Using the Standard Definition Of “Monopoly.”
Depending on your definition, Google may now be the most powerful company on the planet. It is worth billions and controls a large share of the data spread over the internet. Think of its search engine, its Google Chrome browser, Gmail service, Google Fi cell service, sprawling advertising network, etc. Google has tremendous power.
Consider Their former Code of Conduct. Tell me whether or not you think the company is living up to its former standards:
Back in the early days of Google, its motto was “Don’t be evil.” Things have changed. Two years ago the tech giant removed this from their code of conduct. Googlers generally apply those words to how Google serves its users. But “Don’t be evil” is much more than that.
Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to info, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that they can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally – following the law, acting honorably, and treating co-workers with courtesy and respect.
The difference is stark. And below we will go into some of the reasons how Google acquired this incredible power and according to many, misused it. It is now in Congress’ hands. How properly can it put an end to the growing monopoly power of a company that won’t commit to not “be evil.”
What Happened To “Don’t Be Evil”?
As you read above, Google has gone through quite a transformation over the last 20 years. It started with its role in the mid-2000s as the dominant internet search engine. It gradually transformed as the tech giant developed or bought out a number of services. By controlling the largest share of many aspects of tech. This includes internet browsers, searches, emails, ads, and more it has a unique position among internet companies.
As a result, Google has the ability to influence not only consumer behavior but also elections. Google and much of Silicon Valley has an open disdain for conservative politics. We see that their efforts in being an “open provider” of news and info is being flouted. Hence the role of the big tech hearings on Capitol Hill last week.
The Causes For The Hearings?
If you didn’t get a chance to watch CSPAN last week you missed a great deal of fun. The heads of Google, Facebook, and Amazon all digitally beamed into the Congressional hearing. At the heart of the issue was the growing power– and increasing misuse of it by the major tech giants.
Google’s case is particularly interesting. Combine precedent of previous large conveyors of info with modern tech law. We get a better understanding of the issues at the heart of Congress’ concerns.
The big tech companies have been able to hide behind Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act in their operations. Let’s take a closer look at the section before we go any further.
1)Treatment of publisher or speaker
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
Put all of this together and you can see that the internet companies are not acting in good faith. They do not act as a neutral platform for the dissemination of information.
So What Happens Now?
There is a good chance that Section 230 of the Telecommunications Law will change in the near future. It may be before the 2020 election or due to a bipartisan consensus after the election. Democrats fear the power of an oligarchic internet company commanding billions of dollars and tremendous influence. Republicans resent the fact that Google, Facebook, and Amazon have their thumbs on the scale for Democrats. As we’ll see below.
Section 230 was written in the internet’s infancy. So much has changed since then. A rewrite of regulation to reflect the modern state of tech. It may very well be useful and needed in this day and age.
A Valuable Precedent?
Let’s look back to a case that helped build the 1996 statute. Go back two years further to 1994. We have the case of an investment firm accused of fraud and an internet provider. Stratton Oakmont is better known for its profile in the famous movie The Wolf of Wall Street.
However, in 1994 it was an investment firm accused of fraud. The posts were uploaded anonymously onto servers operated by Prodigy. Prodigy claimed that it could not be held responsible because it simply indexed the info, rather than created it. The courts sided with Stratton Oakmont in the resulting case, Stratton Oakmont vs. Prodigy. But it did so due to an unexpected element. Since Prodigy manually edited content and moderated, it could be held responsible for its content.
It’s this precedent that helped build our modern internet. If Google did not touch search results or bend the rules for certain causes, there would be a difference. It could not be held liable in the same way due to the law. It would be acting as a library– and if there are books the government or politicians don’t like– too bad. However, once it starts creating results instead of just providing a neutral view, that becomes trouble.
Look no further than testimony on Capitol Hill. The most famous case of a company prosecuted despite Section 230 was Backpage. Prosecutors went after the company due to its involvement in its classified listings. That included looking the other way when there were sexual listings or prostitution.
Cox draws this distinction of websites like Backpage — involved or connected with their content — and sites that are “pure intermediaries.” He wouldn’t say whether that term applied to Facebook or Google.
Evidence of Google’s Involvement?
Unfortunately for the web giant, there is clear evidence that the company has been involved in clear manipulation for a long time. Most conservatives and people looking for negative results about democrats will find them buried. But if one were to look for positive stories about conservatives, they are buried.
Comparisons of web results are a clear indicator, especially revolving around the 2016 election. Users would find vastly different results when searching for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump– and it showed. Still, Google holds the cards.
Look at the recent testimony of the company’s CEO who donates large sums of money to Democrats. He admits that the tech giant willfully is involved in the manipulation of results. Even more evidence emerged from a recent CNN interview. The CEO Sundar Pichai even bragged about how it removed videos that violated its terms of service. But were selective about it.
The CEO bragged that YouTube had taken down 9 million videos that violated its policies, adding that YouTube is aiming to correctly draw the line between free speech and hate speech “over 99% of the time.”
A Bias Against Conservatives?
Part of the overwhelming problem is that the large majority of these accounts are of conservatives. Twitter recently pulled the same thing. It censored the posts of President Trump and using its power to restrict the accounts of other conservatives.
Even worse, YouTube can use its vast power controlling both the video platform and the ad revenue. This revenue supports it to effectively mute conservative causes. In these cases, right of enter accounts can still post but they may face restrictions. This may be in settings for “controversial” topics or Google shuts their ad revenue cut off. As a result, accounts that may bring in thousands of dollars per month. Google selectively brings them down to zero, as below:
Even if YouTube did draw the line at the right place, this 1% margin of error would imply that 90,000 perfectly acceptable videos would be deleted wrongly. But there is no reason for us to trust YouTube to draw this line at the correct place. YouTube’s censorship and demonetization of Steven Crowder, Prager U, and other conservative figures is proof of this.
What To Do About Google’s Massive Power?
The public agrees: Google has too much power. So do many of the web giants. The question is how to do so using the Constitutional principles of freedom of speech. If the government can force Google’s compliance with Section 230 and not show bias, this is key. Then there would be no need for additional legislation and the original intent of the law can be upheld. This is key.
If not, don’t be surprised if Congress considers a raft of new legislation next year. It could come from either party. It may also be a bipartisan agreement. There is a wide agreement about the abuse of power by web giants. Whether Trump or Biden wins, the new law may still be similar.
Google has a fair warning. Hopefully, it will heed it well. Until then, expect some major changes. The CEO’s comments play a major role in how the public perceives Google. We want them to not be evil. Te question is whether Google feels the same way. It is too early in telling so far. And if Trump loses the next election, don’t expect Google to change anything.
Keep your eyes on this site. We continually update on the current events around the tech giants. We also use our expert legal eye. Google is in the sights. Both in Congress and the public eye. Ehline Law passes out the info for you.
About the Author:
Michael Ehline is the lead attorney for the Ehline Law APLC Personal Injury Attorneys. In addition to personal injury cases, Ehline is committed to civil rights and internet privacy causes. He is a former lobbyist in Washington DC. He studied the means in which Google enriched itself over the years at the expense of its users. He’s tracked the habits of multiple tech companies. He’s acquired a bit of insider knowledge on the subject and reasonable expectations of how they will likely act in the future. This goes double in case the companies are not properly reined in by Congress.
If you’d like to know more, he recommends reading his legal blog. He will update our site with more content for the reader. Also, be on the lookout for our cooperation with large publishers. This includes such as the Boston Herald and Yahoo News on a variety of subjects. For more info, reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Gizmodo: Google Removes ‘Don’t Be Evil’ Clause From Its Code of Conduct: https://gizmodo.com/google-removes-nearly-all-mentions-of-dont-be-evil-from-1826153393
- NPR All Tech Considered: Section 230: A Key Legal Shield For Facebook, Google Is About To Change: https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2018/03/21/591622450/section-230-a-key-legal-shield-for-facebook-google-is-about-to-change
- Cornell Legal Information Institute: 47 U.S. Code § 230 – Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230
- Digital Media Law Project: Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy: https://www.dmlp.org/threats/stratton-oakmont-v-prodigy
- National File: Google CEO Admits Company Engages in Manual Censorship, Blacklists: https://www.westernjournal.com/google-ceo-admits-company-engages-manual-censorship-blacklists/
- Washington Examiner: Google CEO openly admits to censorship in new CNN Interview: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/google-ceo-openly-admits-to-censorship-in-new-cnn-interview