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Antitrust

Section 230 Has Coddled Big Tech For Too Long, Says Co-Author of Book on Amazon

Co-author of “The Amazon Jungle” says Section 230 has allowed Big Tech to get away with far too much.

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"The Amazon Jungle" co-author Jason Boyce

May 11, 2021 – The internet liability provision Section 230 has allegedly given Amazon the ability to allow unvetted products on its platform, which has boosted its business at the expense of customers, an Amazon critic is claiming.

Jason Boyce is the co-author of the book The Amazon Jungle: The Truth About Amazon, The Seller’s Survival Guide for Thriving on the World’s Most Perilous E-Commerce Marketplace,”  that dives into the size of Amazon and its alleged privacy issues.

“Amazon is protected by Section 230” and not in a good way, Boyce said in an interview with Broadband Breakfast.

“These White entitled hoodie wearing billionaires aren’t going to do the right thing for the U.S. citizens,” said Jason Boyce, co-author with Rick Cesari of the book. It attempts to explain just how big the company really is and the privacy issues it poses.

In an interview with Broadband Breakfast, Boyce discussed how and why it needs to be held accountable for its alleged dominance in ecommerce and other markets is vying to own.

Boyce singled out CEOs of other big tech companies, calling Mark Zuckerberg “poison,” and the “bearded wonder,” referring to Jack Dorsey at Twitter. Not even Jeff Bezos’ blazer exempts him from his responsibility, he said.

“These white entitled hoodie wearing billionaires aren’t going to do the right thing for the U.S. citizens,” he said.  Boyce said that these “libertarian” idols are no longer trustworthy in part due to their lack of respect for intellectual property and privacy invasion with no means of remuneration to the consumer.

Amazon was contacted multiple times for comment on this interview before publication, and while it said a response would be given, the company did not follow-up.

Amazon’s role in the Section 230 debate

Section 230 from the Communications Decency Act of 1996 says that “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 other words, online intermediaries are protected against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for what others say and do—which can extend to the sale of products from third parties in Amazon’s case.

If a third party from a factory in China decides to sell a retractable dog leash on Amazon, Amazon is not responsible for the safety of that Chinese-based retractable leash. If the leash snaps and takes an eye out, the consumer who bought it cannot sue Amazon since it is protected by Section 230. Unfortunately, this has already happened.

Heather Oberdorf, a Pennsylvania woman, bought an $18.48 retractable leash from a Chinese company selling on Amazon. One day while walking her dog, the leash suddenly snapped and sprang back, hitting her left eye and resulted in partial blindness.

MarketWatch reported on this story and said that “Amazon contended that Oberdorf could not hold it liable for posting [the retractable leash] because a section of the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA) shields companies from liability for publishing what third parties say on their sites.”

The Chinese factory that produced the leash will also be free from legal responsibility as “no U.S. citizen is going to have any success suing a factory in China,” as there is no incentive to offer the sale of safe products to consumers on Amazon, said Boyce.

Waiving rights to sue

When signing up for an Amazon account, all rights to sue the company, even if a third party’s product use results in serious harm, is waived upon account creation. Amazon should be required to force its third party sellers to publish safety information about their products so consumers can be informed.

Amazon is a once-in-a-generation company that was won ecommerce, offering half a billion items online, while the biggest Walmart store can only stock 500,000 items, said Boyce. He raised alarm over Amazon’s dominance in the book industry and its Amazon Web Services, calling them monopolies that at the present time, prevent the “next Amazon” from being born.

Boyce cited the historical case of Microsoft, where it was sued by the U.S. government for “tying,” since it prevented other browsers from existing, among other things. The government was successful in breaking up Microsoft in one of the largest anti-trust cases, which allowed Google to be born under the “do no evil” mantra.

Antitrust

‘Time is Now’ for Separate Big Tech Regulatory Agency, Public Interest Group Says

‘We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late.’

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Photo of Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2022 – Public Knowledge, non-profit public interest group, further advocated Thursday support for the Digital Platform Commission Act introduced in the Senate in May that would create a new federal agency designed to regulate digital platforms on an ongoing basis.

“We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late,” said Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge.

The DPCA, introduced by Senator Michael Bennet, D-CO., and Representative Peter Welch, D-VT., would, if adopted, create a new federal agency designed to “provide comprehensive, sector-specific regulation of digital platforms to protect consumers, promote competition, and defend the public interest.”

The independent body would conduct hearings, research and investigations all while promoting competition and establishing rules with appropriate penalties.

Public Knowledge primarily focuses on competition in the digital marketplace. It champions for open internet and has openly advocated for antitrust legislation that would limit Big Tech action in favor of fair competition in the digital marketspace.

Feld published a book in 2019 titled, “The Case for the Digital Platform Act: Breakups, Starfish Problems and Tech Regulation.” In it, Feld explains the need for a separate government agency to regulate digital platforms.

Digital regulation is new but has rapidly become critical to the economy, continued Feld. As such, it is necessary for the government to create a completely new agency in order to provide the proper oversight.

In the past, Congress empowered independent bodies with effective tools and expert teams when it lacked expertise to oversee complex sectors of the economy but there is no such body for digital platforms, said Feld.

“The reality is that [Congress] can’t keep up,” said Welch. This comes at a time when antitrust action continues to pile up in Congress, sparking debate across all sides of the issue.

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Antitrust

FTC Commissioner Concerned About Antitrust Impact on Already Rising Consumer Prices

Noah Phillips said Tuesday he wants the commission to think about the impact of antitrust rules on rising prices.

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Screenshot of Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2022 – Rising inflation should be a primary concern for the Federal Trade Commission when considering antitrust regulations on Big Tech, said Commissioner Noah Phillips Tuesday.

When considering laws, “the important thing is what impact it has on the consumer,” said Phillips. “We need to continue to guard like a hawk against conduct and against laws that have the effect of raising prices for consumers.”

Current record highs in the inflation rate, which means money is becoming less valuable as products become more expensive, has meant Washington must become sensitive to further price increases that could come out of such antitrust legislation, the commissioner said.

Phillips did not comment on how such movies would mean higher prices, but that signals, such as theHouse Judiciary Committee’s antitrust report two years ago, that reign in Big Tech companies and bring back enforcement of laws could mean higher prices. He raised concerns that recent policies are prohibiting competition rather than facilitating it.

This follows recent concerns that the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, currently awaiting Senate floor consideration, will inhibit America’s global competitiveness by weakening major American companies, thus impairing the American economy. That legislation would prohibit platform owners from giving preference to their products against third-party products.

This act is one of many currently under consideration at Congress, including Ending Platform Monopolies Act and Platform Competition and Opportunity Act.

Small businesses have worried that by enacting some legislation targeting Big Tech, they would be impacted because they rely on such platforms for success.

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Antitrust

Critics and Supporters Trade Views on American Innovation and Choice Online Act

American Innovation and Choice Online Act is intended to protect fair competition among businesses, but panelists differed on its impact.

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Photo of Amy Klobuchar from August 2019 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2022 – Experts differed on the effect that antitrust legislation targeting big tech companies allegedly engaging in discriminatory behavior would have on small businesses.

Small businesses “want Congress not to do anything that will screw up or weaken the services that they rely on for their business,” said Michael Petricone, senior vice present of the Consumer Technology Association, at a Protocol Live event on Thursday.

Petricone said that antitrust bill would encourage tech companies to relocate to other countries, harming the American economy. He said small businesses would be affected the most.

Instead, Petricone called for  a “smarter immigration policy” to allow foreign innovators access to American tech market, as well as the defeat of the antitrust legislation.

But other said that small businesses suffer from predatory behavior by big tech companies. “Companies can’t get their foot in the door when there is already self-preferencing,” said Awesta Sarkash, representative for Small Business Majority, an advocacy organization, adding that 80% of small businesses say they want antitrust laws to protect them.

Self-preferencing on online platforms is detrimental to the success of small businesses who rely on social media advertising for business, she said. The new antitrust proposals would ensure an level playing field and promote fair competition, she said.

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act would prohibit certain online platforms from unfairly preferencing products, limiting another business’ ability to operate on a platform, or discriminating against competing products and services.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, was introduced to the Senate on May 2 and is awaiting Senate floor consideration.

The debate follows concerns raised by both democrats and republicans about America’s global competitiveness as the bill would weaken major American companies.

If passed, the bill will follow the European Union’s Digital Services Act which similarly sets accountability standards for online platforms, preventing potentially harmful content and behavior.

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