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?  

 

@hypebot: Alleged Music Pirate Also Stole Dozens Of Hypebot Articles

RikiMusic is pirating dozens of articles from Hypebot as well as allegedly uploading tracks from indie artists to Spotify and Amazon Music without authorization….

Caleb Jackson Dills, who first wrote about the music theft for Artists Rights Watch, also noticed that the content on the RikiMusic blog looked familiar.

Virtually all of the dozens of posts on the RikiMusic site were pirated directly from Hypbot.com and illegally published verbatim without attribution.

Read the post on Hypebot

Press Release: @FTC Unanimously Votes to Examine Past Acquisitions by Large Technology Companies

PRESS RELEASE

The Federal Trade Commission issued Special Orders to five large technology firms, requiring them to provide information about prior acquisitions not reported to the antitrust agencies under the Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Act. The orders require Alphabet Inc. (including Google), Amazon.com, Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook, Inc., and Microsoft Corp. to provide information and documents on the terms, scope, structure, and purpose of transactions that each company consummated between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2019.

The Commission issued these orders under Section 6(b) of the FTC Act, which authorizes the Commission to conduct wide-ranging studies that do not have a specific law enforcement purpose. The orders will help the FTC deepen its understanding of large technology firms’ acquisition activity, including how these firms report their transactions to the federal antitrust agencies, and whether large tech companies are making potentially anticompetitive acquisitions of nascent or potential competitors that fall below HSR filing thresholds and therefore do not need to be reported to the antitrust agencies.

“Digital technology companies are a big part of the economy and our daily lives,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “This initiative will enable the Commission to take a closer look at acquisitions in this important sector, and also to evaluate whether the federal agencies are getting adequate notice of transactions that might harm competition. This will help us continue to keep tech markets open and competitive, for the benefit of consumers.”

The Special Orders require each recipient to identify acquisitions that were not reported to the FTC and the U.S. Department of Justice under the HSR Act, and to provide information similar to that requested on the HSR notification and report form. The orders also require companies to provide information and documents on their corporate acquisition strategies, voting and board appointment agreements, agreements to hire key personnel from other companies, and post-employment covenants not to compete. Last, the orders ask for information related to post-acquisition product development and pricing, including whether and how acquired assets were integrated and how acquired data has been treated.

The Commission plans to use the information obtained in this study to examine trends in acquisitions and the structure of deals, including whether acquisitions not subject to HSR notification might have raised competitive concerns, and the nature and extent of other agreements that may restrict competition. The Commission also seeks to learn more about how small firms perform after they are acquired by large technology firms. These and related issues were discussed during several sessions of the FTC’s 2018 Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century, and this study is part of the follow-up from those Hearings.

The FTC has a statutory right under the HSR Act to review acquisitions and mergers over a certain size before they are consummated, and the study will help the Commission consider whether additional transactions should be subject to premerger notification requirements. The orders will also contribute broadly to the FTC’s understanding of technology markets, and thereby support the FTC’s program of vigorous and effective enforcement to promote competition and protect consumers in digital markets.

The Commission vote to approve issuing the Special Orders was 5-0. Commissioners Christine S. Wilson and Rohit Chopra issued a joint statement.

The Federal Trade Commission develops policy initiatives on issues that affect competition, consumers, and the U.S. economy. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, read our blogs, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.