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Water/power are utilities and are regulated differently than other industries.

But your general question is an open debate. If you run a hosting company do you have to host things you disagree with? If you run a transaction company doy you have to exchange with parties you disagree with? What if a certain type of transaction is too high risk, do they have to do it anyways?

Personally I'd like to see things lean more towards being agnostic to avoid amplification of the popular opinion but it isn't a cut and dry topic without corner cases or hard to define regulations.

I think the test should be whether another company could offer a service giving the same result.

So for instance this would be fine:

- A web hosting company refusing clients, because you can use another one

- Amazon refusing to sell the item themselves, because other companies can sell on the Amazon marketplace

- A bank refusing a client, since you can just use another bank

This would not be fine:

- Apple refusing to list an app on the app store, since no else can do so

- Amazon refusing to allow an item on its marketplace at all, since there is no other way to sell to people who buy on Amazon

- Google banning something from their search engine, since that's the only way to reach people who search with only Google

- PayPal refusing a client, since using PayPal is the only way to easily accept payment from PayPal account holders

So the general rule is that if the companies holds some kind of user lock in they now must accept all legal users. Since a hosting company has no such lock in and moving to another one lets you reach exactly the same audience then they are safe.

What if the service is more expensive? What if it has poor service quality? What if it makes it hard to find because your're unpopular? Can you easily define answers to these everyone can follow for more than just a single business example of hosting? If you can does everyone agree it's fair enough? This is the debate, not whether you think hosting can have an enforceable set of rules.

Which is pretty much where anticompetitive laws are in the U.S. in terms of hurting the consumer.

The fringe cases I would worry about are for tiny niche markets where there is only one supplier, or regulatory monopolies (e.g. healthcare networks).

> Apple refusing to list an app on the app store, since no else can do so

There are other app stores. Apple just doesn't support using them in their OS.

A much better example would be the ability to extend MobileSafari - Apple can and does do this (e.g. readability mode), but nobody else is allowed to (e.g. Instapaper). You can't choose a different default browser on iOS. There's a fine line between "not supported" and "anticompetitive".

That's a good one. Expanding on the banking one. It would be one thing if Wells Fargo wouldn't do business with you. Is another that they flag your ChexSystems Report so you can't open an account anywhere else.

The answer to those questions depends on what your market dominance is. If you're one of many players in the market, and you're all actively competing against each other, then discriminate all you want - somebody else will cover that niche. But if you're the only option for many people, or there are so few options that the market is not really competitive, then yeah, I think it's perfectly legitimate to force companies to not discriminate.

It's relatively hard to make reliable regulation on "active competition" especially since you're talking about it only being valid with large numbers of players. How is a hosting company with 20 locations supposed to know that today a startup hosting company has closed in Wichita and it can't discriminate anymore since the other competitor in that area upped their per month cost? What defines if competitor #4 farther out qualifies as competition easily enough?

Say you did get the regulation down perfectly though and it was dead simple to follow, why should a black rights activist have to do more work to find out which hosting company wouldn't discriminate while others can just click any and go? The popular debate extends to more than whether or not you think a certain position is enforceable as there is also disagreement about what reasonably solving the problem looks like. Some others would argue focusing on what the vast majority opinions are and ignoring the rest provides more value. Others argue it just provides the illusion that everything was solved instead of letting it be brought to mind.

It's hard in a sense that it requires some regulatory body that proactively monitors the market and issues directives (and then enforces them if they aren't followed). But that kind of thing is exactly what we have governments for.

(I should note that my politics is that of inherent distrust towards all large entities, whether they're governments or private entities. I would prefer the society and its economy to function on the principles that preclude either from existing at all. But regardless of that long-term goal, there's a question of what to do here and now, with the society and economy that we have. It's going to have monopolized markets - and proportionally sized governments are needed to be a check and balance on that.)

As to your second question - well, why shouldn't they? And how much is that overhead in practice, if we're talking about not picking one company out of many? The more socially unacceptable such discrimination is, the more attention to its violators - i.e. well-publicized blacklists, among other things. I seriously doubt that, in your particular example, a company that does that wouldn't be infamous for that exact reason.

And sure, there are people who would disagree with that. This is fundamentally an ethical question, and there's no single objectively correct answer to it; I merely gave mine. Some would say that anti-discrimination has to be enforced even in a truly competitive market, when there's no demonstrable economic harm, purely as a matter of principle. This kind of disagreement is meant to be resolved through a (hopefully) democratic political process.

Surely it should work by availability areas? Web hosting is generally a global market. ISPs can have coverage vary inside a city block. As such, it's very nearly impossible for a customer to run out of web hosting options, but they may only have literally one option for internet providers.

And who decides what defines every availability area and competition map for every product and service every day to see if there is enough coverage/competition? Or are you arguing for a whitelist-to-discriminate model for things with extremely large coverage areas (perhaps worldwide)? If the latter do you think there are enough of these that can be done easily enough to save complexity/cost overall or is it only applicable to a narrow field e.g. web services and other things still need an answer anyways?

Here's a historical example of an American court deciding matters like that, from the era when our antitrust laws had teeth: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/370/294/#tab-opi...

But then, those laws literally got Borked: https://promarket.org/how-robert-bork-fathered-the-new-gilde...

By that logic, a restaurant should be able to discriminate based on race, since there are other restaurants that could serve those customers.

Yes, unless many of those other restaurants also discriminate in the same way (which can be treated as an exclusionary cartel).

Keep in mind that our modern anti-discrimination laws were passed at a time where that was demonstrably the case. And I'm not at all sure that it wouldn't also be the case if the anti-discrimination laws were repealed today. My point, rather, is that the purpose of those laws, and really any laws, should be prevention of harm, not a moral statement. If and when we get to the point where discrimination on some basis becomes so marginal that there's no measurable harm from it, it should no longer be illegal. But not until then.

I think even if only a few restaurants in town discriminated against a racial minority, harm would be done. Being excluded from everyday activities because of something like race is inherently harmful, no matter how many other options you have.

How far does it go, though?

Our present laws, for example, allow for organizations with private membership (e.g. churches, but also private clubs and similar) to discriminate more or less arbitrarily on their membership criteria, and then offer services exclusively to the members. It's only public services and offerings that are required to be non-discriminatory. Should we get rid of this arrangement?

Should this be expanded into the private sphere? Everyday activities include talking and otherwise interacting with private people, not just buying goods. If somebody decides to refuse to, say, greet people on the basis of their race or religion, should we consider such behavior inherently harmful, and prohibit it by law?

I always look at it as: can I function in society without X. With that in mind, the general consumer can function just fine in society without hosting. Three* things off the top of my head that SHOULD be regulated as a utility but currently aren't:

ISP/Broadband access

Payment processing


It's exceedingly difficult to function in 2019 on a strictly cash basis. Just like it's almost impossible to function in society without broadband. On the other hand, I can get by just fine if "hosting" doesn't agree with some questionable content I want to post online. It's more likely to get me a job than prevent me from getting one....

This is pretty much how the US has been going about it. It's been a bit laggard as you have noted though. Some say this is good enough and we should work on updating things, others say the societal cost to just do this everywhere can be lower than the societal cost of being slow to update.

The answer to all of your questions is..."Are you a platform?" [0]

If so, you must accept, by law, all customers/participants/users without prejudice or discrimination, and you may only deny or limit service to same after a written order from a court of law instructing you to do so. Furthermore, this rule supersedes any Terms of Service that a company may wish to enforce.

That's not what we have in the US today—but we should. My money is on the EU crafting legislation to that effect first. I'd normally expect California to implement this kind of legislation first, but given the amount of money donated by the big tech companies, I doubt it'll happen.

[0] A "platform" is any business with a userbase that exceeds 1% of the population (for non-commercial customers, e.g. YouTube/Twitter/Facebook), or in the case of a business-oriented marketplace (such as Amazon's Seller Central), 10% of the specific market the business is targeting with their platform.

Eh, I would be wary of that definition, even though I am totally in support of platforms not being allowed to get rid of content that isn't illegal. There should be way more nuance than what your definition provides.

For example, if I host a very popular forum for discussing cars that somehow manages to exceed 1% of the population of the country it is offered in, I feel like I would be totally justified to remove posts that have nothing to do with cars and talk about completely off-topic stuff like videogames or politics.

The 1% rule is for the US. If you want a higher % for your own country, knock yourself out. It's the principle of the thing that matters anyway, not the exact % that defines a platform.

That said, I see no issue with asking a privately run forum to keep it's membership under 3.4M if they don't want to be regulated like a platform.

If you run a shop, you can't decline service to democrats, even if disagree with them. You can't discriminate, that's the law. I don't see how is it radically different from running a hosting company.

Political affiliation is not a protected class in the US. You're likely to face enough societal backlash this isn't a common issue though. The problem with the societal sort of regulation is it's about whatever is popular not about discrimination.

> Political affiliation is not a protected class in the US.

It is in California (which, obviously, is located in the US).

In the United States I think you can actually. Nothing stops you. You can't discriminate based on a few criteria like race, age, gender (and depending on the state) sexual orientation.

Even this depends. In DC political affiliation is a protected class.


“Political affiliation: belonging to or supporting a political party”

Presumably landlords in DC can still kick people out for wearing an Obama / Trump shirt. (That’s supporting a candidate, not a party.)

I’d be curious to see court precedents on this.

You legally can, but you shouldn't.

You actually can.

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