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Attorneys General Suing Google Over Location Data Collection

The D.C. attorney general is leading other state AGs alleging Google mislead consumers into believing they could disable location tracking.

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Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai

WASHINGTON, January 24, 2022 – The Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia has filed a lawsuit Monday against Google alleging “deceptive and unfair practices” related to obtaining consumer location data.

Attorney General Karl Racine‘s office argues that Google has been in violation of D.C.’s “Consumer Protection Procedures Act” since at least 2014. According to the complaint, Google is alleged to have lied to consumers, intentionally giving them the impression that they can disable Google’s ability to collect and retain user location data.

“In reality, consumers who use Google products cannot prevent Google from collecting, storing, and profiting from their location,” the complaint reads.

The documents outline that Google’s primary source of revenue is earned through digital advertising, and thus, Google was incentivized to harvest consumers’ personal data to better target ads – an effort that is significantly improved by collecting location data from users.

“Location data is among the most sensitive information Google collects from consumers,” the complaint says. “Location can also be used to infer personal details such as political or religious affiliation, sexual orientation, income, health status, or participation in support groups, as well as major life events, such as marriage, divorce, and the birth of children.”

Racine’s office is leading the effort with attorneys general in Texas, Indiana and Washington filing their own complaints, he said on Twitter.

The complaint further explains that due to reporting done Associated Press in 2018, it was revealed that Google explicitly deceived customers by allowing them to believe they have opted out of location tracking when the reality is their decision has no bearing on what kind of data Google collects.

“The AP story exposed that Google’s promise to consumers was false. Even when consumers explicitly opted out of location tracking by turning the Location History setting off, Google nevertheless recorded consumers’ locations via other means,” the complaint said.

The ubiquity of Google products and services only compounds the risk, the plaintiff argues, as Google products are found “essentially everywhere consumers go.”

“Google uses this window into consumers’ lives to sell advertising that is ‘targeted’ to consumers according to personal details Google has learned about them, including their demographics, habits, and interests.”

Targeted ads have long been in regulator’s sights, both in the E.U. and the U.S..

The complaint states that it is in Google’s best financial interest to obfuscate exactly what data is being collected, how it is being collected, and why. “The Company’s exhaustive surveillance practices are most effective, and therefore most lucrative, where consumers have no clear idea how to limit Google’s access to their personal information.

“The District files this suit to correct the deceptive and unfair practices that Google has used and uses to obtain consumers’ location data, and to ensure that consumers are able to understand and control the extent to which their location data is accessed, stored, used, and monetized by the Company.”

The AG’s office is not only seeking to compel Google to cease these practices, but also forfeit all revenue generated by them.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Broadband Breakfast, Washington Jewish Week, and The Center Square, among other publications. He primarily covers Big Tech and spectrum policy.

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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Big Tech

Small Business Owners Call for FTC, DOJ to Institute Antitrust Measures Against Big Tech

Small business owners vocalized concerns at a forum hosted by the FTC and the DoJ.

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Screenshot of FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2022 – Small business owners and employees urged the Federal Trade Commission last week to take further action against big tech company mergers that dominate their markets.

With Washington’s focus on scrutinizing potential mergers, small business members that appeared on a forum Thursday hosted by the FTC and Justice Department pushed for antitrust measures against market monopolization that they said undermines small business success. Jonathan Kanter, the assistant attorney general for the antitrust Division, called this a “new generation of digital giants.”

Saagar Enjeti, host of a media podcast, expressed his inability to participate in a truly free and open internet due to the influence of big tech companies, in which he said there has been a rash of misinformation on the coronavirus, the 2020 presidential election, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist who invests in tech startups, said he wants the FTC to have “more scrutiny” on big tech mergers. “The FTC should aggressively do everything in its power to do the job itself,” said Tusk.

Erin Wade agreed for more scrutiny on monopolies in which DoorDash and UberEats compete. As a restaurant owner, she said delivery mega platforms are harming restaurant profits and disrupting their business via tactics including underpricing their delivery fees and “bund[ling] orders so badly it damages customer relations.

“Small businesses are central to the American economy and American democracy,” Wade said during the event, pushing for the FTC to place more scrutiny on big tech companies.

According to FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan, as several digital platforms continue to control the market today, anti-trust agencies should do what they can to encourage competition and provide checks on these big tech companies.

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Section 230

Parler Policy Exec Hopes ‘Sustainable’ Free Speech Change on Twitter if Musk Buys Platform

Parler’s Amy Peikoff said she wishes Twitter can follow in her social media company’s footsteps.

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Screenshot of Amy Peikoff

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2022 – A representative from a growing conservative social media platform said last week that she hopes Twitter, under new leadership, will emerge as a “sustainable” platform for free speech.

Amy Peikoff, chief policy officer of social media platform Parler, said as much during a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday, in which she wondered about the implications of platforms banning accounts for views deemed controversial.

The social media world has been captivated by the lingering possibility that SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk could buy Twitter, which the billionaire has criticized for making decisions he said infringe on free speech.

Before Musk’s decision to go in on the company, Parler saw a surge in member sign-ups after former President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter for comments he made that the platform saw as encouraging the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021, a move Peikoff criticized. (Trump also criticized the move.)

Peikoff said she believes Twitter should be a free speech platform just like Parler and hopes for “sustainable” change with Musk’s promise.

“At Parler, we expect you to think for yourself and curate your own feed,” Peikoff told Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark. “The difference between Twitter and Parler is that on Parler the content is controlled by individuals; Twitter takes it upon itself to moderate by itself.”

She recommended “tools in the hands of the individual users to reward productive discourse and exercise freedom of association.”

Peikoff criticized Twitter for permanently banning Donald Trump following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and recounted the struggle Parler had in obtaining access to hosting services on AWS, Amazon’s web services platform.

Screenshot of Amy Peikoff

While she defended the role of Section 230 of the Telecom Act for Parler and others, Peikoff criticized what she described as Twitter’s collusion with the government. Section 230 provides immunity from civil suits for comments posted by others on a social media network.

For example, Peikoff cited a July 2021 statement by former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki raising concerns with “misinformation” on social media. When Twitter takes action to stifle anti-vaccination speech at the behest of the White House, that crosses the line into a form of censorship by social media giants that is, in effect, a form of “state action.”

Conservatives censored by Twitter or other social media networks that are undertaking such “state action” are wrongfully being deprived of their First Amendment rights, she said.

“I would not like to see more of this entanglement of government and platforms going forward,” she said Peikoff and instead to “leave human beings free to information and speech.”

Screenshot of Drew Clark and Amy Peikoff during Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast’s Online Event

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022, 12 Noon ET – Mr. Musk Goes to Washington: Will Twitter’s New Owner Change the Debate About Social Media?

The acquisition of social media powerhouse Twitter by Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, raises a host of issues about social media, free speech, and the power of persuasion in our digital age. Twitter already serves as the world’s de facto public square. But it hasn’t been without controversy, including the platform’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump in the wake of his tweets during the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Under new management, will Twitter become more hospitable to Trump and his allies? Does Twitter have a free speech problem? How will Mr. Musk’s acquisition change the debate about social media and Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act?

Guests for this Broadband Breakfast for Lunch session:

  • Amy Peikoff, Chief Policy Officer, Parler
  • Drew Clark (host), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Amy Peikoff is the Chief Policy Officer of Parler. After completing her Ph.D., she taught at universities (University of Texas, Austin, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, United States Air Force Academy) and law schools (Chapman, Southwestern), publishing frequently cited academic articles on privacy law, as well as op-eds in leading newspapers across the country on a range of issues. Just prior to joining Parler, she founded and was President of the Center for the Legalization of Privacy, which submitted an amicus brief in United States v. Facebook in 2019.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

Illustration by Mohamed Hassan used with permission

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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