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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

In effect, Google is telling the world that unmoderated, no-holds-barred exchanges are not welcome in cyberspace. Playing censor, playing government – both made possible by Google’s market power, which, in its turn, makes it susceptible to government regulation.

Susceptible and even vulnerable as they might be, I don’t expect anti-trust proceedings anywhere in the world to put an end to Google’s and Apple’s dominance in certain markets. If I have hope – if never too much – it’s for new technology and know-how both to dislodge the oligopolies and defang government censorship.

The Dilettante’s Winterings

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39 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Johnnydub

    But its not government censorship. Its explicitly shadow government censorship. Those that know better are bloody furious.

    They’ve already started descending the “evil” rungs – The Rebel Media in Canada got pushed by its platform provider. You Tube now routinely demonitise huge swathes of “right” wing content, even from inoffensive people like Sargon of Akkad.

    What do you think is going to happen over the next 3.5 years? Facebook and Twitter really helped Trump. Next time round they’re going to do their best to make sure that any conservatives dont have access to these tools.

    In my opinion Trump cant waste any time on the anti-trust push…

  • John Galt III

    Two thoughts on alternatives you requested:

    1) Well, Samizdat. I mean what is this blog named for?

    2) Kate’s daily prayer at Small Dead Animals: “Oh sweet Saint of San Andreas, hear my prayer.”

  • Jamesg

    What Murray Rothbard said on anti trust:

    The only viable definition of monopoly is a grant of privilege from the government. It therefore becomes quite clear that it is impossible for the government to decrease monopoly by passing punitive laws. The only way for the government to decrease monopoly, if that is the desideratum, is to remove its own monopoly grants. The antitrust laws, therefore, do not in the least “diminish monopoly.” What they do accomplish is to impose a continual, capricious harassment of efficient business enterprise….

    This [definitions of monopoly] implicitly assumes that “competition” is some sort of quantity. But it is not; it is a process, whereby individuals and firms supply goods on the market without using force.3 To preserve “competition” does not mean to dictate arbitrarily that a certain number of firms of a certain size have to exist in an industry or area; it means to see to it that men are free to compete (or not) unrestrained by the use of force.

  • Alisa

    As has been pointed out on one of the earlier threads here, Google is fairly cozy with the US government – or at least with the previous Administration. What this means for any future related regulations remains to be seen.

  • EdMJ

    I don’t expect anti-trust proceedings anywhere in the world to put an end to Google’s and Apple’s dominance in certain markets

    There are calls for this already:

    https://townhall.com/columnists/kurtschlichter/2017/08/14/conservatives-must-regulate-google-and-all-of-silicon-valley-into-submission-n2368118

    Saw some interesting discussion on Twitter about it, but someone made the good point that efforts like the above will more than likely just end up putting up barriers to entry for new challengers, so will be ultimately self-defeating.

    If I have hope – if never too much – it’s for new technology and know-how both to dislodge the oligopolies and defang government censorship.

    I agree that if anywhere, this is where hope lies. The future is a decentralized internet.

    Consider how many networks the modern western internet user is a part of — Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Uber, Airbnb, eBay, Etsy, Tumblr — the list goes on. In each of these cases, the network’s value is created by the users, but the value each individual user generates goes to the owners of the network. In this new blockchain-based model, that value is actually given back to the users of the network, proportional to their contribution.

    And not just in networks, but AdTech as well.

    This has an interesting thought experiment based on Marshall McLuhan’s framework for understanding the effects of a new technology in the world. Every new medium (read: technology) has four sets of effects, he said, which can be best discovered in answers to four questions:

    * What does the medium enhance?
    * What does the medium make obsolete?
    * What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
    * What does the medium reverse, or flip into, when pushed to extremes?

    For those interested in the current state of all this sort of stuff, this is a good summary.

  • polidorisghost

    Dominic Frisby, of Money Week fame, reckons that blockchain technology will blow apart the likes of twitter and youtube by cutting out the middleman.
    I have no idead whether this makes sense or not, but somebody here might.

  • Alisa

    Very informative, EdMJ – thank you.

  • Rob Fisher

    A blockchain is a set of distributed information with mechanisms for controlling how it can be modified and getting people to agree on the correct values of the data. The technology is probably useful for certain aspects of decentralised versions of things like Twitter and Facebook. But there are lots of other approaches and lots of other things needed. It’s probably more useful to just say “decentralised” and not worry too much about the underlying mechanism.

  • Paul Marks

    Relying on government regulations (such as “Anti Trust”) to defend Freedom of Speech on the internet is like relying on a fox to guard chickens.

    How did these companies (Google, Facebook and so on) get so big? I have a hard time believing it was because they were created by genius figures (indeed whenever their top people speak they talk like blithering idiots – morons), I suspect that government regulations helped these internet companies get so big and so dominant.

  • Rob Fisher

    It strikes me that there are plenty of alternatives to Google and Apple, they are just not as easily discoverable. Anyone can make an alternative app store for phones (Amazon already do). Anyone can host videos or make a web site like Twitter. The internet is already decentralised.

    The problem is popularisation. And that’s not exactly a new problem. And its orthogonal to the problem of making new “decentralising tech” because even that would have to be popularised if you actually want anyone to read what you write on the new decentralised Google alternative.

    The advantage of decentralising is to not have a central point that governments can attack. It does nothing against market reach of big players. All of which seems obvious now I have typed it but it helps to separate these things out.

  • Regional

    Is Bing any better?

  • Deep Lurker

    I’m another who is skeptical that it’s Google’s “market power” that’s allowing it to misbehave. Past examples of “private” restrictions have had quiet government backing or quiet government threats in the background. E.g. the Hayes Code, or the Comics Code Authority.

    A recent example is the way credit card companies have closed the accounts of certain porn producers and porn performers, and have put limits on what other pornsters can produce if they want to keep their accounts. But this isn’t due to a sudden rush of traditional-value conservatives within the banks, but rather a formerly-secret government program: “Operation Choke Point.” Which ostensibly was put into place to “prevent fraud” and ostensibly has been shut down now. But it’s not too tin-foil-hattish to suspect that a similar policy is continuing under a different name. Or under unwritten, unspoken, but commonly-understood rules. And that banks that break the embargo on certain kinds of legal-but-government-disapproved porn will find themselves investigated to death for reasons that have *ahem* nothing to do *ahem* with the banks’s choice of clients.

    Similarly with Google: I suspect that the rampaging SJWs have the role of useful idiots, rather than being the movers and shakers who initiated the information-suppressing policies.

  • Darryl Watson

    How did these companies (Google, Facebook and so on) get so big? I have a hard time believing it was because they were created by genius figures (indeed whenever their top people speak they talk like blithering idiots – morons), I suspect that government regulations helped these internet companies get so big and so dominant.

    The penalty of success is size. Why wouldn’t you believe that individuals guided these companies to large size? How else does it happen? Just because they are making idiot statements now in the context of their success, does not mean that they didn’t have the resources/drive to bring their company there. Government is reactive, not active; I am sure policy-makers pile on when they see where the mob goes.

  • Alisa

    Not at all far-fetched, Deep Lurker.

  • Alisa

    That said, I don’t know about Paul’assumption: although it often seems otherwise, Google, FB and the rest haven’t been around for long enough to suspect that their monopolies are anything more than “natural” and therefore temporary. I think that we are at a crossroads on this entire issue, where the current giant monopolies may well very quickly be replaced by upstarts using new technologies and social dynamics. That is, unless the governments and other meddlers keep their hands off it all.

  • bobby b

    In other news, Ezra Levant’s conservative Canadian site The Rebel – a/k/a Rebel Media – is down in parts of the world as its domain provider simply decided yesterday, with no notice, that it wasn’t nice enough to be on the internet. Levant is looking for a new provider.

    Milo’s mail service was also cut off yesterday by his provider, again because he’s not nice enough for them to provide service to him.

    They’re going to find themselves termed “common carriers” before long, and many of us will cheer. It’s a profoundly anti-libertarian reaction, I know, but still an enjoyable one.

  • Alisa

    I am not a libertarian, but I find nothing enjoyable about such a possibility – in fact, I dread it.

  • bobby b

    Interesting on-point article in The New Yorker entitled Who Owns The Internet – covers some of what is being discussed here.

    It doesn’t, however, discuss the legal/internet issue that makes the current battle interesting and enjoyable for me, which is the immunity afforded to service providers (in the USA) by the Communications Decency Act.

    The CDA contains this line: “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”.

    In essence, the providers lobbied for this protection, arguing that they are merely a pass-through service with no control over actual content. Because of this, providers face no liability for illegal porn, libel, and the like.

    But what happens if they choose to disconnect certain groups but leave others? Have they then abandoned their role of disinterested carriers and become actual publishers? This will be an interesting fight to watch.

    They currently have the protections afforded to common carriers. They may have cast them away in their zeal to promote rightthink. One possible fix will be to return them to a rigid common-carrier model with no ability to pick and choose their users.

    By their own petard, indeed.

  • Sam Duncan

    “Dominic Frisby, of Money Week fame, reckons that blockchain technology will blow apart the likes of twitter and youtube by cutting out the middleman. I have no idead whether this makes sense or not, but somebody here might.”

    IPFS.

    “In other news, Ezra Levant’s conservative Canadian site The Rebel – a/k/a Rebel Media – is down in parts of the world as its domain provider simply decided yesterday, with no notice, that it wasn’t nice enough to be on the internet.”

    Clearly this wasn’t enough to save him. And that’s what scares me: to the Left, everyone who isn’t one of them is a Nazi. They will come after us. There’s already been a bit in the Guardian about tearing down Nelson’s Column.

    “They’re going to find themselves termed “common carriers” before long, and many of us will cheer.”

    I don’t want to hear another word from Google, Facebook, GoDaddy, Cloudflare, or anyone else who’s joined this witch hunt about “net neutrality”. But yes, while it sticks in my craw, maybe it’s time to let them have it, good and hard.

  • Alisa

    Not a good idea Sam – it is going to come back and bite us all in the bum.

  • Laird

    A good question, bobby b, one which I have been pondering, too. An excellent argument can be made that if Google, FB, et al engage in self-censorship they are at least tacitly endorsing the positions which they permit to remain (they become de facto “publishers” of it), and thus have renounced and/or forfeited the protections of the CDA. It seems to me that they should have to make a choice: permit posting of anything which isn’t actually and specifically illegal and enjoy the immunity provided by the CDA, or impose their own filters or moderators and forfeit that protection. Force them to put their cards squarely on the table and live with the consequences. One would think that a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican president could make that happen.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Laird and @Bobby b, I believe the pretext is that these apps/web sites violate the terms of service, not that they are decided one way of the other based on their merits or morality. Which is to say they are measured against a putatively objective standard.

    Much as a government, supposedly devoid of religious preference, still can define a code of conduct in the local park which prevents you from setting up a gigantic burning man effigy.

    Honestly, I am actually ok with this. As someone pointed out you can get this app elsewhere. You can search elsewhere. You can monetize your videos elsewhere, and in different ways.

    You might demand a higher standard of behavior from google, but they are at liberty to do what is best in the eyes of the board and shareholders. I might demand that Ford made a better motor car, and they’d be a better company if they did, but I don’t have the right too demand, I do have the right to shop at Toyota.

    Personally I hope that this nonsense is enough to get some serious competition going against Google, one company with that much power isn’t a good thing. Perhaps their recent set of boneheaded decisions is enough of a catalyst.

  • Laird

    Fraser, I don’t disagree that as a private corporation Google (etc.) can do what it likes. My only point is that they should not be accorded statutory immunity from any damages which result from utilization of their services. Or, more specifically, if they are to accorded some form of immunity there have to be acting completely impartially. Relying on their “terms of service” is a red herring; those terms are internally developed and applied, and (should) provide no basis for immunity. You might be able to make an argument if those terms were developed externally, and their implementation were outside of Google’s control, but obviously that’s not the case.

  • bobby b

    Fraser Orr, I agree with everything you said.

    I also agree that the correct solution to this is the market-based one, where we simply move to other, more welcoming, platforms.

    But I will derive some illogical and warming satisfaction if I can watch while Google, FB, and Twitter end up harming themselves through their own actions – especially if the harm is brought about through the stifling actions of an all-encompassing government that these same entities love so much.

  • Russtovich

    Honestly, I am actually ok with this. As someone pointed out you can get this app elsewhere. You can search elsewhere.”

    Totally agree that a business should be able to deny service to whomever they choose. Right now though, in the real world, that is not happening. The Left can blindly disregard the rules and suffer very little in the way of consequences. The same can’t be said for, say, a Christian bakery; or that pizza place in the US (forget where).

    And how about smoking? Your business, your rules.

    To paraphrase:

    Fascism always seems to be descending upon the Right, but somehow it always manages to fall upon the Left instead.

  • Fred Z

    It’s also a great pity that the American Plaintiff’s Bar is solidly left wing. I’d like to see a Texas jury rule on whether explicit terms of service also bind the companies that wrote them.

    here is the current YouTube relevant term:

    “7. Account Termination Policy

    A. YouTube will terminate a user’s access to the Service if, under appropriate circumstances, the user is determined to be a repeat infringer.
    B. YouTube reserves the right to decide whether Content violates these Terms of Service for reasons other than copyright infringement, such as, but not limited to, pornography, obscenity, or excessive length. YouTube may at any time, without prior notice and in its sole discretion, remove such Content and/or terminate a user’su[sic] account for submitting such material in violation of these Terms of Service.”

    Any decent lawyer could make hay out of this term for those who have been de-monetized for their political views.

    Note the typo – not even You-Tube’s lawyers read this piffle.

  • CaptDMO

    “Google is telling the world that unmoderated, no-holds-barred exchanges are not welcome in cyberspace”
    What do you mean “we” Kimo Sabe?
    Got a Habitrail tube in your pocket?

  • Darryl Watson

    This is why the Ethereum Virtual Machine and similar distributed applications are becoming attractive. No private party and no government can shut it down if you choose to deploy an app (like a blog) on it.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Laird, INAL, but the whole immunity thing seems a red herring to me. Carriers, whatever there terms of service shouldn’t be held accountable for what other people do with their stuff. Down that path lies lawsuits against gun manufacturers, and were that to be the case, the makers of the baseball bats used in Charlottesville (never mind the aerosol used as a flamethrower) should quake in their boots.

    But there may be legal principles involved that I don’t know about. So feel free to educate me.

    More broadly though, we have to be contract absolutists for the same reason that we have to be free speech absolutists. The camel’s nose in the tent isn’t a good thing. As soon as we give the government the right to interfere in one small part, they soon take over the whole thing. I suppose though that some rights should never be taken away by contract, and I don’t know how to resolve that problem.

    What I do know is that for the most part the real problem is that the contracts are so complicated because the law is so complicated. Even lawyers don’t know what these things mean. Regularly, the best legal minds in the country sitting on the USSC can’t even agree what the law means.

    Things like liability for other people’s actions, copyright and patent law, confusion over who owns what and so forth make these documents utterly unintelligible.

    I wonder about open source licenses as a model for EULAs. These are documents which are also confusing legalistic bla, but they come with a reputation that conveys their general sense, and a common open source situation that allows deep analysis by those who care about such things, and a sharing with others. When you sign up for an MIT license, or a GNU license, you have no excuse for not knowing what you are getting in to.

    Demand side pressure could perhaps make these common among providers especially small start up providers, and I imagine we might see a “trickle up” effect. But we the demanders have to stop bitching and whining on the internet and start actually using these alternative providers to support and keep our options open. (BTW, the irony of the “bitching and whining” comment, as I do the same, is not lost on me.)

    It is my biggest frustration with the libertarian movement and its US party. To me they just seem a huge contradiction. The very essence of libertarianism is fix it yourself. The idea of voting for libertarianism is almost a contradiction in terms. Don’t explain it to me, I get it, they are trying to get rid of government functions, yeah, of course. But The far bigger and more important action is not getting votes, it is getting options, it is choosing those who share our values. Voting with our pocket book is the only voting that actually makes a difference.

  • bobby b

    Fraser Orr
    August 22, 2017 at 11:32 pm

    “More broadly though, we have to be contract absolutists for the same reason that we have to be free speech absolutists.”

    If we’re going to be free speech absolutists, we should keep in mind what “free speech” really means.

    It’s not meant as a guarantee that we can speak as we like when we’re in our own homes, or in a crowd of our co-believers, or out in a field alone. The essence of the freedom of speech that the drafters of our Constitution contemplated had to do with the right to be able to communicate our views to the public – to everyone.

    “Free speech” implicitly gives us the ability to speak at those who are not on our side – to proselytize, to advocate, to convince, to argue. The right of free speech was most important in that it gave us the right to speak in the public commons – those places where our speech could have meaning and import. In the public commons, where everyone went, all views could be heard from those who chose the soapbox.

    Today, the public commons has been replaced through tech. Facebook and Twitter and the like are now our public commons. Simply by transferring those commons into a realm that is privately held, we have nullified much of the purpose of free speech. If each commons manager can choose which speech to allow in her commons, the power of free speech disappears.

    The market-based solution is to allow for multiple public commons, each limited to discrete viewpoints. We can certainly set up our own Twitter and Facebook and Youtube, but to do so is to guarantee that we’re simply talking to ourselves.

    So I’m torn between believing in the market solution, and accepting a government decree that keeps the 80% within hearing distance of the 20%.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b, I generally agree with you, but on this point I could not disagree more. Just because a lot of people congregate in a private space to talk does not give them the same rights they would have in a private space. If you come to my church you do not have the right to spout off about the Good Lord Satan without being booted out, however, you can do that down in the local park if you want.

    Facebook is owned by facebook, and they have a right to control what is said there if they want to. It is not governed by the first amendment, neither should it be. Not unless you want Nazis in your kitchen.

    Argue if you will that there should be a government free space facebook like place (god help us), but the idea that the internet has somehow stifled free speech is not correct. On the contrary, it has given a vast new territory where people can easily and readily speak their mind. The idea that we need the government to help us with that is about as wrong as I can imagine. They would certainly like to. The British are trying to and the Chinese have. But whenever we see attempts like this, supposedly to open up the net, our reaction should be an angry “get your filthy paws off my browser”.

  • bobby b

    Fraser, upon reflection, I have to say that I agree more with what you wrote than with what I wrote.

    I’m dismayed by the loss of the (the singular “the”) public commons, where we could actually talk to one another and not merely preach to our own choir, and I don’t see a fix for it. We’ll now have many discrete commons shared only by those who already share a common viewpoint, and the right may never again speak in a forum in which the left can hear, or vice versa. We all lose by that, but I’m not seeing a solution.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b, first of all, that is what I love about this place — people who actually think and are more attached to understanding than defending their entrenched position…

    As to your comments, I wonder if there really ever was a place like that — where left and right openly, politely and respectfully exchanged views? Perhaps the truth is that it has always been a bit of an echo chamber, except that with a smaller public space it could more easily be controlled by the “powers that be”. I don’t really know. I do know about the federalist papers though. What an amazing time in intellectual history that was. Done in part by a slave owner too.

  • bobby b

    Fred Z
    August 22, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    “It’s also a great pity that the American Plaintiff’s Bar is solidly left wing.”

    It’s not. The rest of us were on the defense bar, and should have got it right. It’s just as much our fault.

    It was always a shame that, while the Plaintiff’s Bar got so pro-advocacy balls-to-the-wall they’re-evil-and-we’re-angels-of-light loony, the defense bar settled on the prosecutors’ burden of “we’re-here-to-find-The-Truth” egotism.

    It was a costly mistake for our clients (which turned out to be the people.) We should have been more partisanly outrageous.

    I was one of many D counsel in a case involving a P demand for $4.9 billion dollars. I had about $200M – a very small player – and the very current developing scientific evidence proved there was no causation, but our insured had settled $3B worth of cases based on bad science – and our coalition of 70 insurer lawyers had decided that society expected that we should prostrate ourselves for our crimes and “protect” our clients by offering up a “reasonable” amount of their money in expiation of our crimes.

    We misread the science, and we gave away almost $5B to the P bar and fueled their rise for several more generations of financing tort litigation. We can’t blame fish for swimming when we provide the water.

  • Mr Ed

    From what I have gathered, the basis for the statutory immunity (i.e. an exception to the Common Law) is that the publishers say ‘We cannot possibly know what we are hosting, and generally this is a good thing for the polis, so excuse us from liability should we publish criminal or tortious stuff.’ it is as if an Alaskan lumberjack were to be blamed for a drug deal in Puerto Rico written out on paper made from wood he had hewed. (DoJ lawyers go ‘…hmmm…’).

    Yet when it suits them, the publishers can find stuff they object to, albeit that it is lawful, yet they wish to retain a special privilege having demonstrated that they do not need it.

    I leave aside the issue of whether any immunity to the horrors of the criminal and civil legal systems in the USA is a good thing in and of Itself.

  • Paul Marks

    Some people on Youtube (such as “Computing Forever” and “Sargon”) are making a brave stand – but it is clear their days are numbered, it is so horrible.

    bobby b and others would point out that there are ways round censorship.

    Yes (but as he knows well) but only a minority of people will see stuff on the “Dark Web” or whatever.

    Conservative and libertarian views have to be EASY to find – not something one watches fearing that the police will arrive.

    “But Paul, Britain has a Conservative government – surely they will support Freedom of Speech”.

    No comment – no bleeping comment.

  • Thailover

    If the government REALLY wanted “anti-trust”, they would cease engaging in corporatism…

    Special rules for some and not others is what keeps Google/Youtube from being easily competed against.

  • EdMJ

    Paul, hadn’t heard of “Computing Forever” before, thanks for pointing him out.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Thailover
    > Special rules for some and not others is what keeps Google/Youtube from being easily competed against.

    Which rules do you think are advantaging Google/YouTube?