Section 230: Just Flip the Regulation of Big Tech Around

March 30, 2021

I read “No One Agrees on How to Fix Big Tech.” The main point seems to be embodied in this quote from the article attributed to an elected US official:

The time for self-regulation is over. It’s time we legislate to hold you accountable.

Let’s look at the need for regulation in a different way.

Big tech is more democratic than some other systems. Big tech’s users are voting on its value, viability, and virtue with each click. Elected officials and the historical laws are essentially out of step with what people want.

The write up asserts:

You could suggest that each company’s statement on s230 is a reflection of their general values and attitude. Facebook wants to tweak the law to potentially weaken competitors, Google is hoping not to make waves, but won’t shout for the status quo too loudly, while Twitter is already mentally elsewhere. Unfortunately for Zuckerberg, Pichai and Dorsey, none of those positions are likely to sate politicians who understand that something needs to change, but aren’t sure what.

Another view is that big tech is a manifestation of the “new” democracy. The organizations are nation states, have support, and operate above the no longer meaningful laws of historical artifices.

It is increasingly clear that it is a thumbtyping world. Self regulation is not needed when the constituents vote to keep big tech in office.

Stephen E Arnold, March 30, 2021

The Google: Accused of Going Slow

March 25, 2021

I love the automated emails which inform me that one of my WordPress posts has violated Google AMP requirements. We use an automated system to post. We don’t make changes on the fly to our posts. Yet Google wants us to stop everything and fix an AMP issue. The only problem is that we did not create the AMP issue, and the GOOG does not bother to explain what the issue is. We are, however, are supposed to hop to it.

However, those expectations of snappy reaction to order from authorities do not apply to the Google. (Does that surprise you?)

U.S. DOJ Accuses Google of Dragging Its Feet in Antitrust Trial” makes it clear that there is Google’s definition of “snappy” and the US legal system’s definition. The write up reports:

…the Justice Department said that Alphabet’s Google had balked at some search terms that the government wanted it to use to locate relevant documents.

Google is quoted as telling US legal authorities:

“The DOJ Plaintiffs’ proposal is unreasonable and not proportional to the needs of this case,” Google said in the filing.

Beyond Search thinks that it understands the Google’s position; to wit:

  • Google has more money and lawyers and time than the US Department of Justice.
  • Google has a wealth of delaying tactics to use; for example, the firm can explain that it cannot locate documents. This worked when Google was asked to provide salary data which the mom and pop ad shop could not gin up. Imagine that.
  • Churn among lawyers in the US Department of Justice is a constant. Perhaps the idea is, “Let’s wait and see if more friendly lawyers get assigned to the case.”

Logical, right? That’s why I have to react immediately to an AMP message caused by Google’s onw system. Absolutely.

Stephen E Arnold, March 26, 2021

Fruit of Tainted Tree: An Interesting Metaphor and a Challenge for Data Removal Methods

March 22, 2021

I am not legal eagle. In fact, legal eagles frighten me. I clutch my billfold, grab my sweater, and trundle away as fast as my 77 year old legs permit. I do read legal info which seems interesting. “FTC Says That One Cannot Retain the Fruit of the Tainted Tree.” That’s a flashy metaphor for lawyers, but the “tainted” thing is intriguing. If an apple is stolen and that apple is poisoned, what happens if someone makes apple sauce, serves it to the PTA, and a pride of parents die? Tainted, right?

The write up explains:

the FTC has found that the work product of ill-gotten data is no longer retainable by the developer.

Okay, let’s say a developer creates an application or service and uses information available on a public Web site. But those data were uploaded by a bad actor and made available as an act of spite. Then the intrepid developer recycles those data and the original owner of the data cries, “Foul.”

The developer now has to remove those data. But how does one remove what may be individual datum from a data storage system and a dynamic distributed, modern software component.

Deletions are not really removals. The deletion leaves the data, just makes it unfindable in the index. To remove an item of information, more computational work is required. Faced with many deletions, short cuts are needed. Explaining what deletions are and aren’t in a modern distributed system can be an interesting exercise.

Now back to the tainted tree. If the ruling sticks, exactly what data will have to be removed. Is a single datum a fruit. Years ago, Dun & Bradstreet learned that some of its data, collected then by actual humans talking to contacts in financial institutions or in gyms, could not be the property of the outstanding data aggregation company. A phone number is or used to be a matter of fact. Facts were not something an outfit could own unless they were organized in a work and even then I never understood exactly what the rules were. When I worked in the commercial database business, we tried to enter into agreements with sources. Tedious, yes, but we had a deal and were not los banditos.

Some questions crossed my mind:

  1. How exactly will tainted fruit (apples, baskets of apples, or the aforementioned apple sauce) be removed? How long will a vendor have to remove data? (The Google right to be forgotten method seems sluggish, but that’s just my perception of time, not the GOOG’s or the EC regulators’.)
  2. How will one determine if data have been removed? There are back up tapes and sys admins who can examine data tables with a hex editor to locate certain items of information.
  3. What is the legal exposure of a person who uses tainted fruit which is identified as tainted after reuse? What if the delay is in lawyer time; for example, a year or more later?
  4. What happens when outfits use allegedly public domain images to train an AI and an image is not really public domain? Does the AI system have to be dumped? (I am thinking about Facebook’s push into image recognition.)

Worth watching if this write up is spot on and how the legal eagles circle this “opportunity” for litigation.

Stephen E Arnold, March 22, 2021

Google Road Kill: Legal Eagles Circle Data Incognita

March 17, 2021

I read “Google Must Face Suit over Snooping on Incognito Browsing.” Google created the “incognito” mode to give users of Chrome a way to browse privately. The write up states:

Google failed to kill a lawsuit alleging that it secretly scoops up troves of internet data even if users browse in “Incognito” mode to keep their search activity private.

What happens when marketing to stimulate more useful clicks collides with the reality of constant data collection?

This type of legal position it seems:

“The court concludes that Google did not notify users that Google engages in the alleged data collection while the user is in private browsing mode,” U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, wrote in her ruling.

Google, according to the article, took this position:

Incognito mode in Chrome gives you the choice to browse the internet without your activity being saved to your browser or device. As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity during your session.

But Google users have to agree to Google policies. These policies seems to give the friendly, mom and pop online ad company license to capture user information. Incognito, logically, does not mean invisible. Ergo, user activity is, logically, visible.

If you are Googley, you will understand the line of reasoning.

Several observations:

  1. The explanation is rhetorically similar to the Gibru-gibberish output with regard to a former Googler’s research paper about “ethics”
  2. The use of incognito mode provides a useful item of metadata which may of use to some analytic routines used by the mom and pop online ad company, its partners, and its developers
  3. The involvement of the courts is part of the mom and pop, online ad company’s strategy of do, deflect, and delay via marketing and legal activities.

The hitch in the git along is that users and regulators are starting to look at the mom and pop online ad agency as a less friendly entity today than it was in the years after the company’s initial public offering.

This perception shift is incorrect. Google has been consistent in its game plan, methods, and embrace of do, deflect, and delay.

What worked in the past, however, seems to be manifesting stress fractures; for example, the interesting criticism of Microsoft and the giving in to a mere country like Australia for news content.

Litigation is expensive, and Google has the motivation and the means to wear down opponents in costly, time consuming, and complex legal engagements. Not every Google opponent has the grit of Oracle to joust about Java. In the absence of meaningful regulation, Google’s logic is likely to keep those legal eagles circling in the hopes of digital road kill upon which to fatten themselves.

Stephen E Arnold, March 17, 2021

Russia: Taking Big Tech to Court and Maybe Penal Colony No. 2

March 16, 2021

Vladimir Putin’s power is considerable. There are the government entities and the informal entities. Both can be used to interesting effect. “Russia Sues Google, Twitter, Facebook for Not Helping to Suppress Anti-Putin Protests” explains:

Russian authorities have filed lawsuits against five of the world’s biggest social-media platforms for allegedly refusing to pull down users’ posts that urged people to join nationwide anti-Putin protests earlier this year.

What firms are in the Russian legal systems’ smart targeting system? Superstars include Twitter, Google, Facebook, TikTok, and Telegram. Telegram allegedly worked a deal with regard to encrypted messages, but that may be put aside. Some at Telegram may have family in Russia, and these individuals — if they are in the rodina — may have some interesting opportunities to meet Russian officials soon. Facebook, Google, and Twitter may ignore the legal annoyances. These firms have to worry about other issues. Google has to deal with some staffing issues. Facebook is busy explaining that it is not a monopoly to US legal eagles. And, Twitter? Yes, a PR blitz, new services, and suddenly astir digital guru. That’s an interesting problem for some. TikTok is Chinese. And with China and Russia becoming pals and planning a holiday near the moon, TikTok may just be redirected using bureaucratic tools employed to fix up Hong Kong elections.

Alleged image of a “typical” Russian Penal Colony No. 2.

image

The companies each have three cases against them, according to the news agency, with each case punishable by a fine of up to 4 million rubles, or around $54,000.

If found guilty, I would suggest that employees of these firms put off their vacation in Sochi. If slammed into Penal Colony No. 2, the executives of the offending firms would have a chance to meet some interesting people. Tattoos to commemorate the user experience are available as well. Internet service is spotty from what I have heard.

Stephen E Arnold, March 16, 2021

Cyprus: Illuminating Some Interesting Organizations

March 10, 2021

Cyprus, a fine island, can be baffling to first time visitors. Some of the confusion may be reduced if the information in “Cyprus to Life Veil of Secrecy with Register of Company Owners.” Some firms in the specialized services game have offices in Nicosia. Some are housed in what look like fancy villas or zippy apartment buildings. The listing of company owners is not available, but allegedly the list will become available in the  near future. Why is this a big deal? Some bad actors use Cyprus as a headquarters and financial resource center. Why not part a super yacht and take care of business in above average anonymity. The list may be called the “Ultimate Beneficial Owner” register. Among the individuals concerned about this new sunlight are quite interesting individuals allied with certain powerful Eastern European leaders and “organizations.” Who is in charge of this project? Cyprus’s Ministry of Energy, Commerce, and Industry. Will that individual exercise some additional caution? We will know and maybe get a chance to learn about the UBO people. Maybe.

Stephen E Arnold, March 11, 2021

Facebook WhatsApp, No Code Ecommerce, and Google: What Could Go Wrong?

March 5, 2021

The Dark Web continues to capture the attention of some individuals. The little secret few pursue is that much of the Dark Web action has shifted to encrypted messaging applications. Even Signal gets coverage in pot boiler novels. Why? Encrypted messaging apps are quite robust convenience stores? Why go to Ikea when one can scoot into a lightweight, mobile app and do “business.” How hard is it to set up a store, make its products like malware or other questionable items available in WhatsApp, and start gathering customers? Not hard at all. In fact, there is a no code wrapper available. With a few mouse clicks, a handful of images, and a product or service to sell, one can be in business. The developer – an outfit called Wati – provides exactly when the enterprising marketer requires. None of that Tor stuff. None of the Amazon police chasing down knock off products from the world’s most prolific manufacturers. New territory, so what could go wrong. If you are interested in using WhatsApp as an ecommerce vehicle, you can point your browser to this Google Workspace Marketplace. You will need both a Google account and a WhatsApp account. Then you can us “a simple and powerful Google Sheet add-on to launch an online store from Google Sheets and take orders on WhatsApp.” How much does this service cost? The developer asserts, “It’s free forever.” There is even a video explaining what one does to become a WhatsApp merchant. Are there legitimate uses for this Google Sheets add on? Sure. Will bad actors give this type of service a whirl? Sure. Will Google police the service? Sure. Will Facebook provide oversight? Sure. That’s a lot of sures. Why not be optimistic? For me, the Wati wrapper is a flashing yellow light that a challenge to law enforcement is moving from the Dark Web to apps which are equally opaque. Progress? Nope.

Stephen E Arnold, March 5, 2021

Judge in Google Trial Not Googley

March 1, 2021

I read an inadvertently amusing story called “Judge in Google Case Disturbed That Incognito Users Are Tracked.” Google is engaged in one of its many legal battles. This case concerns Brown v. Google, 20-cv-03664, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose). The presiding judge is U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh. The write up reports:

In this case, Google is accused of relying on pieces of its code within websites that use its analytics and advertising services to scrape users’ supposedly private browsing history and send copies of it to Google’s servers.Google makes it seem like private browsing mode gives users more control of their data, Amanda Bonn, a lawyer representing users, told Koh. In reality, “Google is saying there’s basically very little you can do to prevent us from collecting your data, and that’s what you should assume we’re doing,” Bonn said.

Just as “unlimited” means “you have to be kidding”, the word “incognito” does not mean hidden. Judge Koh apparently was not aware of the GOOG’s native language. Google’s lawyer alleged suggested that Google “expressly discloses” its practices.

I laughed so hard that my eyes watered. No, I was not emulating happy crying.

The judge did not find Google’s argument as funny as I did. The write up reports:

The judge demanded an explanation “about what exactly Google does,” while voicing concern that visitors to the court’s website are unwittingly disclosing information to the company.“I want a declaration from Google on what information they’re collecting on users to the court’s website, and what that’s used for.

My hunch is that Google’s legal eagle Stephen Broome may be swept clean. The door is now open in Judge Koh’s courtroom for more amusing Google speak and the resultant misunderstandings.

“Expressly disclosing.” That is a good one. Where’s Jack Benny when we need him to work the phrase into a skit with Phil Harris?

Stephen E Arnold, March 1, 2021

Gebru-Gibberish: A Promise, Consultants, and Surgical Management Action

March 1, 2021

I read “Google Reportedly Promises Change to Research Team after High Profile Firings.” The article explains that after female artificial intelligence researchers found their futures elsewhere, Google (the mom and pop neighborhood online ad agency) will:

will change its research review procedures this year.

Okay, 10 months.

The write up points out that the action is

an apparent bid to restore employee confidence in the wake of two high-profile firings of prominent women from the [AI ethics] division.

Yep, words. I found this passage redolent of Gebru-gibberish; that is, wordage which explains how smart software ethics became a bit of a problem for the estimable Google outfit:

By the end of the second quarter, the approvals process for research papers will be more smooth and consistent, division Chief Operating Officer Maggie Johnson reportedly told employees in the meeting. Research teams will have access to a questionnaire that allows them to assess their projects for risk and navigate review, and Johnson predicted that a majority of papers would not require additional vetting by Google. Johnson also said the division is bringing in a third-party firm to help it conduct a racial-equity impact assessment, Reuters reports, and she expects the assessment’s recommendations “to be pretty hard.”

Okay. A questionnaire. A third party firm. Pretty hard.

What’s this mean?

The Ars Technica write up does not translate. However, from my vantage point in rural Kentucky, I understand the Gebru-gibberish to mean:

  1. Talk about ethical smart software and the GOOG reacts in a manner informed by high school science club principles
  2. Female AI experts are perceived as soft targets but that may be a misunderstanding in the synapses of the Google
  3. The employee issues at Google are overshadowing other Google challenges; for example, the steady rise of Amazon product search, the legal storm clouds, and struggles with the relevance of ads displayed in response to user queries or viewed YouTube videos.

Do I expect more Gebru-gibberish?

Will Microsoft continue to insist that its SAML is the most wonderful business process in the whole wide world?

Stephen E Arnold, March 1, 2021

Google and Microsoft in Australia: Ripping the Fabric of Some of the Internet?

February 8, 2021

Australia wants Google to pay for news. Microsoft wants more traffic and advertising revenue. Australia? The front lines of the battle for the Internet? “Microsoft Offers To Break The Web In A Desperate Attempt To Get Somebody To Use Its Widely-Ignored Bing Search Engine” and learned:

The worsening situation over upload filters has obscured the other bad idea of the EU Copyright Directive: the so-called “link tax”, which would require large Internet companies like Google to pay when they use even small amounts of news material. One worrying development in this area is that the idea has spread beyond the EU. As Techdirt reported, Australia is bringing in what amounts to a tax on Google and Facebook for daring to send traffic to legacy news organizations — notably those of Rupert Murdoch.

Yep, from the European Union to Australia the fabric of the Internet is under pressure. Google is concerned, upset even. But Microsoft:

in a desperate attempt to get someone to use its still largely-ignored search engine Bing, Microsoft is apparently willing to throw the Web under the bus. It’s an incredibly short-sighted and selfish move. Sure, it’s legitimate to want to take advantage of a rival’s problems. But not to the extent of causing serious harm to the very fabric of the Web, the hyperlink.

Links under assault? A push to investigate technology monopolies in the US? The SolarWinds’ misstep which reminds one that security is a misty concept? Political turmoil? Covid?

Now links.

Who knew that monetizing links would do “harm to the fabric of the Web”? Quick questions? What’s happening in China and Russia? Whose Internet? Perhaps the Internet has already morphed and the skirmish in Australia may be less than it seems? The tension seems to be removed from the growth sectors for online services? In fact, the dust up seems almost quaint.

Threats, saber rattling, and the effort to preserve the online past are not easily TikTok-able. That could be a problem for the firms and publishers not in the big growth game.

Stephen E Arnold, February 8, 2021

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