Maker of addictive tech (Google) criticized by chairman of addictive tech maker (Alphabet)
Google – plus Facebook and Twitter – also gets a shoeing from Obama, newspapers
There is no love for online giants Google and Facebook right now, with even their friends sticking the boot in.
Audio of a secret address given by Barack Obama last week has emerged in which the 44th US President criticized the monster corporations for not recognizing the dangerous negative impact they are having on society.
"Our social media platforms are just a tool," he noted. "ISIS can use that tool. Neo-Nazis can use that tool. I do think the large platforms - Google and Facebook being the most obvious, Twitter and others as well, are part of that ecosystem – have to have a conversation about their business model that recognizes they are a public good as well as a commercial enterprise. They're not just an invisible platform, they're shaping our culture in powerful ways."
Obama and his administration had an especially tight relationship with Google while Barry was in power – Google execs met senior White House officials an extraordinary 230 times in the first five years of Obama's term, averaging once a week, while Comcast, for example, had just 20 such meetings.
"Essentially we now have entirely different realities that are being created with not just different opinions, but now different facts," Obama said. "And this isn't just by the way Russian inspired bots and fake news. This is Fox News versus The New York Times editorial page. If you look at these different sources of information, they do not describe the same thing. In some cases, they don't even talk about the same thing. And so it is very difficult to figure out how democracy works over the long term in those circumstances."
He argued that Facebook and Google would do well to keep in mind that the US government will ensure that "basic rules of the road [are] in place that create level playing fields."
Talking of newspapers, the News Media Alliance (NMA), which represents over 2,000 papers in the United States, has also had enough of Facebook and Google and their special status.
It has launched a new political action committee – yes, a PAC – to "ensure that regulatory and legislative initiatives facilitate investment in news media and allow member companies to operate and develop new business models."
It has lots of other vague words to describe what it plans to do but in reality what the PAC is focused on is getting a safe harbor exemption along the same lines as Google and Facebook enjoy. That exemption enables the online giants to claim they aren't publishers while making money from… publishing content. The newspapers want the same.
And on the exact flip side to that argument, US lawmakers are ready to give Facebook and Google another kicking this week by voting on legislation that would remove blanket legal protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
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Ostensibly intended to tackle online sex trafficking, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) will mean online platforms face legal liability if they host illegal trafficking content.
Facebook backed down from a blanket refusal to entertain such an idea after taking numerous beatings over its Russian bots/fake news problems, settling for an amendment that included the word "knowingly."
The broader internet industry is not happy about that backdown, and Facebook in particular has taken a few beatings from inside the tent, with many worried that cracking the Section 230 door will inevitably lead to intellectual property lawyers jamming in crowbars so they can argue against piracy.
Shoppers fight back
While recovering from all that, here come Google's own users – planting another boot into the giant's face. This time over shopping.
The Google Shopping search engine is still small compared to monsters like Amazon and eBay, but a decision by the web giant to shoot down efforts to sell guns online has annoyed some people. And not gun-toting nut jobs, but wine drinkers and rock lovers.
How come? Shoddy filtering introduced this month, in the aftermath of the Florida high-school shooting massacre, has caused BurGUNdy, GUNs & Roses, glue GUNs, and other stuff with "GUN" in its name, to be temporarily cut from product search results.
The ads goliath has been frantically adjusting those filters as netizens pile up the complaints of baffling blank pages. The filters are easily bypassed, of course. Just search for "glue gunn," for example.
It's just one more punch to the face for what were much-loved companies that could do no wrong just a year ago.
And putting in the final boot is… Google's own chairman.
Earlier this month, MIPS processor granddaddy Professor John Hennessy was named as the new chairman of the board of Google-parent biz Alphabet, replacing Eric Schmidt.
Hennessy gave an interview to the IEEE this week in which he warned against the terrible technology that has been causing rifts in society and causing our youth to become addicted to mindless constant interactions.
To which pretty much everyone has thought: but isn't that Google's entire business plan?
"It's not technology that has created the rifts in our communities," he preambled before pointing out the opposite. "The country and the world are divided; tech just enables anyone to put their opinions out there."
"We should be able to determine and control truly fake news, information that is patentable false," he noted in the same week that Google-owned YouTube promoted a conspiracy theory that one of the students at the Florida high school mass shooting earlier this month was in fact a paid "crisis actor."
"We should be able to figure out how to identify videos that truly incite violence and not be associated with that," Hennessy noted, adding: "That's not going to be easy; censorship is a difficult thing to do. It presents a big challenge for the tech industry." It sure does, John.
He also said he was worried "about young people becoming so focused on electronic devices that they reduce personal interactions, reading books, and other experiences."
Perhaps John isn't aware that one of the largest suppliers of electronic devices and online entertainment is, um, Google. Android, YouTube, Pixel, Chromebooks, Google Home, search, any of that ring any bells?
"When I was growing up, we had extremely strict limitations on when we could watch TV or not; there was absolutely no TV during the week, and only limited viewing time on weekends," the prof sighed. "We have to do the same with young people and their devices today."
Quite right John, let's kill Google and Facebook together. ®