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Google bans Podcast Addict app over non-approved Covid-19 content (reclaimthenet.org)
1525 points by garyclarke27 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 545 comments



See also this related Ask HN thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23221447


Similar thing happened to me with my game. You can read the story here. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23229073


My favorite (and only) podcasting app. I hope someone who works at Google reads this and flag it internally.

This quote really sums up how ridiculous Google is being:

> What Google is asking of Podcast Addict would be comparable to Google asking a web browser app to remove references to all the websites and social media posts that reference the coronavirus unless the reference comes from an official government entity or public health organization.


You can try Pocket Casts [1] who are my favorite and only

Of course that's assuming that they don't get the same play store treatment from GOOG

It's a little too ironic that Goggle, who has countless times made the argument that they aren't responsible/liable for what their users do on a service ("honestly senator its just a platform we provide"), and then here they are the ones calling for some downstream accountability. Not that I agree at all with the logic- you may as well say that a bank is responsible(liable) for the use of any money they lend out ;} -- but its the hypocrisy that stinks to high heaven here!

[1] https://www.pocketcasts.com/


That's not a solution. Instead, we should switch to alternative stores like F-Droid:

https://f-droid.org/en/packages/de.danoeh.antennapod/

F-Droid only lists FOSS software, but Google sorely needs competition. Unfortunately, any alternative store is unlikely to succeed since the users only have incentive to use it when Google misbehaves, so all Google has to do is misbehave rarely enough to kill the alternatives off.


F-Droid is great, it has been years since I've had to use the app store.

Don't worry, Pocket Casts is a much bigger developer. They can generate the necessary online outrage to get relisted. It's the small guys that get shafted.


And this is how we end up with monopolies. "Well intentioned" policies designed for giant companies only.


Or you can just not drop an app that just became the victim of corporate censorship.


Why is this topic not coming up more often? There is heavy censorship in play here at the same levels as China and Russia.


Because many times the conversation frustratingly becomes a turtles all the way down slugfest between the loud “it’s their platform and they can do what they want” crowd vs. the equally loud “free speech is an absolute” officiated by the “censorship only matters if the government does it” crowd.

Call this an oversimplification of a nuanced issue if you want. Because it is. I’m not shying from it. Just doesn’t seem all that much different from the amount of nuance that goes into and subsequently comes out of the kinds of flame wars commonly immolating this topic anyway.

This is just opinion though, I wouldn’t encourage anyone try to unearth anything objective out of it beyond what pleasantry is warranted for such idle (and wholly inane) thought.


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There is literally no legally significant difference between refusing to host a social media account on your website and murdering people.

perfect... govt unable to enforce rule of law over violence is just an indirect way of disincentivising free speech.


Maybe this is the effect of continuously putting liability on them? You should account the timeline into your thinking, it's not happening at the same time.


it's the effect of trying to avoid regulation by self-regulating. after trump got elected, one of the big media narratives was that it happened because of misinformation ("fake news"); the response has been censorship by platform owners to avoid the charge in the future and any potential federal action


Why do you think so? How do you know it's not the response to multiple attempts to put liability for content on platform owners like Google and Facebook? How do you know they did not respond strongly because most governments have declared state of crisis, which means more severe punishment, and punishment of things that would be OK otherwise (and of course nobody knows what that actually means, let alone all around the world)?


there can be more than one reason, but the censorship began in earnest after trump's election and before covid.[1] this isn't even a controversial position and i'm nowhere near the only person to have remarked upon it.

[1] https://www.npr.org/2018/08/06/636030043/youtube-apple-and-f...


It didn't start after Trump's election. It started with the "cancel culture" thing a couple of years before that and pressure on companies to participate in the war on crimethink.

I tend to think that it contributed to Trump's election, because it has the effect of creating massive polarization.

You can't segregate sites by viewpoint and thought filter everything in favor of one side or the other and expect it not to devolve into extremist conflict.

But the people doing this didn't want to admit that they caused the problem to begin with, so instead they double down.


The modern polarization of the media began in the 1990s with Newt Gingrich...with help from his patron Rupert Murdoch, an ultra-conservative Australian who owned television stations, tabloids, and newspapers in the US, Australia, and the UK.

Before them, politics was still very cutthroat but not polarized along party lines.


True - but something happened in the 2010's when Big Tech started taking sides in a way it hadn't before. I cannot picture Google doing this when it was still Google.

> The modern polarization of the media began in the 1990s with Newt Gingrich...with help from his patron Rupert Murdoch, an ultra-conservative Australian who owned television stations, tabloids, and newspapers in the US, Australia, and the UK.

That was certainly a thing that happened, but as far as I know Rupert Murdoch never got Gore Vidal blacklisted by book publishers or whatever.

It's one thing to say your piece, something else to stop the other guy saying theirs.


This- among side the cable news cycle effect were the genesis of today’s virus.

Have to say — Murdoch has been remarkably influential as a massive negative impact on humanity


It seems very similar to McCarthyism and the anti-communist messages from the late '40s and early '50s like the "loyalty review boards", just with wider media available in the modern world. McCarthyism also adopted similar conspiracy theories concerning vaccinations, mental health care, and fluoridation.

There were sweeping purges on Twitter after the elections. The official story was that these were 'bots' or 'trolls', but lots of good accounts got permanently deleted. It happened two or three times as I recall. You'd wake up and see that your follower count had mysteriously plunged overnight indicating another crop of bannings.

> asking a web browser app to remove references to all the websites and social media posts

Except usually a web browser doesn't include a index of sites, You go to a another site (Google/Bing) for that. If a browser does include "recommended sites" the landing pages of those sites best keep to Google's and Apples rules. For an extreme example, If Firefox was promoting PornHub on the new tab page we could understand why Google or Apple would tell them to cut it out, but it doesn't stop you from visiting the site.

I'm not saying I agree with what Google have done here (IMO they should re-instate Podcast Addict), Just that I can see why Google could think "recommended podcasts" and podcast indexes come under the "included content" of an app.

EDIT: As others has said here, It's more like Google banning YouTube because it contains video's about covid 19 which don't come from "approved sources" (Though Google did demonetize people for talking about it and de-rank non "approved sources")


> > asking a web browser app to remove references to all the websites and social media posts

> Except usually a web browser doesn't include a index of sites, You go to a another site (Google/Bing) for that.

OK then, it is like asking a search/video/advertising company to remove all such references from its search, and hosted videos, and other properties, and banning their apps & services until they do.

I don't see the youtube app being banned for all the C19 rubbish they are currently hosting and indexing. Or the Google news app for the C19 rubish it is indexing and actively pushing to some people (depending on what the relevant sacred algorithm, hallowed be its name, decides who should see).

What they appear to be expecting Podcast Addict to do is exactly what they themselves have said they can't do. Either it is not possible (this is the case IMO) in which case it is not fair to expect it of PcA, or it is possible and Google are hypocrites of the highest order in this matter.

EDIT: after reading the rest of TFA...

Even worse "additionally, Google isn’t applying these same rules to its own podcast app – Google Podcasts" - we don't even need to argue service equivalence to show that as hypocritical.

Of course this is most likely to be an undesirable side effect of some automated system. I'll give Google that benefit of the doubt if they reinstate PcA immediately and apologise for their cock-up.


> I'll give Google that benefit of the doubt if they reinstate PcA immediately and apologise for their cock-up.

Why? It's not as if no one in Google knew that this would happen. I don't think Grace Hopper's 'Better to ask forgiveness than permission' applies here. Google knew what they were doing when they instituted the rule and their behaviour suggests malice aforethought.



YouTube constantly recommends me COVID-19 conspiracy videos since I dared to watch one that was popular here in Germany. Basically on every video I watch I have now german conspiracy videos as recommendations. I did neither like the video or did I subscribe the channel.

It's beyond fucked up what Google is doing.


If you want to watch something one-off, some interesting tidbit outside of your curated feed then doing it in incognito mode is required, otherwise, as you noted you are doomed.


Alternatively if you’re never logged in and reject all cookies, then you never have this issue at all.

You also get to see just how low the lowest common denominator of society is for the default recommendations.


If you find it here and delete it, I think it will cease to influence your recommended videos.

https://www.youtube.com/feed/history


We shouldn’t have to jump through these kinds of hoops. Their recommendation engine is smart enough to discern between a one off video watch and a genuine interest, but youtube gets stuck on recommending conspiracyland videos. It’s at the point where I just ignore the entire section as if it were ads.

I want a tool to work without having to sift through hundreds and hundreds of videos and try to guess which one caused the drift into crazy town.


I have YouTube history turned off along with other publicly visible tracking and this kind of nonsense still happens to me. Their algo is working on more data than just what they make visible to the user.

"The only winning move is not to play."


You have to evict all Google tracking cookies. Just disabling a few features won't cut it.


Yup. It's just what do these recommendations do to the society? If you are suspectible to believe certain content for whatever reasons you are basically doomed as you get caged into an echo chamber that only validates the bullshit that is fed to you.


Wait until you get into the dystopian world of clips on YouTube targeted at children.


That's why I never watch any video on logged in YouTube that may not interest me. Better right click and use anonymous window.


There are plugins for Firefox to hide all recommendations and the start page of YouTube. Did this a couple of months back, and it has honestly made me happier and with a lot more control over watchtime etc.

I now live in the Subscription section, and it's great!


If you're logged into YT, you can try deleting the video from your watch history.


Yeah, I've been doing this a lot lately. It's kind of disappointing how easily the recommendations shift once you click on a video that's sketchy.

In my case, I once made the bad decision to watch a Jordan Peterson video. By itself it wasn't crazy, he was mildly provocative, a little paternalistic, not my cup of tea. But geez, the trash that then ended up appearing in the side bar after that was awful. I find that if I watch some "bad" videos, I have to spend a fair amount of time culling shit out of the subsequent recommendations.

Another way to keep your feed from being polluted is simply to create "garbage user" that you toggle to if you want to view potentially garbage content.

What I really wish youtube did was to allow users to filter out videos that contain keywords we choose, like twitter's somewhat effective "muted words" list.


"It's kind of disappointing how easily the recommendations shift once you click on a video that's sketchy."

It isn't just "sketchy" videos. Someone linked me to a video of a dog being rescued, which I watched on my logged-in profile, and it was fine and all, but explaining to YouTube that that doesn't mean I'm interested in hearing about every dog ever rescued (since I didn't know about the 'delete from history' trick) has been a lot of "Never show me videos from this channel" button pushed.


So you effectively desire a way to build your own bubble, and cast it in stone, and also give even more information to Google (what you do not like) ???

My feeling is they pushing the extra crazy ones though. Watching a clearly not well Person argue crazy theories isn't very convincing to healthy people anyway.

On the other Hand people like Dr. Erickson get censored, because they simply dare to question the lock down and argue that there is no evidence supporting it's effectiveness in saving lives.


> On the other Hand people like Dr. Erickson get censored, because they simply dare to question the lock down

Erickson, among other things, makes provably false statements about the prevalence and mortality of covid19. You’re allowed to be misinformed as a private citizen; you’re not allowed to grandstand in public as a physician and spread misinformation. He’s lucky he only got deplatformed, rather than have his license taken.

You make it sound like he was expressing an unpopular interpretation of the data, rather than actively spreading untrue assertions.


> you’re not allowed to grandstand in public as a physician and spread misinformation

For all I know Erickson is saying no one died of Covid or something that ridiculous/obviously false, but labelling statements as misinformation and censoring them instead of retracting endorsements and getting others to realize those statements are false is an aggressive seize of power by authorities over what is or isn’t true.

I realize authoritative knowledge is necessary; not everyone has the time or ability to parse through medical information and come to reasonable conclusions.

But authoritative bodies should have to earn their authority from the public, not use censorious platforms to assert it. The fundamental problem we’re running into now with misinformation is a lack of trust, not a lack of information. Forcing people to listen to sources they don’t trust and blocking sources they do trust will make the situation worse.

If people trust a crackpot more than they trust an established authoritative body, that authoritative body should take a real hard look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves why that’s the case.


> Erickson, among other things, makes provably false statements about the prevalence and mortality of covid19.

Such as?


It might have been correct to say there's no evidence in March (which is not a reason to not do something, we would still be in the Stone Age if every action we took required evidence.). There's plenty of evidence now as we have data for both going into and coming out of lockdown.


There's plenty of weird, contradictory evidence. Many places have come out of lockdown early, been told they're facing certain doom ("Georgia's Experiment in Human Sacrifice" [1]), and then been quietly forgotten when the predicted consequences don't come. It's hard to believe that lockdowns don't do anything at all, but I don't think anyone can honestly say we have definitive proof they were necessary.

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/04/why-georg...


I can. R0~5.7 has dropped below 1.0 in many mask-averse stay-at-home regions, which I consider compelling evidence of efficacy in an adverse environment, under common-sense priors informed by the medical literature.


"This number is below 1.0" is not, by itself, an argument that some particular social policy was necessary or effective. An argument that lockdowns were necessary would at a minimum need to address the questions of "would a less strict policy have sufficed" and "will the long-term outcome after lockdowns end be different".


Georgia has 164 deaths per million residents, versus 82 in South Carolina next door and 87 in California. Are you sure you still want to call that a bad prediction?


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There is a difference between genuine alternative views and just cultish conspiracy content created for clicks that defies any law of physics - is it reasonable to recommend a video from someone who argues the lockdown is not warranted? Why not. Is it reasonable to recommend someone who denies the existence of the virus and want's to sell you his quack treatments? I don't think so.


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No, they are saying that having a discussion about how to deal with the pandemic is a little more above board than someone arguing that it's a 5G conspiracy.


It was a little above board to argue that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe at one time, and it was fervently argued, dissenters were dealt with harshly.

Not saying there is a logical equivalency here, but this type of thinking is exactly why free speech is important, not why it’s dangerous.


Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are removing some posts and videos from Bolsonaro.


Yes, absolutely. The man is causing obvious harm and danger.

Yes 5G masts are the cause of covid and need to be all burned down. Vaccines causr autism. Bringing your kids to the doctor is harmful, give them bleach anemas.

No harm in spreading lies and absurd conspiracies, right?


Two of the 3 things has been portrayed by the President of the US on Twitter. They are not censoring him.

Additionally, no harm? Movies encourage terrible behavior as well, but we are not trying to ban them on Netflix. If there is a movie where they glamorize alcohol or unprotected sex, there is no effort to have them removed from streaming platforms.

At one point, saying the world was round would have been an absurd conspiracy. Just because something appears and most likely is inaccurate, doesn't mean that we should have a central fact checking authority. That is some 1984 stuff right there. People can make choices for themselves and do their own research. There is no law preventing people like Sandra Bullock from telling people that baby foreskin is good for their skin, even though most people would know that is disgusting.


i keep an ear/eye on things, and there really aren't many saying that 5g causes covid. it's straw manning really. little bit like the autism thing. there are issues with vaccines that are worth looking at, but people like to lump things into groups, and yeah, even lump it into 'wrongthink' and surf the cognitive dissonance with sarcasm.

So it’s like Google banning a Bing, DDG, or (...) Google search app app for Indexing sites that do not follow approved guidelines.

OP’s point stands without modification.


But a search app isn't directly a web browser (Though browsing many be a secondary function). But many adult content search apps have been removed from app stores.


With the Advent of the omnibar, they are necessarily search engines


An argument there could be that the user still gets to choose which search engine the omnibar gets sent to.

I don't agree with Googles decision (I strongly disagree with it). Just stating that under the letter of the law (of the app stores policies) I can see why app stores feel they have the power to govern the search results in such apps (iirc web browsers have a exception to the clause - /me goes to double check Googles policy on web browsers - brb)

EDIT: With a quick 5 min glance at the policy it looks like Google have been extremely heavy handed because "Any apps referencing COVID-19, or related terms, in any form in their metadata will only be approved for distribution in the Play Store if they are published, commissioned or authorised by one of these entities." But podcasts in their search couldn't be in their play store meta data. (Still digging)



The bar you set was "Except usually a web browser doesn't include a index of sites". And I see a direct parallel with Google holding a pod cast app responsible for the podcasts content as there is to Google which keeps a more complete index of the content of web sites than the podcast app does of podcast contents.


Podcast apps commonly host indexes for the same reason Google or Bing or another search engine ships with most browsers. Users don’t know, and don’t care, about URLs, especially RSS feed URLs. They (we) just want to type in something and tap on the thing they wanted, instant gratification. Most apps generally don’t spider or find their own content, instead they re-index public indexes, the most common of which is Apple’s Podcasts directory formerly from iTunes. As pointed out, Google also has a directory. It’s a convenience for listeners to more easily find shows.

I say this because I remember the days before Apple’s Podcast directory when it was often easier to Google and listen in your browser or copy it on to a music player via drag and drop than it was to remember to launch an app that would do the downloading for you. (Partly because you still had to remember to connect and/or sync the player, and worry about disk space etc.) Nowadays, subscribing and listening via phone is so easy that I probably download 100x the shows I used to and barely listen to 5%. These days I use the apps as sources of possible content to listen to, but I would be really annoyed if some of the content disappeared with no warning, particularly if it was one daily/weekly episode that covered COVID.


It's more like Google self-banning Google (or Bing) for displaying non-approved content. Searchengines index external sources and display it to the user, which is the same what a Podcast-app does, isn't it?


I would disagree in saying it's like Google banning YouTube as YouTube both hosts the actual data as well as filters the data that gets put onto the platform.


Yeah podcast app's rarely host the content themselves (though some do mirror the files to their own CDN's and Spotify have recently started doing exclusive podcasts).

It was more that Podcast app's come with a curated list of podcasts and a search feature backed into the application then the actual hosting of the content.


> If a browser does include "recommended sites" the landing pages of those sites best keep to Google's and Apples rules.

You mean sites like the BBC? That's where all the COVID-19 related content I have listened to with Podcast Addict came from. Is the BBC supposed to kowtow to Google's self serving rules and propaganda?


What about google podcasts which literally lists and plays the same podcasts about covid?


I have yet to find better then AntennaPod[0]

[0]: https://github.com/AntennaPod/AntennaPod/


I'm glad it works for you. I actually tried to switch in an effort to "more FOSS" my life and ended up compiling a concrete list of usability problems that made using Antenna Pod frustrating for me. And that "usability" word has traditionally been the difference in my life between a commercial product and a FOSS one

* Podcast Addict offers auto skip intro seconds, auto skip outro seconds -- and the seconds setting is per podcast

* P.A. offers "stop after episode" if the sleep timer is active, and also allows not marking the episode as played if that "artificial stop" is active

* in Antenna Pod, "delete and remove from queue" does not clear it from the now playing bar

* the "auto download" appears to be opt-in, not opt-out, meaning one must set it for all 85 podcasts

* the bamboo menu doesn't include "delete" for an episode

* and a few more UI nits that bugged me

This isn't a rant, but rather an observation that the Podcast Addict developer wakes up every day thinking about how to make P.A. better, and that doesn't seem to be true for Antenna Pod


More like:

> What Google is asking of Podcast Addict would be comparable to Google asking Google to remove all references to the websites and social media posts that reference the coronavirus unless the reference comes from an official government entity or public health organization.


AntennaPod[1] (my favorite and only) is open source and distributed through F-Droid, so it can't be arbitrily removed by Google. (And if for some reason it were to be removed from F-Froid, you can compile and install it yourself.)

[1] https://f-droid.org/app/de.danoeh.antennapod


I am not a fan of app stores due to these kinds of ecosystem issues, and could never find any good web only podcast players, so I just made my own. It's public but it only really has podcasts I like in the directory.


Overcast has a web player.


At what point do industries just band together and develop their own app store? Sure third party app stores have far less visibility, but if all the major entertainment groups and content categories could agree on a single app store then it's hard to imagine them failing.

And who says that Google won't do that?

Now is the perfect time to get more censorship in place, be it for commercial or policial reasons.


At this point: I wish they’d just take a stronger stance and ban everything they don’t like. Just ban the political party they don’t like, ban anything that speaks out against China, just ban it all.

We need to go back to the web, where anybody could install Apache and off they went. Bandwidth is cheap now. BitTorrent exists.

I hope google and twitter and Facebook and all the rest just hurry up with all this.

Some other ridiculous examples of them becoming the ministry of truth:

There was a joke image going around on Facebook saying: “Arizona beaches packed during coronavirus!”. A joke about Arizona not having any beaches because it’s a desert. Facebook censors this and gives you some creepy warning before your allowed to see it.

Or how about: there is a doctor from the university of Minnesota who is running a large scale, international, placebo controlled RCT for a potential covid prophylactic. Twitter is censoring his links to find out more about the study. HE IS A DOCTOR RUNNING A STUDY AT A MAJOR UNI, and twitter is telling him he is misinformation.

It’s all just disgusting and is exactly what a lot of people feared would happen with these companies.


There is indeed a problem here, and FAANG are being hamhanded and overaggressive in their response, but it's hard to find an overt bias that maps neatly onto the dominant (American?) political cleavage.

Much more often (as here), these companies are 1) making decisions in a way that allows them to abstract away and thus ignore the nuances of individual cases 2) putting the burden of implementation on underpaid workers who are not equipped to make these decisions and 3) reacting to any noticeable pushback by moving 200% in the opposite directions.

Locating the problem in Political motivations overlooks the economic incentives that monopolies have to 1) lobby/appease the people in power 2) use political opportunity to squelch competition and 3) treat their workers as disposable commodities.


>but it's hard to find an overt bias that maps neatly onto the dominant (American?) political cleavage.

What about things like google search suggestions being manipulated to hide unfavorable suggestions, but only for certain candidates? I remember seeing this happening real time after trying it one day per a reddit post and then a few days later per another reddit post that such suggestions had stopped showing.

The invention of the tools may have been orchestrated well outside of political leanings, but once invented and handed over for employees to use their application has follow political leanings.


I don't find it hard to believe that Google does things like this, but can you be more specific? What experiment can I run myself to verify that this happens?

Yeah, if you relay content at scale, your first preference is to do nothing for moderation. After a little taste of that, people get upset and complain, which is just a little inconvenient at first.

It becomes progressively more inconvenient once some of those people with complaints can subpoena you or fine you millions of dollars or exclude you from large markets.

So your next best option is hamfisted moderation.

Tuning things costs money and time,[0] it's generally easier to just shoot the moon on either false negatives or false positives.

[0] and given conflicting preferences from different powerful groups, is arguably impossible anyway

Or, "I tend to go with philosophers from Voltaire to Mill to Popper who say the only solution is to let everybody have their say and then try to figure it out in the marketplace of ideas. But none of those luminaries had to deal with online comment sections."

https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/02/22/rip-culture-war-thread...

EDIT: I should add, Podcast Addict is my go-to. I get how this can happen, but this is all really annoying and I feel for Xavier Guillemane and all the other users. Here's hoping the massive press blitz on this gets a quick reversal in this case, and Google finds a way to prevent it for apps with less visibility. Maybe we can enforce tuning by getting as upset as possible at the false positives.


> HE IS A DOCTOR RUNNING A STUDY AT A MAJOR UNI, and twitter is telling him he is misinformation.

The best part is that they let actual fake news and misinformation run amok on their platforms.


> We need to go back to the web, where anybody could install Apache and off they went. Bandwidth is cheap now. BitTorrent exists.

From your mouth to God's ears friend. I can't tell you enough how maddening it is to observe the way technology has evolved since the time I first encountered the net in 1998. My vision of the future was and remains a server in every home, powerful enough to handle all your digital communication/entertainment needs. Everyone with their website and domain, email etc. What a world that would have been! Well so much for that. All we did was bring back the AOL model in a different skin. The AOL guys must be so mad now, they were just too ahead of their time!


Perhaps a better strategy would be for Google to create an account for the head of government of each country, and give that account the ability to ban any app or video or search result in the respective country. (Such accounts would also have the ability to delegate their powers to other users as required).

Google could write a public blog post saying "We've sacked all our internal moderators and censors, so if you have any complaints about something being unfairly deleted, or not deleted, then vote for a better government next time."

We could then watch the rhetorical gymnastics of some governments saying that of course it would be a terrible infringement of human rights to have a government decide what people can watch and say online, without any sort of due process, not to mention the terrible mental health effects on government workers having to review all the potentially harmful content.


You don't think they would want that power?


what could go wrong with this approach

> We need to go back to the web, where anybody could install Apache and off they went. Bandwidth is cheap now. BitTorrent exists.

the ISPs are a concern. these can turn into an even more dangerous monopoly. can there be a new internet? home antennas? or maybe a way to somehow remove ISPs from the equation. a free flow.


Meshnet projects like Yggdrasil[1] and Hyperboria could be able to do this. I'm rooting for Yggdrasil at the moment.

[1]: https://yggdrasil-network.github.io/ and


> At this point: I wish they’d just take a stronger stance and ban everything they don’t like.

Is there even any evidence that this app was banned because they "don't like" it? I mean, come on. This surely got flagged by an automatic system that thought it was a covid app. Google and Apple and social media and basically everywhere are absolutely flooded with apps and content designed to scam people by using fear of the pandemic. The need for a heavy hand to prevent this is real.

The world you want where people are free to talk about covid on every forum is a world where everyone's terrified grandparents are being scammed out of their savings. Scams like that were literally front page news on this very site not 15 hours ago!

Now... if they don't reinstate the app, then there's an argument. But I think the direction of the cuts made by Occam's Razor are really clear in this case: this is a false positive from a scam detector.


What kind of spam app detector is so bad that it doesn't claculate wirh maturity, popularity, and reviews?

The word used was scam, not spam


It won't work that way, and they know it. It's a slow game, requiring patience on their end. They'll get to it eventually.


ban the political party they don't like?


Make their bias really obvious like we have for the major media companies so consumers can make an easy choice.


This is the result of out-sourcing juristic work to private companies:

If we treat Android, Window, Twitter, Facebook, as public spaces/goods, then private companies should not have a say in what is allowed/not-allowed on their platforms. This is work for the courts and police to decide and enforce.

If we treat those platforms as private. Then we are playing in s/o's backyard. You are totally at their mercy. They have every right to kick you out if they don't like your face. It's their property. You are a guest.

I think we need constituted digital public spaces and platforms with:

- democratic footing (users are in charge)

- public ownership

- division of power (politicians =!= judges =!= police)

- effective policing

In such a system it would be for independent courts to decide which Apps can be distributed and which not. Those courts would be bound to a constitution/body of law, which applies to all parties a like.

Yes, this will be expensive. Yes, you will have to give up some privacy. But you will be a citizen in a society, and not a stranger playing in a backyard.

Maybe the current platforms can be coerced into a system which approximates the above. But I have my doubts. I hope in 200years people will have figured this out, and will look back to this age as the digital dark ages.


The problem is that they have to act across borders.

Examples:

In the EU you don't need to filter pornography the same way as in the US. In the US you don't need to filter personal information (eg individuals' faces) the same way as in the EU.

Or does Google need to ban insults of the Thai king?

Which legislation should apply? Already now China has split the global internet in a China and non-China part...


Is that a problem, or an opportunity? If we create an effective decentralized mechanic to act across jurisdictions, maybe we'd solve more than our immediate problem.


It's both. Sovereignty should not be taken lightly, nor do we really need yet another avenue for the big fish (read: US/China/Russia) to start throwing their weight around - whether it be through ""democracy"", troll farms, agitprop, etc. This may only start to become a better idea once we've proven we have an effective arsenal against these ideas.


This seems very easy: when browsing the AppStore in Thailand, apps that insult the Thai king should be prohibited. Same with Facebook posts when accessed from Thailand, or YouTube videos etc. When accessing the same from the US, they MUST NOT be prohibited, because it would infringe on the rights of the creators.

Every nation should have the right to impose whatever restrictions it sees fit on companies wanting to distribute content to that nation.

Is it a pain to do this for the content distributor? Of course! But national sovereignty is far too important to be traded for ease of content distribution.

Of course, there is a problem (which some may consider a benefit) with the design of the Internet itself: there is no easy way to define what it means to distribute content to a particular country. But probably using national IP blocks is going to generally be good enough for many use cases.


> they MUST NOT be prohibited, because it would infringe on the rights of the creators.

However in reality the company acts conservitively and bans content that violates in Thailand for the US. "it's their platform". That's the same case as in the US. (See the article earlier talking about the CCP protest comments on youtube.)


Yes, that is what is happening because most states are not given enough power to impose their beliefs on entities like Google.

Even more in reality than your example, YouTube is censoring content the US or China or maybe Russia doesn't like everywhere, and it is not censoring content that Thailand or Uzbekistan or wherever else doesn't like even in those countries.

But if the US were to impose a no-censorship policy on YouTube (or at least a no-censorship-except-our-censorship policy), you would probably see some fragmentation to appease both the US and Chinese governments. And if a few dozen other countries did the same, with true force behind their decisions, you would either see YouTube retreating from those countries (perhaps opening the way for local alternatives), or many more YouTube front faces. Either way, there may be some advantages compared to the current system.


> they have to act across borders.

They don’t have to, they choose to, in the name of growth.

If New York Times decided to operate in China too, deliver news in chinese about China, they would have the same problem.


What? The New York Times does deliver news in Chinese about China. Has done for quite a while.


Iirc NYT has been blocked in China for about 10 years, since that report about Wen Jiabao's family's money.

Didn’t know that, thanks for chiming in. My point stands though.


Does it? Are you just assuming that, or did you find evidence of it?

There is no fundamental law saying American multinationals need to run the entire world. I'd be comfortable with the idea that a company with as much data as Google shouldn't be allowed to operate a trans-national operation for military reasons. The Chinese acted prudently when they froze Google out of their domestic market.


Exactly. So how would you approach this?

If this problem is not addressed, the internet may well segregate along national boundaries (just as you describe).


Putting users in charge does not solve censorship problems. The majority opinion - if it is in favour of censorship - will censor competing opinions.

Public ownership does not solve censorship. See: the CCP.

Effective policing does not solve censorship. The police will be tools of whoever and whatever is funding them.

The only way to combat censorship is through decentralised and distributed platforms that are made publicly immune to takedowns, censorship, and prosecution.

It astounds me that people are happy to accept that free speech in the US only applies in public spaces, while handing over control of the best places for spreading information to private companies. What's the point in that? "Free speech only applies to public space! Private companies can censor who they want! proceeds to make sure the information superhighway is entirely owned and controlled by private companies".

But public control doesn't work either. We've already seen government around the world censoring information in the "public interest".

Decentralisation, and distributism are the only ways.


Blockchain-based Facebook when?

CCP is not public ownership. CCP is a minority political party that subjugates the public through violence.

It is a bit of both. Sure, 'public' becomes a bit tenious (Perhaps 'government' is a better descriptor?), but still applies. Other truly communist nations have had similar issues with despotism however. And as is parroted so often, a government is where the state has a monopoly on violence. The trick is to limit the rights and abilities of the state to do so without just cause while allowing minority opinions to flurish.

Centralized walled gardens are going to face this no matter what policy they have. Too loose? They run afoul of laws and offend people. Too strict? They develop a reputation for censorship and offend people. There is no way they can win.

That's why everything has to go decentralized, encrypted, headless, and amorphous. The endpoint should be the end of platforms in favor of protocols and interfaces to those protocols.

Get to work.


> Centralized walled gardens are going to face this no matter what policy they have. Too loose? They run afoul of laws and offend people. Too strict? They develop a reputation for censorship and offend people. There is no way they can win.

Yes, they can win. The problem isn't that you're "too loose" or "too strict". The problem is that you have different users with different views of whether the same things is acceptable. You win by restricting your user base to people who agree on what should and shouldn't be allowed.


The only thing that needs to be constitutionally challenged is whether discretionary content filtering constitutes agency in publication under section 230 of the CDA.


How is that a constitutional question?

The whole point of 230 was to answer 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".

Some courts had said that filtering makes the provider a publisher and liable for the content. Congress passed 230 to reverse that.


Do I understand you correctly that you're talking about whether discretionary content filtering by a platform makes them into a publisher? This would mean that protections that apply to platforms wouldn't apply to them anymore for things like copyright infringement, right?


Section 230 provides immunity to Google and similar for content posted by other users and services. The notion that section 230 requires that Google be neutral in order to maintain that protection is not in the text of the law, and appears to be made up out of whole cloth. I will quote the entirely of section 230 below, see for yourself.

> 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.


> Section 230 provides immunity to Google and similar for content posted by other users and services.

To be more clear, Google and other web publishers already enjoy immunity for content posted by other users and services. That is the default state of things under American law.

What section 230 does is preserve their immunity even if they exercise editorial discretion over some of the content that other users/services post. Without section 230, they would still have immunity. But they'd lose it as soon as they did any moderation at all of user-provided content.


This is not true. The default state of US law was that those who published without moderation were protected, and those that did moderate were not. Section 230 was created specifically because publishers who moderated user generated comments had been successfully sued for defamation [0].

Section 230 did not preserve any rights at all, it created entirely new ones. Companies were previously able to enjoy common carrier immunities, if they behaved like common carriers. Section 230 granted them those immunities without giving them the obligation to behave like common carriers.

It's hard to argue that the legislature in 1996 were imaging the future we would have in 2020 where the vast majority of content is controlled by such a small collection of companies, and where those companies often operate a lot like a cartel when it comes to moderation of that content. Section 230 is really the only example we have of common carrier immunities being granted to non-common carriers. The reason you don't see that more often is because it creates exactly this set of problems. It's clear that section 230 has had impact far beyond the scope of the 1996 legislation, the world has changed significantly since then, and those problems really should be addressed.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stratton_Oakmont,_Inc._v._Prod....


Congress couldn’t possibly imagine that Google would exist when they passed Section 230, because Google probably wouldn’t exist without Section 230. Section 230 is generally credited with helping birth the modern Internet, without Section 230 the Internet would still look like it did in the 1980s; small and non-commercial.


None of the innovation that Google brought to the internet on its' way to becoming an internet giant relied on Section 230. The business of search and adds do not rely on Section 230 protections in any way.

Like any other regulation, it harms small businesses disproportionately to the costs it imposes on large ones. There are plenty of examples of regulations that are appropriate to apply to large businesses, but much less appropriate to apply to small ones. Luckily, this incredibly old problem has been solved many times over through the idea of having regulations apply to companies after they reach a certain size. There is little harm to society in allowing small content distributors full editorial control over their distribution channels. There is significant harm to society in allowing that same level of control to entities which control an enormous majority of modern content distribution.

This trope that "the internet wouldn't exist without Section 230" is just an overused excuse that people peddle out to distract from the fact that regardless of how important it was in 1996, as the internet has changed, this law is now responsible for an entirely new category of very serious problems, that really weren't envisioned at the time it was written. It also ignores the fact that these problems can be easily fixed without removing the elements of it which have been beneficial to the growth of online services.


> This is not true. The default state of US law was that those who published without moderation were protected, and those that did moderate were not. Section 230 was created specifically because publishers who moderated user generated comments had been successfully sued for defamation [0].

> Section 230 did not preserve any rights at all, it created entirely new ones. Companies were previously able to enjoy common carrier immunities, if they behaved like common carriers. Section 230 granted them those immunities without giving them the obligation to behave like common carriers.

It's kind of funny for you to open with "this is not true" and then go on to agree with everything I said. What part did you think wasn't true?


The bit where you claim that section 230 does not in fact create an entirely new set of legal protections for content distributors...

Just think about it for a split second.

I said that in the world without section 230, you start with immunity from responsibility for content provided by other parties, and you lose that immunity if you moderate those other parties' content.

Whereas, in the world with section 230, you start with immunity from responsibility for content provided by other parties, and you keep that immunity if you moderate those other parties' content.

On the other hand, you've provided the counterpoint that everything I said is absolutely correct, and I should be ashamed of putting out such ridiculous misinformation.

You are trying to disagree as strongly as you possibly can -- despite the fact that you agree with me in full. What's going on?


> the term “information content provider” means any person or entity that is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information

By selectively funding the development of information they favor, YouTube or app stores could be considered in part responsible for the creation of that information, in which case that section would not protect them, because they would then be the information content provider, not merely a provider of an interactive computer service.


That strikes me as a theory that began with a desired outcome first, as the law does not use the language you’re using, nor does it include any of the distinctions you’re trying to draw. There is no “unless if there’s an ad revenue sharing system” exception to 230.

Aside from the details of 230, I would think long and hard about the unintended side effects of what you’re proposing. Attempts to control what Google and similar can and cannot moderate either results in Google having no moderation power at all (a disaster for the entire internet), or gives the government the power to decide what and what is not protected from Google’s moderation (which is contrary to the point of this exercise).


It's just a rephrasing of the theory that Google is acting like a publisher (information content provider) not a platform (interactive computer service), showing that interpretation is consistent with the text of the law. It's also consistent with the intentions of the lawmakers, as stated[1]:

> the Internet and other interactive computer services offer a forum for a true diversity of political discourse

> to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services

The law was not intended to protect a near-monopoly throwing its weight around in the political arena, or a duopoly blocking competition with their own apps.

And if that interpretation did somehow give the government the power to decide what is and what is not protected, that would still be an improvement over the present situation, because the government at least answers to the people and the Constitution, and right now nothing is protected.

1: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230


> It's just a rephrasing of the theory that Google is acting like a publisher (information content provider) not a platform (interactive computer service),

You are creating a test for platform vs. publisher that is not in the law. The law as linked does not even prohibit the censorship of political opinions, and in fact states that internet service providers may block constitutionally protected speech. It may be intended to free the Internet up for political discourse, but that doesn’t mean we get to totally ignore the text of the law and make up what we think it should be doing.

> The law was not intended to protect a near monopoly throwing its weight around

It wasn’t intended to do that, but that’s what it does. You don’t get to ignore the text of the law because you think it’s not acting the way you want it to. Legal systems work off the text of the laws, not what you think they should be doing.

Also, there are damn good reasons why I advise caution in these areas; unintended consequences are the norm and not the exception here. Section 230 wasn’t designed to protect monopolies, why do you think that trying to make Google “fair” wouldn’t have other unintended consequences?

Besides, if your problem with Google is that they’re a monopoly, why not use anti-monopoly laws? You can target Google specifically with those without the risk of putting all internet speech under the jurisdiction of the courts.

> And if that interpretation did somehow give the government the power to decide what is and what is not protected, that would still be an improvement

It might feel cathartic to use the power of government to force Google to do what you feel is expedient right now, but it’s something we’ll all come to regret. Understand that the nature of democracies is that people you disagree with will one day wield power, giving them the ability to control speech on the Internet is not a wise long term strategy.


> You are creating a test for platform vs. publisher that is not in the law.

There's a clear distinction between "publisher" (information content provider) and "platform" (interactive computer service) in the law. But the law provides no test for which category a particular entity falls into, so we have to provide this. No one is claiming that the proposed test is the current test, just that it's a good test, consistent with both the letter and the spirit of the law.

> That doesn’t mean you get to change what the law does on your own

Of course I don't. But the courts do, and when they do so, they consider the legislature's intent. If an interpretation is consistent with both the wording and intent, even if it isn't the original interpretation, it's possible to convince judges to adopt it.

> It might feel cathartic to use the power of government to force Google to do what you feel is expedient right now, but it’s something you’ll come to regret.

That sounds like fear mongering. If we can trust the US government to do anything, its to respect the first amendment. And if the day comes when we can no longer trust the US government to respect the first amendment, then this discussion is pointless, because at that point we'll have lost all freedoms.

But it's clear now that we cannot trust Google to respect freedom of speech. Of the two, in this narrow case, the government is more trustworthy than Google.


Section 230 provides a very clear definition of what an “Interactive Computer Service” is, and makes it very clear that someone who provides one cannot be considered to be the publisher, full stop.

> The term “interactive computer service” means any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, including specifically a service or system that provides access to the Internet and such systems operated or services offered by libraries or educational institutions.

> 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.

These two combined mean that you cannot find a way to consider Google to be a publisher under section 230. If they meet the definition of an Interactive Computer Service, then they cannot be a publisher under 230.

> But the courts do.

The courts have not weighed in on this aspect of Section 230, but they taken a very expansive view of the level of immunity that it grants. Particularly interesting here would be Blumenthal vs. Drudge, which granted AOL Section 230 immunity even though the content in question was written by AOL’s contractor, which is probably closer to the line than moderation.

Outside the courts, the general legal consensus is that Section 230 does not require impartiality or neutrality at all, based on both the text of the law and the congressional record around when it was passed.

> That sounds like fear mongering. If we can trust the US government to do anything, its to respect the first amendment.

Or, you know, it’s in line with the past few centuries of liberal democratic tradition to limit the power of the government in the area of free speech. The point of the 1st amendment is explicitly to get the government out of the business of deciding what is and is not acceptable speech. You would put it back into that process.

Also, you probably shouldn’t trust the government too openly here. Ever heard the phrase “shout fire in a crowded theater”? It comes from a supreme court case that jailed somebody for protesting WW1 (Schenck v. United States). That bad precedent stood for 50 years. Just saying.

Of course, there are so, so, so many practical problems with just saying “Google cannot block anything that’s protected speech.” Pornography is protected, violent videos are protected, hate speech is protected. Much of the internet becomes completely inoperable if you set the bar at protected speech; surely we’ve all seen enough poorly moderated forums to predict that.

It’s easy to imagine a scenario where Google can block “obscene” speech but not political speech. But where is that line? And who do you trust to have permanent, hegemonic power to decide what is and is not offensive for the entire Internet? Remember that we got into this mess partly because one group of people decided that another group of people’s political opinions were offensive; do not assume that they wouldn’t use the power of the government to suppress each other given the opportunity.


> Section 230 provides a very clear definition of what an “Interactive Computer Service” is, and makes it very clear that someone who provides one cannot be considered to be the publisher, full stop.

Note the word "another" in "another information content provider". The law plainly doesn't protect them for content they are responsible (even only in part) for creating, and by paying for some content and not other content, they're taking an active hand in choosing what content is created. In other words, they are, in part, responsible for the creation of that content.

> where is that line?

That's a question to be answered by democracy, not in a corporate board room.

And private control of the means of communication has never been unrestricted. Surely you're familiar with the regulations that once governed the television networks.


> If Google is paying for some content ... then they’re acting like a publisher.

There is case law to the contrary. AOL was granted 230 immunity when the issue at hand was about what a contractor of theirs said.

> That’s a question to be answered by democracy, not in a corporate board room

Or we could encourage a proliferation of choices on the internet, rather than handing whichever party is in power the right to suppress the speech of the other.


> Or we could encourage a proliferation of choices on the internet, rather than handing whichever party is in power the right to suppress the speech of the other.

I'm talking about preventing Google from exercising that power, not giving that power to the government. No one is proposing to repeal the first amendment.

I'm very much in favor of a proliferation of choices on the internet, but we don't really have that at the moment, and we need regulations that cover the situation we actually find ourselves in, not the ideal situation.


I’ve already made this point at least twice; getting the government involved in preventing Google from moderating content is giving the power to the government. Unless if you want to completely ban the ability of Google to moderate anything, then you are giving the power to someone to decide what is and is not protected from moderation on Google. This power to decide what is and is not immune from moderation would be hugely powerful, and would give the ability of the government to declare which ideological believes are and are not protected from moderation; which in effect would be hugely detrimental to the first amendment.

And even if you strip Google’s immunity from civil damages away, you are handing power over all internet speech over to the courts and anyone with enough time and money to use them. From a citizens perspective there is very little difference between censorship via the first or third branch of the government; both represent the erosion of the first amendment.


Similar regulations have existed in the past (common carrier and the fairness doctrine, for example) without giving the government the power to "declare which ideological believes are and are not protected from moderation".


The fairness doctrine was only constitutional because there were a limited number of channels (Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC), and it was impossible for anyone else to create one due to FCC regulations. I genuinely doubt that it would be constitutional today with cable television, let alone the internet.


I'm not proposing that we reestablish the fairness doctrine, just using it as an example of similar government regulation in the past that didn't have the disastrous effects you predicted.

But since you brought up the limited number of choices, I would like to mention that we find ourselves in that situation again today in the smartphone and online video markets, although for different reasons. And that's relevant because regulation is only necessary when the free market fails to provide the choices and freedoms we expect.


From what I gather this is largely addressed and the answer, it seems, is no [0,1]. (Disclaimer, IANAL and IANAUSC.)

[0]: https://abovethelaw.com/2019/06/explainer-how-letting-platfo...

[1]: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230 (Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material)


How would that be a constitutional challenge? If you're arguing for a different interpretation of the CDA that seems like a legal challenge and argument.

What's the constitutional argument against the current legislation of the CDA?


A platform isn't public or private. It's a platform. You can use it any way you want. But if it's not your platform, you don't get to make the rules of how it can be used or how it works.

I don't think people realize how ridiculous they sound when they reach this far just to get Google to do whatever the user wants with Google's service. It's a very millennial/zoomer/i-only-know-life-since-Google-has-existed point of view. It implies that people don't think they can fairly live a human existence without using Google (which is the truly disturbing thing about all this).

I mean, jesus. Nobody has forced you to use any of Google's services, you literally do not need to use any of their services at all. And there are alternate service providers. We didn't even go this far with Ma Bell, an actual monopoly.

If this is about "boo hoo I can't make money off of their platform", why not the same complaint about literally any other business? It's a much more reasonable thing to fight for, say, right to repair, than right-to-make-an-app-that-will-be-published-no-matter-what-by-Google.

At the moment, the best comparison I can come up with is food trucks. Say you own a giant empty lot. You offer it to food trucks to come and sell their food in your lot. It's a big success. You make money, the food trucks make money. Then one day, you want to kick out a food truck, for whatever reason. And they say, this is so unfair. We should form a government committee to manage this parking lot because the owner of the lot won't let me sell hotdogs here anymore. Even though they could just, you know, do what they do somewhere else, and still make basically the same living.


Why not just free distribution and then enforce takedowns if something is deemed illegal after the fact? There’s no need for “users being in charge” or nationalization. These two parts especially don’t even seem at all necessary to your stated goals in terms of applied regulation. They would also be disastrous.


> democratic footing (users are in charge)

"Users" is a tricky word here.

When you have democracy, and you say "users are in charge", what you really mean is "whatever group of users can get a majority is in charge".

What it perhaps sounds like you're saying, which isn't true under democracy but is desirable, is "individual users are in charge", i.e. you are in charge of your own data and content.


You really trust the US court system to be impartial?

Should Apple/Google be forced to carry pornographic apps? White supremacists apps? Apps that invade people’s privacy? Which government should hold this responsibility? Should we have an international committee deciding this?


Please stop. The more we play this tit-for-tat game of political point scoring, the more it causes the whole system to degenerate. It is corrupting every facet of our society, to the point at which we're no longer able to be objective about life and death matters like the current pandemic.


You stop. Stop using $current_panic to justify trampling the parts of the constitution and the parts of the system you don't like. These are legitimate questions that need to be answered or we'll just be in a worse place in the future.

It's so transparent; any time there's some crisis, whether it's terrorism or guns or drugs or a pandemic, there are always people calling for us to ignore the actual issues of our system and ram some "fix" through because this time, no seriously, this time it's life or death and we have to act.


?

I'm largely agreeing with you. My only point is that we shouldn't allow courts and corporations to become politicized.


Isn’t it a little - like 200+ years - late for that?


We're approaching levels of hyperpartisanship not seen since the civil war. I don't think this is a healthy state of being for our country.


You think we all got together and sung Kum Bah Yah after the Civil War? Are you forgetting about the segregation? The Civil Rights Movement? Vietnam?


Are you arguing that there haven't been varying levels of unity and partisanship within American history?


As long as you ignore minorities and/or non-straight people.


No I’m just amazed that people are willing to give government more power - the same government who would like nothing more than to have more power to intrude on people’s life.


We're advocating moving this power from massive corporations to the government, because at least the government has some accountability, whereas Google has NONE.


I argue that the government has essentially zero accountability, while the private sector has a huge degree.

Our bandwidth for holding government accountable is so limited as to be useless. Consider the federal gov't, since I think it's what you're mostly talking about anyway. We get to vote for

* 1x Presidential primary every 4 years, from a field of, let's say, 8 to be generous: 3 bits

* 1x President every 4 years, from a field of 4 at best: 2 bits

* 2x Senator primary every 6 years. Let's again say a field of 8: 3 bits

* 2x Senator every 6 years. Let's again say a field of 4: 2 bits

* 1x Representative primary every 2 years. Again, very generous field of 8: 3 bits

* 1x Representative every 2 years, field of 4: 2 bits

That gives us 5.4 bits/year of bandwidth to actually hold our elected officials accountable. Yes, we can write letters and stuff, but that doesn't really allow us to hold them accountable. 5.4 bits in a year is nowhere near enough to express our feelings on the myriad of topics that the government is fiddling with, so we have effectively zero control over those things.

Compare that with private sector. Even for entities like Google, we've got huge latitude to vote with our feet. We can use DuckDuckGo, etc. Our choices as consumers provides a comparatively enormous bandwidth.


>Yes, we can write letters and stuff, but that doesn't really allow us to hold them accountable

Public protests/rallies/marches do bring about change in government/government policies. Many politicians do care about their public image, and are susceptible to manipulation based on public pressure.

>Compare that with private sector. Even for entities like Google, we've got huge latitude to vote with our feet. We can use DuckDuckGo, etc. Our choices as consumers provides a comparatively enormous bandwidth.

Okay, so agreeing with you for the sake of argument - they provide a bandwidth, in theory, but what is the pointif nobody actually uses it? It is "effectively" zero accountability. No mass exodus from Google/Apple/Microsoft/Facebook/Twitter/Whatsapp/TikTok/insert bad company/...


So now we need the government to intervene for people's own good because people willingly give their money to Big Tech?


The government is a made-up construct we created to serve us. What the government should or shouldn't do is up to us.

In the political arena, the status quo is that each voter must choose one of:

A) I must vote for the Democrat candidate because the Republicans are evil and they'll subjugate women and minorities.

B) I must vote for the Republicans because the Democrats are evil and they'll turn us into a bunch of commies.

There is no room in today's political debate for even mention of finer points of free speech philosophy, when all we can do is scare people into voting for the lesser evil.

Many politicians do care about their public image, and are susceptible to manipulation based on public pressure.

And this is no less true in the private sector.


>And this is no less true in the private sector.

Well, of course there are nuances to anything, but CEOs are not elected by the public. They don't have "opponent" CEOs trying to milk their scandals in public ads for getting a job. Its different. Anyway, this conversation has totally gone off topic ! We'll just have to agree to disagree on some things, although I suspect we have more points that we agree on than not.


> Even for entities like Google, we've got huge latitude to vote with our feet. We can use DuckDuckGo, etc.

Great, that's two options. Maybe there's half of another.


There is also Bing.


Really, I think we should call Google and Bing the real two and lump all the alternatives that reuse it into the "half".


Maybe you're advocating that, but -- even as someone who is generally skeptical of corporate power and the presumed wonders of the marketplace, and more amenable to reasonable government regulation (as subjective as that clearly is) -- this sounds like a pretty dubious idea.

The government regulation that might be called for in situations like this is regulation that puts a few limits on corporate control of massive platforms, not regulation that just transfers that control to other entities. Make locking down platforms too tightly illegal: relax laws about reverse engineering, mandate side-loading. I don't think we need to take away Google or Apple's rights to say what they will and won't sell in their own digital storefronts, but I don't think those rights should necessarily extend to control over what users install on their own devices. The problem is when those are the only legal storefront (e.g., Apple's iOS App Store), or other storefronts are highly undiscoverable.


So now, in the case of Android, the complaint is that the alternatives don’t know how to market. Should we also break up the record labels and the book publishers because you can’t easily discover independent authors and musicians?


(Trying to act devil's advocate)

Google is a publicly listed company. Members of the public, either directly or indirectly partially own Google. Google has a duty towards its shareholders. Isn't that some accountability?

I know that not everyone owns Google stock. But I'm guessing hundreds of thousands of people do.


Google's shareholders generally have very different interests than its users do.

Where is this accountability? The Senate by design has two senators regardless of the population of the state, meaning that if you live in a more populous state, you have less voting power than people living in the flyover states. The electoral college also biases the Presidential election to less populous states. Not to mention even in the House of Representatives the ratio between the parties doesn’t match the popular vote because of gerrymandering.

How “accountable” are judges with lifetime appointments?

Google is accountable. If they don’t give people what they want, people don’t give them money directly or indirectly.


In the US, bills (new laws) have to pass both the Senate and the House, and the House is population based. It's a system of checks and balances to ensure that large states and small states don't control each other. In theory, if a particular change is favored by one set and not the other, then it doesn't pass.

In practice it's a little murkier than that, but the way you presented it makes it sound like the system is just stacked to the benefit of the smaller states over the larger, when that is not the case.


Most regulations that are passed are not by law. They are passed by agencies like the FCC, FTC, FDA etc.

So let’s say this mythical law is passed where you give the government more power over private business. The actual execution of the law is going to be carried out by unelected regulatory agencies where your main recourse is unelected judges.


You are constructing a false choice.

We have a general principle of due process and contract law that can be applied here in insisting that "massive corporations" play nice. Reigning in "massive corporations" doesn't require any new governmental powers.

I'm saying this as someone who leans libertarian but I don't think that is in conflict with the concepts of due process and reasonable contracts. The Devil is always in the details but it isn't an either/or choice.


There is no law that says “play nice”. What laws are they in breach of by only allowing certain products to be sold in their store? Every retailer has the right to decide what is sold in their store. Especially since Android is supposedly “open” and you can sideload.

At various times, HN users want the government to decide what gets sold in Apple and Google’s stores and decide what Amazon can and can’t sell. I’ve even seen that they want the government to intervene when it comes to how the game console makers operate. I guess if it were up to them Nintendo should be forced to sell “Debbie Does Dallas” next to “Animal Crossing” in their online store.


IANAL but I think a major component of contract law involves ensuring that the contract is "reasonable". This is what I meant by "play nice". I realize that the definition of "reasonable" is complicated (thus "law school"). But for the purposes of an HN discussion, I think it suffices.


There is the solution of taking away power from the government to fix this. You would need to limit the punishment of people to be the same as corporations. For example, if a corporation commits negligence that kills people and gets fined 2% of its income, then the penalty for negligent homicide becomes a 2% yearly income with no jail time.

The problem is that right now the government will jail an individual and fine them many years worth of income but will not punish a corporation even a 1/100th of the penalty. Equalize that can be done by either granting or removing power from the government.


I don't see how that would work, because fining a corporation indirectly fines every employee they need to lay off and can no longer find a job. Of course, we should fine corporations more, but trying to treat a company like a person is just a stupid metaphor in general and extending that will lead you nowhere sane.

>I don't see how that would work, because fining a corporation indirectly fines every employee they need to lay off and can no longer find a job.

Do we stop putting people in prison if they have a child? Either we have to punish children by depriving them of a parent (potentially putting them into foster care) or we have to allow family status to be a factor in sentencing individuals (institutionalize discrimination on a protected class)?

Currently when we punish someone, little thought is given to secondary victims. I don't see why we would make an exclusion for corporations.


> Should Apple/Google be forced to carry pornographic apps? White supremacists apps? Apps that invade people’s privacy? Which government should hold this responsibility? Should we have an international committee deciding this?

We already have a situation in which two companies effectively decide what can go on anyone's cellphone (sideloading is not and will not be a meaningful solution for any more than a fraction of a percent of users).


Why isn’t side loading viable for Android users?


I expect them to be more impartial than a multinational for-profit company whose stakeholders care about little other than their bottom line.

Pornography and hate speech have plenty of legal precedent. And if I'm honest, if it's legal in a given country, why shouldn't it be available?


Are you paying attention to the actions of the modern judicial system in the US that votes along party lines?

You really think that judges with their own religious and political biases and with lifetime appointments “care about you”?


By that same token, are you paying attention to the actions being taken by Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon?

There are no clean actors here, but the difference between the judicial system and the big companies is that the judicial system has people who care about more than just profits.


It’s even worse. They care about their own ideologies that are often at odds with mine.

The difference is that it is much easier to not be beholden to the private corporations you mentioned than the government. Private corporations don’t have the power of the state to take away my liberty, property or life.


You do realize the context of this conversation, correct? We're not talking about your liberty, property, or life. We're talking about apps on a smartphone or tablet.

> Private corporations don’t have the power [] to take away my liberty, property or life.

No, they can only demand you come in for overtime, require you to move where they want you to, or force you to come in while sick, at the risk of taking away your job. A risk which is minor for some of us, but which is the equivalent of a threat of homelessness for others.


Yes and do you really think morality will never come into play if those decisions are made by the government? What are the chances that this government would go to bat for an app by Black Lives Matter as opposed to Focus on the Family?


Yes, yes, provided they're labeled properly, all of them, and no, respectively.

Edit: I guess the first two could use some labels as well, provided the labels aren't legible to parental controls or other nannyware.



They are all considered “natural monopolies”. They are also regulated on the municipal level. Do you now want each city to regulate apps? Why stop there? Why not regulate what console makers can sell? every physical store can sell?


In my country >90% of smartphone users have Android. Yes I would call that a monopoly. Yes I think monopolies should be regulated. Not at the city level since that's ridiculous and sounds like a strawman. That comment was just an example of monopolies that need to be regulated.


Isn’t the whole beauty of Android that it is “open” and that you can sideload apps and you are not beholden to a “walled garden”?


As Epic found out, not if you want to remain on Google's good side. They were facing sanctions from Google due to their sideloading of Fortnight onto Android phones and tablets.


What “sanctions” were they facing? They were called out because their app was a security nightmare.

https://www.cnet.com/news/fortnites-battle-royale-with-andro...


My understanding is that the "vulnerability" here also exists on every computer or other device on which you download an installer to a public folder--any application can watch that folder and silently replace the file with another when the download completes. There's nothing special about that. Android has a secure internal storage area--but internal storage is often limited. It's gotten better, but my previous phone only had 8gb for both the OS and data to share.

> Should Apple/Google be forced to carry pornographic apps? White supremacists apps? Apps that invade people’s privacy?

My computer allows racist pornography and its the greatest invention in the history of mankind. As far as I can tell, iPhones have not lived up to that legacy.


Yes, but should Apple be forced to sell it? You can buy a DVD player and a TV from Walmart that allows you to view pornographic and racist content but aren’t forced to sell it.


There's a common standard for DVDs and a competitive market in them; if one maker won't sell what you want, another will. Apple should be either nationalised or broken up like Ma Bell, and the threat of the same should hang over any market where a handful of players capture enough marketshare to become a de facto cartel.


And since in this case we are talking about Google - you can already side load apps...

Apple has less than 50% of the market in the US and 15% of the market worldwide. People chose to use Apple without any coercion from the government.

But back to this case, people can choose to sideload apps on Android. So what’s the problem?


Apple preventing the sale of a product != Apple not selling a product.

I don't ask Apple for permission to visit a website on my iPhone. Why should I ask their permission to install applications? Would it be so awful if I were allowed to run my own software?


But you don’t have to ask Google permission to install software. So why are people asking for intervention in this case?

Choice is amazing. You had a choice to buy into Apple’s “walled garden” or buy an Android. You didn’t need the nanny state to make that choice for you.


You sort of do: before you sideload an app, you have to toggle a switch, agreeing that you are going to do something potentially unsafe. In the similar arrogant manner, they care about your safety purging Podcast Addict app, like parenting you.

The best solution would be an emergence of an Android fork and the corresponding platform, but this seems unlikely due to enormous (as in 100bn perhaps) startup capital required.

Do you propose any other constructive solutions?


Yes, so would you rather Google not warn users of the possible danger?


I would rather change some obsure the settings once (like tapping 5 times on phone info) than being pestered every time


Do you also log into your computer as root or administrator so you don't have to be bothered with pesky warnings?


I am not talking the US in particular here. I am saying these decisions should be made by courts not by private institutions, that have stakes in that game.


So instead of being made by private companies, they should be made by unelected partisan judges....


No?


That’s exactly the choice you make in the US.


I am not talking about any particular existing nation state. I am saying that the problems we are experiencing could be solved by having some form of "constituted digital public spaces and platforms". I am well aware of the practical difficulties in establishing these. But it's our inability to create those spaces that is hurting us here.


In (US) law there are two sets for rights and responsibilities: public (government) and private (individuals and organizations). But when it comes to responsibilities individuals can suffer consequences that organizations can't. And organizations can have power vastly greater than that of any individual. In some ways they should be subject to restrictions like governments, in others they shouldn't.

Really we need a third group. Corporations aren't individual people, and the legal simplification of modeling corporations as people is problematic. Unfortunately this probably requires a constitutional amendment for the US to change.


>If we treat those platforms as private. Then we are playing in s/o's backyard. You are totally at their mercy. They have every right to kick you out if they don't like your face. It's their property. You are a guest.

Maybe this depends on the laws of a country. Also, IMHO either a company offers their services to everyone or to no one. There are, of course, exceptions that aren't really exceptions. Creative work in an "exception". For instance, French painter Monet was so popular that he could choose his customers.


>>If we treat those platforms as private. Then we are playing in s/o's backyard. You are totally at their mercy.>>

I don't know what "s/o" means but assuming it means the operator of the platform, no, you are not at their mercy, they are at yours. Just go use another platform. If, in practical terms, there are no other platforms for the thing you want, then that's a different problem.


I think "someone"


The solution to this as I see this is that these platforms allow everything. Only block illegal (local law) content and spam. Provide users with powerful blocking/filtering tools. The only influence they can have on content is monetization/advertising. They are free to be preferential with who they wish to monetize. Thats the best compromise I can think off.

Join the Fediverse!


>If we treat Android, Window, Twitter, Facebook, as public spaces/goods

I feel like they're screaming at the top of their lungs asking you to not think of those things as public spaces. I am happy to try to oblige them.


While they work as hard as possible to have communication monopolies in their respective spaces.

I agree with you though, the inherent problem is that they are private spaces and should act like it. That means developing the ability to interoperate with other private spaces (some sort of federated protocol would be required), and not having monopolies on distribution (being able to acquire iOS apps from 3rd party channels, for instance).

By extension, if anyone is considering legislation to enforce freedom of expression on social networks, I'd propose a different track—break up the largest of the social networks (namely Facebook at this point) and force them to interoperate.

That seems a lot more practical than forcing private companies to hold up public standards of free speech.


They have become the new public space over time. I doubt they intended this, but this is the new world in 2020.

If you want to spread an idea now, you won't walk to your local town a square and start talking on a makeshift podium. You'll post a tweet or a facebook post, or make a reddit thread.


Yes. I understand. And Twitter, Facebook, et. al are asking us not to use them. So let's stop.


If they want to be private someone will take them to court for advertising drugs or something like that. They should have stayed neutral.


That’s impossible. Congress exempted the entire internet from court on something like this. Look at the communications decency act.


only if they stay neutral. This goes beyond that.


That's a common myth, and is completely wrong. In fact, it is almost 180 degrees wrong.

Before section 230, there had been a couple of court cases. One held that a particular provider was not liable for anything posted on it, because it did not do any filtering or blocking at all. Another held that a different provider was liable for what users posted, because it did do some filtering and blocking.

Congress felt these outcomes were wrong, and section 230 was specifically meant to make providers not liable for user provided content, regardless of whether or not they did any filtering or blocking.


And yet sites that aggregate illegal content are taken down by the government all the time, despite hosting none of it themselves. If you filter the wrong way, the government will hold you liable.

The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet:

"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."

-Section 230

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Twenty-Six-Words-That-Created-Interne...


This podcast goes into a lot of detail on what the CDA says: https://legaltalknetwork.com/podcasts/make-no-law/2019/08/de...


I agree, that this would have been the better option for them. Now they are stuck with their conent-screening frams, and censoring algorithms. It's a mess.

Still. Even if they did take that turn. I don't think they would have stayed truly neutral. Lot's of ways to penalize competition without banning them from your platform. A wolf is a bad shepherd.


If they do nothing, someone will take them to court for promoting false information about COVID-19 that gets someone killed.

There is no win-win scenario on policy enforcement when a company gets big enough.


Nothing will come of this though, and the masses will continue to bleat about them being private entities that are allowed to do this.


Nationalize FAANG?


I don't see how putting Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon under the control of the US executive branch would solve the problems of accountability and them needing to deal with the laws of multiple nation states.

If one wants to subject these corporations to regulations, than it seems one should propose regulations. Putting them under the direct purview of a government does not magically make them start working in the best interest of the people (of which nation?). Nor does it mean that they are automatically accountable; see for example the NSA if you want examples predating the current administration.


This is my knee jerk reaction, but then I ask myself if I really want Trump (or Pelosi depending on your political persuasion) deciding how my search engine and social networks work.

Feeling a big "NOPE" on that one.

Customers need to make it unacceptable for FAANG to act this way... Good luck on that tho.

Unfortunately, they have been very good at slowly raising the temperature so the frog (read:us) doesn't jump out of the pot.


Telcos are private. They are not allowed to disconnect calls when people are talking about things they don't like. They are not allowed to drop accounts for organizations saying things they don't like.

Electric companies are mostly private. They are not allowed to cut off electricity to people/orgs that say things they don't like.


People claim that internet platforms present a novel problem but telcos are a very good model for regulation.

Governments should ban large platforms (>10M users) from editorial discretion.


Telephone communications are one to one, not one to many, which makes their regulations largely irrelevant as a model for regulating one to many systems.


Telcos and utilities are regulated as common carriers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_carrier


I use Podcast Addict every day, I would even say that is my most used app on android. I work listening to podcasts and PA is the best app for those who like highly customizable software. You can change almost everything.

Its sad that we are in a situation where a company can dictate what we can install on our computers/smartphones. I know we can sideload apps on android, but the majority of users doesn't care about this and just give away its freedom to really own the device in exchange for the easiest way to operate it. And every day we walk towards lesser control of our property and more dependency of those companies.

Another problem is that developers can, without notice, be locked out of their incomes for whatever reason without ways to properly appeal. Those who can, we should consider supporting the developer Xavier Guillemane on Patreon, at least until this situation gets resolved. The amount of work he put on the app, its probably his main source of income and I wouldn't like if he need to abandon the app development due to this. The lowest tier is just $1.


> dictate what we can install on our computers/smartphones

Can they though? Android does not make it difficult at all to install apps through stores other than their own Play Store. A quick internet search reveals that there are at least a dozen other options for users to download apps to Android phones.

I agree that a devices OS should allow alternative means to install apps, but Android has clearly done this.


Alternative stores don't have the same access as play store. They can't have auto-updates.


I agree with you on that, Android is far less hostile to installing software outside of the store than iOS.

The problem is, if the developer wants its software to reach the wide audience of the platform, its a obvious choice for him to use what the users perceive as the "official way" of installing software. Sure, you can offer both ways, but if your app is missing from the official store, the majority of users won't even know it exists.

IMHO we, as users and developers, have our share of the blame for problems like this one, and we should be vigilant so Android doesn't become like iOS.


The other side of this is that app developers are screwed when it comes to compensation. Providing the ability to sideload doesn't mean anything if developers can't be compensated and can't continue developing their app (as I don't expect them to if they aren't in any way rewarded for it financially).


In most of these stories featuring Google abusing their power to remove apps, it's usually a matter of some automated tool gone wrong and the problem is solved a couple of days later. But this time it's different, they are actually asking developers to censor themselves if they are not affiliated with a gov.


> and the problem is solved a couple of days later.

If the developer is lucky enough to hit the front page of HN.


This isn't as weird as it seems in this new weird world. The "most official" support channel for Spotify is their Twitter handle while their email form is the secondary option.

Letting internet outrage drive the support queue is oddly pragmatic.


It's not pragmatic, its just the bare minimum. It turns out that if you want good support you have to scale your support to the number of users.


Meh. If I left an automation roaming the streets and it ate someone’s kid I would get in trouble.

If google’s automations are broken and they harm the world then they need to be responsible and fix them or replace them with people.


Uber killed Elaine Herzberg and didn't get in trouble.


But automating something that might eat a kid, versus inadvertently blocking an app access very very different. This why no one is tackling a nanny bot --- repercussions.

Agreed on the last part.


Ok maybe an automation that blocked a parking lot is a better analogy.


What makes you think this is something other than another (awful) high profile case of automation gone wrong?


Because their action seems consistent with their stated intention of banning all non-official speech on Covid-19?

It could still be reversed if they feel public opinion swings the other way. That wouldn't mean it's automation gone wrong.


It may be automated based on frequency of reports, but either way this is unlikely to be company policy. The people who make these decisions are relatively low-level employees following a company guidebook. The guidebook says it has to go? It has to go. The employee doesn't want to get fired.

I doubt it'll stick.


>...but either way this is unlikely to be company policy

Perhaps you haven't seen the article because it's behind an Apple News link. There's a screenshot of a message stating company policy as follows:

"Pursuant to Section 8.3 of the Developer Agreement and the Enforcement policy, apps referencing Covid-19, or related terms, in any form will only be approved for distribution on Google Play if they are published, commissioned or authorized by official government entities or public health organizations"


That's not what I meant. I mean, it's unlikely that someone high up in the company decided to snipe this app. It's probably a low-level employee following the formal rulebook a little too much to the letter.


> >...but either way this is unlikely to be company policy

> Perhaps you haven't seen the article because it's behind an Apple News link. There's a screenshot of a message stating company policy as follows:

> "Pursuant to Section 8.3 of the Developer Agreement and the Enforcement policy, apps referencing Covid-19, or related terms, in any form will only be approved for distribution on Google Play if they are published, commissioned or authorized by official government entities or public health organizations"

How does their own browser not run afoul of this policy?


Because policies are written and interpreted by humans that have the common sense to understand that there is no connection between the browser app and the content it displays.

This entire thread is a discussion about Google's automatic tool flagging a podcast browser erroneously. If Google's response was to uphold the suspension then there would be an actual story, but they won't, and so it isn't.


Podcast Addict builds an index of podcasts that it makes available to users whereas Chrome does not influence in any way what content users may want to view.

But your question is of course very apt when it comes to the Google Search app or Google's own podcast app.

There used to be this idea (a good idea in my view) that building a search index is a neutral activity that does not come with any editorial responsibility for the content.

Google used to fight for that idea but unfortunately lawmakers (and I think the majority of the population) have very firmly taken the opposite view.

I think that's what's ultimately at the core of this defensive "when in doubt, ban it!" attitude that was built into automatic content filtering tools and hammered into the heads of reviewers.

There are still gaps - the most glaring one being Google Search - but I think Google has largely given up that struggle in favour of avoiding billions in fines


We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. With new diseases or any new phenomena knowledge changes frequently. Oftentimes official organs are lagging and independent voices are at the forefront and have the freshest information.

Unfortunately both of the above can have counter agenda (could have good intentions such as calming hoarding), even worse is that you can have kooks, active disinformation, lulz, etc. There is no good answer to this.


I think our traditional answer was good enough. Trust the people to weigh a wide range of information and opinions. Delegate more detailed analysis and decision making to political representatives and independent institutions.

It's not like there wasn't any anti-scientific rubbish, hate speech and manipulation in book shops, newspapers and on TV. Entire countries used to be run by media barons (literally or effectively).

Regarding Covid specifically, I find it pretty ironic that free speech should be restricted to government officials by an oligopoly of US corporations while the head of the US government routinely spreads anti-scientific disinformation on that very subject (and on others).


I agree. Not only the US but even the WHO is very susceptible to manipulation (it’s not human transmissible, then yes it is, masks don’t work, then yes they do). We also see politics dictate policy (viz Taiwan). Then Gates alarms almost everyone with his “disease free certificates”.


Except for the Covid-19 podcast on the Google podcast app.


Surely Google's automated tools wouldn't automatically suspend an app that has 5 stars and over 500,000 reviews

.... surely


That kind "popularity content" policy will never work because because then scammers will just buy apps with good reputation. This describes the entire browser extension marketplace. Any extension with a good reputation and a broad permission set will sell for a good bit of money.


That sounds like a spot where a human can step in?

There have been too many cases of a popular app being bought by scammers and repurposed. They can't exempt an app from being suspended just because it's popular.


Exempting it from automatic suspension is not exempting it from suspension.


I would rather apps be automatically suspended and the install marked as potentially dangerous than have my device goatse'd to a malicious developer for any amount of time.


That can be accommodated. Automatic suspension that lasts 20-30 minutes while someone on the team looks into the case and makes a human judgement.

But a full suspension, on a popular app, without rapid human review? That shouldn't happen.

Also, this wasn't up to the "install marked as dangerous" level. They just prevented new installs. In a situation like that, there's no need to act instantly.


The tool is clearly implementing the policy as described. It's just a policy that's stupid, arrogant and naive.


Automated jurisprudence and adjudication seems to be suboptimal.

Isn't the elimination of human judgement one reason we all hate bureaucracies?


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