. It seems to truly hate Google and has long decided that anything bad for Google must be good for AT&T. Because Google was an early supporter of net neutrality -- a concept that AT&T (stupidly and incorrectly) seems to think is an existential threat to its own business plans of coming up with sneaky ways to spy on you and charge you more -- over a decade ago, AT&T started floating the lame idea that if it's to be held to "net neutrality" Google ought to be held to "search neutrality." Of course, there's a problem with that: there's no such thing as "search neutrality" because the whole point of search is to rank results for you. A "neutral" search would be a useless search that ranks nothing.

However, now that the FCC (who knows better) caved in to the bumptious Trump demands to reinterpret Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, AT&T stupidly (and self-destructively) has decided that it's going to comment against Section 230. AT&T top lobbyist Joan Marsh put up a truly spectacularly dumb blog post about how this is "the neutrality debate we need to have" (i.e., about Google and Facebook's treatment of content, rather than AT&T's treatment of network connections):

This Wednesday, the FCC will take comments on NTIA’s petition on reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a provision enacted in 1996 to address a narrow set of concerns involving nascent internet platforms that then played only a marginal role in American life.  The purpose of the provision made sense at that moment in internet history:  Section 230 sought to insulate the newly emerging technology companies from liability risks they might otherwise face if they were deemed a publisher or speaker in the traditional sense.

First off, this is bullshit. Section 230 was not written to "address a narrow set of concerns involving nascent internet platforms that then played only a marginal role..." It was a key aspect of figuring out how the internet would work and was, in fact, driven by the concerns of various ISPs who realized that it would create massive problems if they were held liable for actions of their users on the network. This includes AT&T, though at the time AT&T in whatever form you might consider it, since the modern AT&T is really the remains of different telco companies that purchased AT&T.

Congress had no way to foresee a quarter century ago that this provision, intended to protect struggling startups at the dawn of the internet, would ultimately be wielded by the largest and most powerful companies in the world as a shield not just from unfair and frivolous lawsuits, but from what many consider to be every day responsibilities.

This is bullshit and wrong. Both authors of Section 230 have said exactly the opposite -- that Section 230 was written with the recognition of how important the internet would be and that it's working as intended. Marsh is rewriting history.

Since that time, America’s tech platforms have grown from their humble beginnings into the most powerful forces in the global economy today.  Five tech giants (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google) alone make up about 25% of the S&P 500 with valuations growing, even in a pandemic.

Marsh leaves out that AT&T itself is worth over $200 billion. It's not exactly a slouch. And when you combine it with Verizon, Comcast and others, it also represents quite a powerhouse. One that has spent the last decade especially fighting back against any form of regulatory guidelines that impact how it runs its business. It has pressured the FCC to remove pretty much all of its authority over the company. So it's truly hypocritical for it to suddenly be claiming that the FCC needs to take a stand and regulate Google and Facebook.

Meanwhile, it's always been clear that AT&T has been among the absolute worst companies regarding its treatment of consumers. AT&T is famous for jacking up prices, including hidden fees, spying on its users (or wanting them to pay more for their privacy) and handing data over to the NSA freely. Google offers most of its key services for free, has built a reputation around giving users much more control over privacy, and has fought legally against NSA attempts to collect its data. And if you look at general consumer satisfaction surveys it shows. 90% of the public likes what they get from Google. Meanwhile AT&T remains one of the most hated companies in America.

The decisions these companies make on a daily basis – which search results to rank first, which products to promote, which news stories to feature, and which third parties they will deal with and on what terms – shape virtually every aspect of America’s economic, social and political life.

What? This is... just a myth. Yes, ranking well in search can help companies, but (1) it's not everything and (2) the way you rank well in search is by... actually doing a good job in providing people what they need. Unlike AT&T.

Yet those decisions are shrouded in obscurity, away from public view, in a world where black-box algorithms and non-negotiable terms pick winners and losers in every sphere of public life.

If Google was bad at this, then people would use other search engines. But they don't. Because Google tends to give good results. Why is AT&T mad about that?

In comments this Wednesday, AT&T will join the growing consensus of voices concluding that online platforms should be more accountable for, and more transparent about, the decisions they control that fundamentally shape how we communicate, learn, shop, and are informed and entertained. We argue first that the dominant online platforms owe the public greater transparency about the choices made on their platforms. Such transparency is considered table stakes in every discussion about broadband networks owned by ISPs.

I'm not against more transparency, but AT&T is one of the least transparent companies out there. Google was the first company to publish transparency reports about things like content takedowns and (importantly) government requests for data. AT&T resisted calls to do the same for years and then when it finally agreed to do so provided significantly less data than Google. So, seriously, to argue that Google needs to be more transparent is fucking rich from AT&T.

And, again, Google did this by choice and it did so at the same time that AT&T itself was arguing that the FCC should have no oversight over its business. For AT&T to now argue that the FCC should force Google to be more transparent is the height of hypocrisy.

We also argue that Section 230 immunity should be modified to reduce the gross disparities in legal treatment that have emerged between the dominant online platforms and the traditional purveyors of third-party content, such as book publishers, newspapers, or radio and television businesses. There is no longer any reason that the nation’s most powerful online platforms should enjoy legal immunities unavailable to similarly-situated traditional companies.

This is... simply ridiculous. Section 230 protects every company on the internet the same way. Including AT&T. AT&T knows that it enjoys Section 230's protections as well. It's why no one gets to sue AT&T when an AT&T account holder does something illegal over its network.

And as the net neutrality debate soldiers on, as it surely will, the Section 230 debate and the broader tech scrutiny underway should serve as a reminder of where the power to control access to content, websites and e-services on the internet really resides – and the neutrality debate that really matters. Adopting an ISP-only “neutrality” regime is as backwards looking as it is mistargeted. It would be akin to landing the plane, but on the wrong day, at the wrong gate, and in the wrong airport.

No. Network neutrality matters because internet access is a commodity product with very, very few choices and extremely high costs (and, especially, switching costs). People want to buy access to the entire internet, not the internet of companies who paid AT&T. Meanwhile, people want Google to rank results, because that's what search is. This whole blog post by AT&T is truly ridiculous.

This is all cynical nonsense from AT&T's top lobbyist, trying to stick a knife in Google, the company AT&T has been jealous of for over a decade because Google actually provided people a service people wanted (for free) while AT&T relies on regulatory capture, hidden fees, government handouts, and destroying your privacy.

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Filed Under: fcc, hypocrisy, joan marsh, net neutrality, ntia, section 230
Companies: at&t, google


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 31 Aug 2020 @ 11:23am

    'It's absurd to treat planes and cars different under the law!'

    Adopting an ISP-only “neutrality” regime is as backwards looking as it is mistargeted. It would be akin to landing the plane, but on the wrong day, at the wrong gate, and in the wrong airport.

    Ignoring for a moment that if the two categories of things are treated differently maybe it's because they are different, is AT&T now going to be supporting network neutrality rules then? If it's vital to enforce 'neutrality' on online platforms and services because they are so important to the public then it seems it would be even more vital to enforce neutrality on the companies providing the connection to those platforms and services, as no amount of power online matters if no-one can get online.

    Unless AT&T wants to expose themselves as raging dishonest hypocrites, which I'm sure is the last thing they want, then a call for 'neutrality' regulations for the likes of Google and Facebook must be paired with acceptance of and support for neutrality relations for themselves and other companies in their field.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2020 @ 4:15pm

      Re: 'It's absurd to treat planes and cars different under the la

      You're assuming that AT&T cares what anyone (they haven't bribed) thinks of them. Given their abysmal ratings, I'm not sure that's a viable assumption.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2020 @ 11:43am

    this is kind of like car manufactures saying "Hey malls and restaurants, pay up, we send people your way (and we want more money)."

    (Of course there are lots of other viable analogies, and like any analogy thus must be an approximation, and not an exact description)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2020 @ 12:03pm

    Splendid! Let's strip AT&T of the immunities it enjoys when criminals use the phone system to commit crimes. Every time an Indian Extended-Vehicle-Warranty or IRS-collection scam call is made--every time a Nigerian money-transfer email is sent across AT&T wires--NAIL THEM FOR RICO!

    Because, unlike Bad Stuff being uploaded to Youtube which cannot be spotted without human review, the phone-company nerds know how to stop the fraudulent phone calls. (It's a matter of validating the phone originator, the protocols for which are already in place.) But the phone companies do not do this, because ... well, they get paid for completing fraudulent calls.

    Whatever Google or Facebook is doing, they CANNOT do anything so annoying to the general public, as those fraudulent phone calls.

    Kick the elephant out of the bedroom before looking for crickets.

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

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 31 Aug 2020 @ 5:31pm

      Re:

      Every time an Indian Extended-Vehicle-Warranty or IRS-collection scam call is made--every time a Nigerian money-transfer email is sent across AT&T wires--NAIL THEM FOR RICO!

      Great job, Anonymous Coward, you just gave Popehat an aneurysm.

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

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 31 Aug 2020 @ 12:33pm

    AT&T being hypocritical...shouldn't this be filed under the "Well, duh!" department?

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

  • icon
    Koby (profile), 31 Aug 2020 @ 12:51pm

    Big Business

    It seems like AT&T is jealous. I bet they thought that network providers would be making a ton of money, but instead the service providers like Facebook, Google, and Amazon have been the expanding portion of the economy. While AT&Ts TV and DSL business has withered.

    Beware corporations asking governments to do them favors. It is the heart of crony capitalism to have government pick and choose winners and losers.

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

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 31 Aug 2020 @ 5:33pm

      Re: Big Business

      AT&T bought Warner Bros., and they've done shit with it. Here are some reasons why:

      1. HBO Max is far too expensive. I mean, $15? Get outta here!
      2. HBO Max requires a cable connexion, or Hulu.
      3. HBO Max is not on Amazon or Roku.
      4. They're selling off their WB Games division, which makes high-quality games.

      AT&T can't really do anything right; they're really miffed that they actually hace competent competition (but I repeat myself).

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2020 @ 6:10pm

        Re: Re: Big Business

        I have HBO Max. I did have it via Amazon but can't stand amazon's video app. So, now I have it stand alone. You don't need a cable connection. It is expensive. But I love what is on there. And I very much dislike AT&T. They will destroy HBO.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 2 Sep 2020 @ 1:40am

      Re: Big Business

      "It is the heart of crony capitalism to have government pick and choose winners and losers."

      I hate to have to tell you this, Koby...but you live in the US. Crony capitalism is sort of the default there and has been since the days of the railroad tycoons.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2020 @ 1:52pm

    At t is used to being protected by government and lobbying to get more tax credits, while providing a mediocre service and lobbying to wipe out net neutrality. It simply wants to attack Google because Google provides a good service and supports community broadband and with its apps and YouTube provides a free media network which competes with other big media company's.
    AT T Has benefited of course from rising demand for broadband and telecoms services in the pandemic.
    At t is not used to competing in the open market so of course its in favour weakening section 230.
    Is it not strange that the people who want to attack
    Section 230 or ignorant politicians or old legacy company's that do not like the open Internet that section 230 provides
    Of course section 230 protects any one who has a website even old newspaper and publishers and TV company's who all have websites and many of whom also have streaming media on the Web
    Is there any media or online publisher out there that does not rely on section 230 to protect against random lawsuits?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2020 @ 4:49pm

      Re:

      At t is not used to competing in the open market

      True. They took the temporarily semi-open market of the latter half of the 80s and made it far, far worse than when the AT&T/Bell System/Western Electric monopoly was broken up. Thanks, Congress, regulators, and US business culture.

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

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 31 Aug 2020 @ 5:35pm

    Throwing Stones...

    AT&T isn't throwing stones from a glass house...

    They're throwing boulders from an ice house!

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

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 31 Aug 2020 @ 5:52pm

    ranking well in search

    The decisions these companies make on a daily basis – which search results to rank first, which products to promote, which news stories to feature, and which third parties they will deal with and on what terms – shape virtually every aspect of America’s economic, social and political life.

    Well, that depends on what you're trying to find. If people are looking for a specific web site or web page, a good web search will rank it higher. Otherwise, it's not doing its job. The reason Google rose to the top is not because they were the first search engine, but that they were the first to really nail the execution whereas search engines like webcrawler and yahoo failed in the past.

    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, 31 Aug 2020 @ 6:10pm

    Every article you ever write arrives at the conclusion that CDA Section 230 must be preserved or the world as we know it will end. You do not care about the thousands if not millions of people unfairly defamed who have no recourse to get malicious postings removed because Big tech has full immunity. You have no credibility and just seem to be a mouthpiece for Big Tech.

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

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 31 Aug 2020 @ 8:18pm

      Re:

      [Projects facts not in evidence]

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 31 Aug 2020 @ 11:24pm

      Re:

      "Every article you ever write arrives at the conclusion that CDA Section 230 must be preserved or the world as we know it will end."

      Facts are like that, they don't change if you keep writing about them.

      "You do not care about the thousands if not millions of people unfairly defamed"

      They do. So much in fact that they keep telling you disingenuous twats to go after the people defaming you instead of trying to extort an innocent 3rd party, bringing down many millions more innocent people in the process.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2020 @ 2:05am

      Re:

      How's that mailing list coming along, John Smith?

      If you could even name ten people defamed purely because technology exists, you would have posted them. If there were thousands, never mind millions, you'd put a case forward.

      But no, all you can do is piss and moan on websites of dubious traffic levels because that's all you have the guts for.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 1 Sep 2020 @ 4:42am

      Oh my god, you’re the idiot who thinks they can pull that “I’ll hide behind seven proxies, defame myself, and sue the tech companies to the ground” bullshit without getting caught, aren’t you? I thought you’d finally fucked off for good!

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2020 @ 5:17am

        Re:

        He really, really hasn't gotten over Paul Hansmeier's imprisonment. Honestly I knew MyNameHere wouldn't fuck off forever, his hateboner for Masnick is too significant.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 2 Sep 2020 @ 1:45am

      Re:

      It's been a while, Baghdad Bob, not-so-welcome back. I can see you haven't lost your touch for burning your own argument at the stake in the very next sentence either.

      Now kindly tell us about these millions of people "Big Tech" has unjustly "defamed" by providing everyone a platform to write messages on?

      The only crowd which spontaneously comes to mind would be US white supremacists and other bigots getting reamed online by saner minds. In which case I must correct you in that there is nothing "unjust" about their defamation.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2020 @ 6:47pm

    Well if they succeed, which under this administration they might, then I say we should all just launch lawsuits against AT&T on day one. Let's just check our inbox which contains emails they store on their servers and deliver to me...

    A Nigerian Prince scam email to me. So they are complicit in wire fraud.

    An advertisement for out of country prescriptions, I'm sure that violates some FDA laws.

    An email on counterfeit goods. That should get a trademark/copyright/patent lawsuit going.

    The transmitted graphic and obscene content to me when I was looking to buy a gloryhole for my glassmaking studio.

    Allowing access to youtube comments and 4chan must violate another dozen or so decency laws. =P

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2020 @ 2:08am

    Meanwhile we can count DirectTV among the list of initiatives AT&T uses to suck off their bosses' golden parachutes while fucking over the consumer with a rusty iron dildo.

    But instead of Richard Bennett coming to defend this trash heap we get the leftovers of Richard Liebowitz's apologist squad.

    Where is old Dick Bent anyway? Last we checked he was still stuck around Ajit Pai's phallus, shouldn't that have counted as sufficient aerosol protection? Trump said so...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2020 @ 11:09am

    Has Google thought about throwing a monkey wrench in?

    So Google pull the 'interconnect game' that the ISP's played with Netflix, but should do it with their search algorithm...

    Instead of slowing down traffic until Netflix pays up, Google could just downrank (by 1000's of links) any search results that contain AT&T (or similar terms) as part of the result.

    Then Google can say that it's ready to change things back as soon as AT&T supports 'neutrality' across all monopolized services (those that have high entry cost, huge government support/linkages to the business, like ISP's and Telecom's)...

    Could they? Yes.
    Would they? Probably not...
    Should they? Hell yes, if anything just to see the looks on AT&T executive faces at the board meeting where this 'agreement' is presented...

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


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