Friday, July 12, 2019

Cruz grills Google

I think it's great Ted Cruz is taking the fight to Google:

What is section 230?

The key issue here is section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). The issue is over the distinction between a content provider vs. a content publisher. Put simply, a content publisher can edit or alter content, whereas a content provider is supposed to be neutral on content and not be involved in altering content in any way.

Google claims to be a content provider

Currently Google is legally regarded as a content provider under section 230, not a content publisher. As a content provider, Google enjoys certain legal immunities. For example, Google can't be liable for racism if their content is in fact racist because Google is a provider that doesn't have a hand in the content.

Google is really a content publisher

That's been shown by these documents and recordings from Project Veritas. If Google is a publisher, then Google will no longer enjoy legal immunities under section 230. Instead, Google could be liable for their content. Google could be open to law suits from multiple parties. These law suits could cripple Google.

Of course, this is exactly what Google wishes to avoid. Hence Google claims to be a neutral content provider, not a content publisher.

In fact, I suspect that's precisely why Google sent a mid-level executive (Maggie Stanphill) rather than a senior executive to be grilled by Cruz (where's Jen Gennai?!). What's more, Google sent a "user experience" director. That's a position that requires little (if any) technical knowledge about computer science and the like. If Google had sent someone with more knowledge or connections than this woman, then there could be more serious repercussions for Google.

However, in light of the documents and recordings from Project Veritas, Google deserves to have their section 230 immunities revoked.

What is Project Veritas?

Basically it's a muckracker organization that was founded by conservative James O'Keefe (B.A., philosophy, Rutgers University). Its purpose is to investigate and expose corruption in high places. You might know them for their work exposing Planned Parenthood selling aborted baby parts as well as their ACORN sting. And now Project Veritas' work against tech giants like Google.

Of course, no surprise, liberals and progressives hate Project Veritas as well as James O'Keefe. Ironically, liberals and progressives have long advertised themselves as the consummate muckrackers and whistleblowers. Too bad liberals don't appreciate it when conservatives do the same against corrupt liberal organizations and institutions.

In addition, what's O'Keefe doing that's in principle different from (say) the progressive filmmaker Michael Moore? As far as I can tell, the main differences are twofold. First, O'Keefe's work is factually-based in a way Moore's work is not. Moore heavily edited his films in order to spin them in favor of his liberal or progressive views whereas O'Keefe attempts to show the unvarnished truth. He attempts to show videos and audio recordings straight from the horse's mouth as it were. Second, Moore sometimes tries to hide behind satire, but Project Veritas' work isn't satirical but real.

More broadly, there are plenty of liberals or progressives who have used similar tactics against conservatives (e.g. pretending to be someone they're not, doxxing their opponents). However I don't see liberals or progressives decrying what their fellow liberals or progressives have done or are doing.

It seems to me liberals and progressives disagree with Project Veritas primarily due to political ideology and not Project Veritas' muckracking and whistleblowing work and exposes. By contrast, it seems to me many if not most conservatives disagree (even vehemently) with the political ideology of hacktavists like Julian Assange and Ed Snowden, but thees same conservatives still appreciate at least some of the good work that WikiLeaks has done.

Some conservatives disagree with Project Veritas' ethics. These conservatives believe Project Veritas uses unethical means to investigate and expose organizations like Planned Parenthood. That gets us into another debate. Personally, I don't necessarily see a problem with using unethical tactics (depending on the tactics) to expose crimes that can't be exposed otherwise.

All that said, I'm not suggesting I always agree with Project Veritas.

Cruz's showmanship

I'm sure Cruz knew he was dealing with an ignorant mid-level executive rather than a more knowledgeable senior executive. I'm sure Cruz knew this woman wouldn't be liable for much. Nevertheless Cruz grilled her. Cruz turned the hearing into something of a show.

Some might take issue with Cruz for doing this, but I don't have a problem with it. I don't think Cruz's goal was to make this woman answer for all of Google's crimes here and now or anything along those lines. (Not that he would've objected if that turned out to be the case!) Rather I think Cruz's goal was to inform the public about Google and other tech giants' strong political biases against conservatives (among other things) and thereby turn the tide against these tech giants. In short, it's political theater, but I don't think all political theater is unethical. Sometimes it helps to drum up public support for a worthy cause.


  1. I think Cruz simply used her as a foil. It was a shot across the bow, to send a message to top Google execs.

  2. Put another way, I think he was using her as a placeholder. His comments weren't so much aimed at her but at top execs at Google. The implied threat was to repeal the section 230 exemption for Google. Assuming that top Google execs monitor the hearings, and his cross-examination in particular, that might concern them. For his purposes, it doesn't much matter who the spokesman was that Google sent to the hearings.

    I don't know if that's a credible threat. Depends on whether there's sufficient bipartisan support. As you know, Elizabeth Warren wants to break up Big Tech. I don't know how representative her views are among Democrats. And I'm sure there's strong grassroots support to take action against Big Tech on the right. So it's possible that there might be enough votes to repeal the exemption.

    1. Good points again! :)

      Also, these are from liberal rags:

      1. "It’s notable how early in the Democratic primary we are getting a referendum over Big Tech. Candidates’ answers so far have found along a spectrum. On one side you have Warren, Sanders, and Gabbard, who want to see a wholesale breakup of Facebook. In the middle you have Biden, Harris, Buttigieg, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who have expressed some support for a breakup but stopped short of endorsing a breakup. And over by his lonesome you have Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who told ABC News: “I don’t think that a president should be running around, pointing at companies and saying breaking them up without any kind of process here.” (Source)

      2. Take the Harris Poll, which surveys Americans on the corporate reputations of various companies. Google’s reputation fell 13 spots in Harris’ most recent poll issued in 2019, one of most precipitous declines in the survey. One of the few companies that saw more reputational damage? Facebook, which fell 43 slots on the 100-company list to be about as popular — or unpopular, depending on how you look at it — as other scandal-plagued companies like Wells Fargo and the Trump Organization.

      And when you dive into other survey research, you see that critiques of Google and Facebook are surprisingly bipartisan.

      Facebook’s favorability plunged from late 2017 to early 2018, surveys show — a decline driven largely by Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents deciding that they no longer felt positively about the social media giant. Google, Amazon, and Apple also saw their favorability ratings drop in that time period, though not as sharply.

      While conservatives typically celebrate big business, Republicans’ critiques of Silicon Valley giants center on accusations of political bias at Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Conservatives have harangued tech executives on Capitol Hill over these questions, which they flatly deny.

      But, as the polling shows, it is Democrats’ about-face on tech that has led the charge. Democrats, once the party of Silicon Valley’s modern progressivism, now seem just plain exhausted by its excesses. Despite the tech industry’s constant deflection that their platforms are apolitical, progressives have grown increasingly unsatisfied at each new revelation of election interference, each new data leak, and each new report of extremist views propagating on these sites.

      Amazon, increasingly targeted for complaints that its marketplace is anticompetitive and that it underpays and overworks its employees, appears headed for scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission. While it still offers a widely popular product and has not had any of the ulcer-inducing scandals Facebook has faced in the past year, it has become a punching bag for both liberal activists who decry its arrogance and for Trump supporters who see Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos as an enemy.

      Apple has largely escaped the same tightening of the noose. In fact, CEO Tim Cook has at times tried to parlay other tech companies’ struggles to Apple’s advantage — for example, using Facebook as a bogeyman to demonstrate how seriously his company takes privacy. But he, too, should be preparing for a rocky few months, in light of reports that the US Department of Justice is considering its own probe of the company. Competitors like Spotify have attacked the company for its own alleged anticompetitive power, and some app developers said on Tuesday that they were bringing their own lawsuit against Apple on similar grounds. (Source)