It’s Not “Premium,” but It Sure Ain’t Free: Spotify’s Bait and Switch on Podcast Advertising

Unlike the censorious Apple, Spotify has held on to its “free” ad-supported service and is very much in the advertising business. (I’ve always suspected that the only reason Spotify has shown any interest in credits or lyrics is that those text renderings are also known as advertising keywords.)

But Spotify appears to be disrupting truth in its own advertising according to the Independent. Spotify “announced on 21 January that it would be bringing Spotify Podcast Ads to the UK for all users – meaning Premium subscribers who paid to avoid adverts will still have to listen to promotional content….The ads are only available on podcasts that Spotify produces itself, so it will receive money both from subscription fees and company ads.”

In the UK, false advertising is regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority, the industry-controlled “regulatory” authority. According to the Independent, “If anyone has concerns that Spotify is making a misleading advertising claim about ‘no ad interruptions’, whether the claim is on its website, in app or elsewhere, we encourage them to contact us and we’ll assess the matter further”, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) told The Independent.” The complaint webform is here.

US users can complain to the Federal Trade Commission and their webform is here.

European Commissioner: Section 230 Dogma “has collapsed” so bring on the EU’s Digital Services Act

The coordinated moves by Silicon Valley to silence Donald Trump are having unintended consequences, but consequences that the legions of Big Tech lawyers must have thought through.  Setting aside the fact that they took down so many accounts so quickly on Twitter that they must have been working from a list prepared long ago, and setting aside the obvious collusive signaling by the Big Tech oligarchs that bad things might happen to anyone who didn’t follow suit (anyone remember SOPA and GoDaddy?), there are existential issues for these companies regarding Senator Ron Wyden’s singular legislative achievement, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  

European Commissioner for Internal Markets Thierry Breton sets out this discussion–can one call a statement of fact an argument?–in an op-ed posted in Politico’s European edition titled Capitol Hill — the 9/11 moment of social media.   Although 9/11 was the Internet’s 9/11 moment, I take his point.  However, as Mr. Breton makes clear, Europe is proposing legislation in the form of the Digital Services Act that would hold Big Tech accountable way before there’s a riot.

Mr. Breton writes:

The dogma anchored in section 230 — the U.S. legislation that provides social media companies with immunity from civil liability for content posted by their users — has collapsed….

Regardless of whether silencing a standing president was the right thing to do, should that decision be in the hands of a tech company with no democratic legitimacy or oversight? Can these platforms still argue that they have no say over what their users are posting?

While it may be “too soon” to have these clear eyed discussions that Mr. Breton forces us to face up to, it is important to understand his essential point.  These are not lemonade stands.  Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon are well known defense contractors.  Amazon has suffered during the Trump administration in its quest for a place at the government trough.  All of these companies that are participating in crushing their competitor Parler have skin in the Section 230 game and opposing any legislation to roll it back.  Any lobbyist who’s being candid with you will acknowledge that stopping legislation to roll back Section 230 is at least a two Tesla job if not a two Gulfstream job with a Vineyard house bonus.

So let’s heed Mr. Breton’s admonishment to focus on what really just happened.  They all acknowledged they don’t qualify for Section 230 anymore and Europe intends to hold them accountable.  As he says:

These last few days have made it more obvious than ever that we cannot just stand by idly and rely on these platforms’ good will or artful interpretation of the law. We need to set the rules of the game and organize the digital space with clear rights, obligations and safeguards. We need to restore trust in the digital space. It is a matter of survival for our democracies in the 21st century.

Europe is the first continent in the world to initiate a comprehensive reform of our digital space through the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act, both of which the European Commission tabled in December. They are both based on one simple yet powerful premise: What is illegal offline should also be illegal online….

The DSA [gives] online platforms clear obligations and responsibilities to comply with these laws, granting public authorities more enforcement powers and ensuring that all users’ fundamental rights are safeguarded.

With the DSA, Europe has made its opening move. Our democratic institutions will work hard and fast to finalize this reform. But the challenges faced by our societies and democracies are global in nature.

.Any guesses on who is fighting the DSA with all guns blazing?  

 

Jack Ma’s Pain May Explain Why Kevin Mayer Got Out of TikTok

When TikTok first came under criticism for being under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, many in the music business didn’t quite know what to make of it. Kevin Mayer’s sudden departure seemed kind of inexplicable and sudden. I moderated a panel of great experts on the subject at the Music Business Association Law and Technology Conference (materials here) and we put together what I still think are important background documents for understanding the differences between doing business in an authoritarian collectivist state that has the legal basis in national law to demand not only compliance, but also governance and also ownership.

Now we have evidence from billionaire Jack Ma and Alibaba/Ant Group of just how in your face Kevin Mayer’s sit down may have been. Remember, Jack Ma is a member of the larger Chinese Communist Party according to the BBC. (I have to believe that TikTok grand poobah Zhang Yiming is also a member and most definitely is very familiar with these sit downs.)

According to the Wall Street Journal’s Lingling Wei, Jack Ma offered CCP regulators any part of Ant Group they wanted if they’d just let him conclude what would have been the world’s largest IPO.

As Jack Ma was trying to salvage his relationship with Beijing in early November, the beleaguered Chinese billionaire offered to hand over parts of his financial-technology giant, Ant Group, to the Chinese government, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

“You can take any of the platforms Ant has, as long as the country needs it,” Mr. Ma, China’s richest man, proposed at an unusual sit-down with regulators, the people said.

Jack Ma has done a number of things to provoke retaliation by the CCP government. He got sideways because Ant Group has a banking operation has loaned approximately $230 billion outside of the CCP’s banking controls. The last straw seems to have been criticizing CCP Chairman for Life Xi Jinping’s financial regulations that Ma felt would cause capital shortfalls that would be made up by the Bank of China (the CCP’s central bank) buying equity to make up those shortfalls. See how that works? They’re not requiring Ant to sell them equity, they are just helping out. That’s a nice IPO you got there, be a shame if something happened to it.

TikTok’s Mr. Zhang has been there and would probably tell Mr. Ma to embrace the suck.  It should come as no surprise–according to his Wikipedia page, Mr. Zhang understands what happens when you don’t toe the Party line:

[Zhang’s] first app, Neihan Duanzi, was shut down in 2018 by the National Radio and Television Administration. In response, Zhang issued an apology stating that the app was “incommensurate with socialist core values“, that it had a “weak” implementation of Xi Jinping Thought, and promised that ByteDance would “further deepen cooperation” with the ruling Chinese Communist Party to better promote its policies.

All of which gives us better insight into why Keven Mayer might have decided to exit TikTok.

Europe Leads the Way Again in Prosecuting Google for Profit from Lawbreaking

Digital Music News reports:

A Paris court has barred Google from selling ad space to third parties that are attempting to resell event tickets without the promoter’s permission.

The court reiterated in its order that companies must receive written authorization from promoters to sell and/or advertise secondhand concert tickets – and that Google must assure that said authorization is in place before green-lighting the sale of ad keywords to resellers. This decision expands upon Article 313-6-2 of France’s Penal Code, which went into effect in March of 2012.

Google, of course, has a long history of profiting from selling advertising on illegal products starting with violations of the Controlled Substances Act for which the company was fined $500,000,000 (and paid at least a few hundred million more in judgements after Google was sued by shareholders). That case is one of the few reported cases that have been brought against Google in the U.S. until Maria Schneider’s class action against YouTube this year.

Google is, of course, being pursued on antitrust violations by the U.S. Department of Justice and the States of Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, and Texas.

I’ve been saying for a long time that Google is essentially a criminal enterprise ideally suited for a RICO prosecution, and frankly in collusion with a number of other members of the digital Concrete Club.

DLC Members

We’ll see what happens in Europe, and if that might influence U.S. prosecutors.