By Ruth Vitale
I’m still reeling from June 27th – which is the day that I must have accidentally stepped into a parallel universe, a topic I know a lot about.
Why? Because I love science fiction. I must read a sci-fi book every two weeks – it’s true! So even as an ex-film executive with no scientific training in black holes or string theory, I know a parallel universe when I see one.
See, on June 27th, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) – an organization funded by Google and usually hell bent on giving them whatever they want, and stopping what they don’t – made a U-turn.
Here’s what they wrote:
Google and Facebook dominate the tools of information discovery and the advertising networks that track users’ every move across much of the Western world. Along with Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, and a few similar companies, they moderate an enormous volume of human communication. This gives them extraordinary power to censor and to surveil.
Holy. Shit. “Extraordinary power to censor and to surveil.”
So, where’s the news there, you ask?
Well remember, the EFF is the same organization that is currently suing the government because the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (aka “FOSTA”) isn’t to their liking… oh, and it’s not a coincidence that Google pulled out all the stops to fight FOSTA. Through the EFF, they’re still at it.
FOSTA? Yes, that’s the Act that Congress passed by a huge margin and has been signed into law, which is designed to protect vulnerable women and children from becoming victims of SEX TRAFFICKING online.
The EFF is basing its attack on FOSTA by arguing it “limits free speech” (it does not) and “hinders efforts to prosecute sex traffickers and aid victims” (nope, very wrong again).
The EFF is also no friend of copyright and whines about any measures, whether legal or voluntary, that the creative community seeks to combat piracy. That, too, fits Google’s agenda.
Hence my shock at their sudden recognition that Google has… well, “extraordinary power” and the ability to abuse it.
So, if we haven’t entered a parallel universe, here are a few other theories:
A. The EFF can’t ignore reality any longer, so they felt they had no choice but to join the growing chorus of voices from business and civil society demanding that Big Tech act more responsibly. We actually wrote a blog about this last month.
These people include Roger McNamee, Ryan Hamilton, Scott Galloway, Martin Sorrell, Mathew Ingram, and others.
B. The co-author of their blog, Mitch Stoltz (Senior Staff Attorney at the EFF and a guy whose attitudes always seem to remarkably parallel Google’s) is looking to collect a severance package in the very near future.
See, Google doesn’t usually sit still while organizations they help fund speak badly about them. One recent example: Look at what happened to our friend Barry Lynn.
Barry’s Open Markets Institute was previously housed at New America, a Google-funded think tank. He has big concerns about the dominance of Big Tech platforms and their ability to use their power against competitors and society.
While at New America, Barry released a statement praising the European Union’s decision to fine Google $2.7 billion for monopolistic practices. Barry and his entire team were asked to leave New America WITHIN 48 HOURS.
There are some major articles about how Google jammed New America on this and why Barry was forced to re-establish his Open Markets Institute outside of GoogleWorld – here’s one of them.
C. Mitch has been abducted by aliens. Certainly, the person saying these things can’t be Mitch. So, whoever you are… SHOW YOURSELF.
There’s also another, perhaps more plausible option:
D. The EFF is joining the growing chorus of complaints against Google because it doesn’t want to seem to not agree, but it is actually doing its master’s bidding.
HUH? You might be asking yourself, “Wait – that makes absolutely no sense.”
But, if you look closely, while the EFF pays lip service to concerns that the online platforms have gotten too big, it still trots out its Google-approved talking points criticizing DMCA §1201 and supporting CDA §230.
Now you might be asking yourself, “What the hell are those? Wasn’t this supposed to just be a fun blog about alien abduction and interdimensional travel? Why are you getting all in the weeds? I just wanted to have fun at other people’s expense! DAMMIT!”
Bear with me. No really. Please!
Section 1201 makes it unlawful to break anti-piracy measures, and we know for a fact that Google prefers weaker copyright law. Section 230 shields Google and other online platforms from the obligations most other businesses have to prevent illegal activity on their services.
Section 230 was the provision that had to be amended by FOSTA to make it illegal for Google and other online platforms to facilitate sex-trafficking. The last thing Google wants is for Section 230 to be further reformed so that it actually forces Google to act responsibly in all scenarios. And remember, as I mentioned above, the EFF is already trying to undo the reforms designed to combat sex trafficking.
Now read Mitch’s line about Google’s “extraordinary power to censor and to surveil” with this in mind. This may really be intended as a boogie man to scare people from asking the company to clean up its platform.
But, I personally like my original parallel universe theory. It’s just more fun that way.
So, back to Mitch Stoltz and the EFF. Have they seen the light? Do they now understand the gross self-interest that drives Google to proceed in a “business as usual” manner while millions are affected by their bullshit?
Do they want to join the good guys who are serious about taking on that “extraordinary power” of Google and Big Tech? If the EFF is still in Google’s pocket but Mitch is having second thoughts, maybe the Open Markets Institute is hiring.
Heck, if he’s actually changed his mind, I might even call Barry to give Mitch a reference.
But most likely, he hasn’t changed his mind and continues to be the anti-copyright party-pooper he’s always been. But, if in fact he has actually been taken by extraterrestrials, we hope he brought a book to read – it might be a while before he’s back.