The Wall Street Journal is reporting that momentum is building for the U.S. government to subject Google and other Big Tech firms to antitrust scrutiny for fears that they have become too big and too powerful.

In today’s digital ecosystem, politicians, political parties, organizations and media all rely on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google and Youtube to get the message out because that’s where consumers by and large go to in order to consume information.

A Pew report found 68 percent of adult Americans use Facebook, or over 170 million. 24 percent use Twitter, or about 61 million. A separate Pew report found 73 percent, or 185 million, use broadband internet. Statista reports that Google’s family of sites are the most popular in America, with 255 million unique U.S. visitors in March 2019 alone.

So, the internet is indisputably a huge part of the way people are getting information nowadays.

Now, conservatives and Republicans have become alarmed as many of these platforms are censoring and restricting speech that does not coincide with Big Tech’s social justice agenda. Deplatforming is real. Actor James Woods has been censored on Twitter, Stephen Crowder has been demonetized on Youtube (owned by Google) and Candace Owens was temporarily suspended on Facebook before the company did a reversal and declared it “an error.”

Political discrimination is destructive as it creates an incentive to silence your political opponents. Suddenly you have countrymen reporting on one another to get them deplatformed. Is this healthy for a society?

But it is not merely the reporting features that are being abused on these platforms.

Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe released a video on June 24 that showed how the algorithms that produce Google search results (and other machine learning) are programmed with algorithmic “fairness” in mind to prevent, per an internal 2017 Google document, “unjust or prejudicial treatment of people that is related to sensitive characteristics such as race, income, sexual orientation or gender, through algorithmic systems or algorithmically aided decision-making.”

Just throw in political affiliation, philosophy or religion, and one can immediately recognize how Republicans, conservatives or Christians might feel marginalized on social media platforms, but Google did not end up looking into that. A study by Google in 2018 on algorithmic fairness stated, “due to our focus on traditionally marginalized populations, we did not gather data about how more privileged populations think about or experience algorithmic fairness.”

As a Google executive in the video who was quoted in an undercover camera noted, “Communities who are in power and have traditionally been in power are not who I’m solving fairness for.”

But if Google had looked at other groups, they would have likely found that supposedly “privileged” populations can feel marginalized, too. The 2018 study unsurprisingly found that participants expressed, “In addition to their concerns about potential harms to themselves and society, participants also indicated that algorithmic fairness (or lack thereof) could substantially affect their trust in a company or product” and that “when participants perceived companies were protecting them from unfairness or discrimination, it greatly enhanced user trust and strengthened their relationships with those companies.”

The thing is, nobody wants to be discriminated against, and if they are it will affect their perception of the company or companies that are doing it. Deplatforming, censorship and manipulating search and news results undermines trust in these Big Tech firms, and suddenly makes them a problem that many want to solve. No need for another focus group.

So, what responsibility does Big Tech have to foster our way of life and our competitive system of representative government, if any?

I would argue just as much responsibility as they feel to tackle the issue of fairness for historically marginalized groups, if for no other reason than it is good, sound business to cater to all comers, particularly in the political and governmental sphere. Why make enemies? It’s provocative.

Many solutions have been proposed to help there to be a level playing field on the Internet. Some are heavy-handed and appear to miss the target, while others are more narrow.

There is the Federal Communications Commission route, which might seek to make public utilities out of Big Tech companies, and all the regulation that comes with that. Net neutrality springs to mind, although that appeared more focused on throttling broadband speeds due to how much data was being used, whereas the issues today appear to focus on content-based censorship.

There is antitrust approach, whether via the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, that might envision breaking up these large companies. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has come out for this approach. In a recent statement, she said, “As these companies have grown larger and more powerful, they have used their resources and control over the way we use the internet to squash small businesses and innovation, and substitute their own financial interests for the broader interests of the American people. To restore the balance of power in our democracy, to promote competition, and to ensure that the next generation of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last, it’s time to break up our biggest tech companies.”

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act exempts “interactive computer services” from liability of what their users post, and grants them the power to remove items at their discretion they find objectionable. Some have proposed simply removing the liability protections, which would render sites that allow users to write whatever they want suddenly subject to liability of hundreds of millions of users. It would also effectively destroy the Internet, since nobody would be willing to assume the risk of hosting somebody else’s material that might be defamatory.

Some have called for conservatives to boycott these platforms and to take their business elsewhere or to make their own platforms, but what sort of echo chamber would we wind up with? More to the point, to win elections, Republicans have to appeal to independents and unaffiliated voters. You buy ads where there’s ad space to reach undecideds. Insular practices of exclusively only talking to partisans on your side is a recipe for being in the minority for a very long time. It does not grow a political movement to do that.

This author has posited that perhaps Congress could narrowly expand the franchise of protected groups under civil rights to include politics, philosophy and the like (although excluding employment hiring for exclusive organizations like political parties and organizations) and defining interactive computer services as public accommodations so that services cannot be denied on the basis of partisan differences. Throw in banking, DNS resolution, web hosting and email services as public accommodations while we’re at it for good measure.

From the perspectives of the Big Tech companies, surely they have noticed a marked uptick in calls to regulate their firms? Conservatives complain about censorship. Elizabeth Warren is worried about smaller businesses. The calls for regulation are directly proportionate to how powerful these firms have become. Do any of the above options sound profitable or more like a regulatory headache that will cost millions or billions of dollars to manage?

And these are not even things we would normally consider, but throw in the prospect of censorship and suddenly it’s an existential matter of survival. Republicans who might normally defend these companies from regulation might look the other way when it comes up now. See how that works?

The truth is, I’m taking time out of my column to focus on this issue and so are many other organizations that are worried they too could be censored. The platforms we’re talking about have such market saturation that is so pervasive it could be utilized to discriminate on the basis of politics in order foster conditions conducive to one-party rule, which I believe to be dangerous.

More broadly, groups like Americans for Limited Government and political parties depend on a competitive political system to function. If we and others like us were suddenly barred from posting on social media or hosting a website or sending emails, suffice to say we would not function for much longer.

In a representative form of government, political parties’ access to media and their followers are critical to building and growing constituencies, and in the digital age these represent a digital sort of civil rights, and they must be protected in order for that system to continue to exist. One party systems do not respect civil rights. They squelch dissent to consolidate power and they target political opponents and critics of the system.

The great Renaissance philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli supposed that there were but two forms of government, republics and principalities, perhaps for that reason. One is ruled by the consent of the governed and the separation of powers, and the other by the will and domination of the state and over time needs to instill fear in order to govern.

There are liberal democracies that foster debate, and then there are one party systems that demand loyalty to the state. There’s not much in between.

The alarming trends we’re seeing with Big Tech companies engaging in censorship in the pursuit of “fairness” look a lot like a bid for one party rule. And the thing about one party systems is, once you have one, it’s really, really hard to get rid of it and there’s no guarantee that your favored class will be represented in its leadership. Sometimes those who support the rise of such a system wind up being marginalized by it. Look no further than Elizabeth Warren to see what lies at the end of that tunnel. Is it worth the risk? Be careful what you wish for.

 

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Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government. He is also a guest contributor to the Penny Press - the conservative weekly "voice of Nevada." You can subscribe here at www.pennypressnv.com. His column has been reprinted in full, with permission. 

Published in Politics

Evaldas Rimašauskas, from Lithuanian has been arrested for stealing more than $100 million dollars from tech giants Google and Facebook. In kind of a genius level scam, Evaldas simply - created a fake company and sent FB and Google fake bills for fake product they never ordered that he (obviously) never sent them! Google and Facebook responded by - promptly paying all of Evaldas’ invoices to the tune of about $100 mil from Facebook and another $20 mil from Google.

 

Wow. Who knew it would be that easy to scam $120 million dollars? But there it is.

 

On the other hand - Evaldas was caught. He even confessed to the grift, and now faces up to 30 years in jail for fraud. So, that’s not so great for him. But there it is.

 

On the other hand - he did live like a king for several years while he was worth a $100 million. So, there’s that.

 

Evaldas has agreed to, get this - pay back $50 million! WTF? Umm … well ….what happened to the other $70 million? Gone? Hidden away in multiple Swiss Bank accounts? Who knows. And what’s he plan to do with the money he’s keeping, anyway? He’s going to jail! For, like - a long time. And he’s already in his thirties. On the other hand, if he gets the maximum 30 year sentence and gets out of jail in his sixties - he’ll clearly live a very cush life until he dies and he'll have the money for great health care which means he'll probably make it into his eighties, maybe longer. 

 

This is one of those “he got caught but kind of got away with it type deals,” ain’t it?

 

And they say crime doesn’t pay.  

Published in Money
Monday, 10 April 2017 03:30

5 apps to make your move to the city easier

A move to the city, any city, can be daunting. You don’t know where to go, what to do, and with whom to do what you don’t know. But you’re a local now, so act like it. These are the apps to make your move to the city easier

 Google

Of course Google is tops when it comes to apps. Without it I wouldn’t have discovered some of the apps listed below, and since Google utilizes the microphone you can use it relatively safely while behind the wheel of a car.

Whether you’re searching for the most affordable or best-rated movers, what your income tax rate will be in your new state, how to forward your mail or re-register to vote, or comparing internet and television packages available in your area, Google has the answer. It’s also the best at telling you the best route to your new home in the city.

2)     Google Maps

Google Maps is the king of map apps. Apple’s Maps isn’t even in the same league. With Google Maps you’re given the approximate time it would take to get where you’re going on a train or bus, bicycle or on foot. You also get the approximate price of what an Uber or Lyft would cost and the amount of time it would take to get where you’re going via taxi. You have to enable both the Lyft and Uber apps in Maps to do the same.

With Google Maps you can easily change the method of travel to view a recommended map and it previews the time it would take to get there. Apple’s Maps assumes you’re driving and doesn’t preview the amount of time it would take to walk, take public transit, bicycle or get a taxi. It’s a big mistake for a company that prides itself on ease of use.

While Google Maps still struggles with bicycle routes (it doesn’t take into account that a dead end road is still passable by bicycle), it’s still far better than Maps. Here’s why: when you search “parking near Target Field” in Maps (which you have to type because Maps doesn’t utilize the microphone like Google), the app shows you Target Field. That’s it. When I simply say “parking near Target Field” in Google Maps (a handy feature for use while driving since it’s usually illegal to use your phone and drive in most cities), I get a list and map of parking options near Target Field. The only thing missing is the price of each, which brings me to one of my favorite apps to make your move to the city easier…

3)     Park Whiz

While BestParking bids itself the #1 Parking App, Park Whiz had the Google SEO down, which is why I used them first. I fell in love immediately. There’s nothing better than discounted parking.

One of the best things about moving to a city is the increased access to great food and entertainment and the environment of downtown, but finding affordable parking that is near your restaurant or venue can be a hassle. Not anymore. When you search “parking near Target Field” in Park Whiz, you not only get a list and map of parking lots near Target Field, you get the price of each spot and distance from your venue.

It gets better. You ever pull into a parking garage and see an open parking space on the first level next to the exit and pull in to find it reserved? We all have, but now you can park in that primo spot next to the exit. Parking apps like Park Whiz and BestParking resell those reserved parking spaces when they’re not being used. Just hit the assistance button upon exit and give the attendant your confirmation code.

That’s how I ended up paying $7 and change on the first level of a garage right next to the exit a mile from my venue. I don’t mind a nice walk there and back, and I certainly won’t pay $20 to park for three hours. If I can drive a 20-mile, round trip and park for less than $10 between parking and fuel, that’s $5 cheaper than an Uber or Lyft and more convenient than a $5, two-hour round trip on a bus.

4)    Craigslist

I found the place I live now using the Craigslist app. I favorited the only two-bedroom apartment and garage I could find 20 minutes from work for $850, utilities included except for electric, which amounts to heat and air conditioning.

Craigslist would be higher on this list if the community was more thoughtful when it comes to correspondence. I drove 40 miles to score some first-come, first-serve book shelves that were posted that morning. I emailed the person to see if they were available, but since he had the stuff in his driveway, a passerby who got there first scored them just before I arrived. He didn’t send me a message to let me know they were gone until after I had pulled out of his driveway. I did, however, discover two great places downtown to get food and see live music and eat really good ice cream or drink espresso exploring the area with Google Maps .

“Free Stuff” is the best category in the Craigslist app and probably my favorite thing in the world besides Google, Google Maps and Park Whiz. I scored a free wooden, queen-sized bed frame complete with six drawers that slide in underneath and a headboard with three separated shelves for books, alarm clock, smartphone, etc. I scored a cheap entertainment table for my new 4K Ultra HD TV and stereo amplifier from the same folks.

I also scored a Yamaha 5.1 surround sound stereo with subwoofer and 220-watt amplifier for $60. It’s the same amplifier for which I paid $120 and sold for $60 along with the 5.1 surround sound speakers and subwoofer. These speakers aren’t as good as those, but there aren’t many home theater surround sound stereos with 220-watt amplifiers. What results is the loudest home theater system I’ve ever heard. My buddy, who was an aspiring DJ for a while, DJ Make it Rain Coate, was the only person I knew who has ever had a stereo louder than my old Yamaha.

I could have scored a free desk, but got a better, smaller option from a friend. I can still pick up a dresser if I want, but I fear it will shrink my tiny bedroom even further.

My second favorite category on the Craigslist app is “Tickets For Sale.” I’m a big sports fan, so getting a great deal on tickets that impress the scalpers puts a big smile on my face. It rarely happens since Minnesota sports teams have been pretty bad these last few years, but I sense things are turning around.

I’m also a theatre buff and enjoy a good concert, too, and the Craigslist app is the first place I go before Ticketmaster, Vivid Seats, SeatGeek or Gametime. In fact, I’ve only ever used SeatGeek and Gametime to get the discount for signing up for their newsletter.

Generally people on Craigslist are looking to get face value for their tickets. Avoid any of the posts that are in all capital letters or use a generic photo of a logo and not a photo of the view from the seats. If you follow this rule you’ll avoid looking at a bunch of listings meant to redirect you to a reseller’s website.

5)     Amazon

I didn’t take advantage of the Amazon app until after my move to the city, but I could have had all the essentials to fill my new home waiting for me when I got there. Amazon offers a pantry service to Amazon Prime members, and it really does have the best deals on all your pantry products. When it comes to non-refrigerated food items, cleaning products, garbage bags, toothpaste, etc., I’ll never have to make another trip to the dollar store or Wal-mart. (Amazon and Wal-mart are in quite the price war, which is great for you, the consumer.) I was forced to stand in line at Wal-mart while I could have been simply opening boxes at my house and starting dinner.

 Honorable Mention: Groupon 

Because I didn’t have food sent to my new home ahead of me, I could have taken advantage of Groupon. The discounts are deep, and from now on I probably won’t eat at another restaurant unless I have a Groupon. If you love sushi, Thai, Indian and Italian food like me, you know it can get expensive. Well, I’m seeing up to 45 percent off restaurant food on Groupon.

From comedy tickets to spas and massages to dental care and plastic surgery, you can find a Groupon for it in the city. Even psychic readings are cheaper on Groupon. It’s an app too easy not to use.

 SINGLES ONLY – Match

Sure you could continue swiping left with the free Tinder and OKCupid apps, but Match is where it’s at whether you’re looking for respectable folks for friendly encounters or searching for your life partner. I appreciate how Match considers political and religious preferences when matching people because that’s what smart people talk about.

While Match is expensive ($25 per month for the three-month package), I can honestly say it works. I haven’t found my life partner yet, but I have met people I enjoy and that’s worth $25 when you’re alone and new to a city. My mother met her husband on Match, and apparently Match is responsible for the most first dates and second dates amongst online dating sites. You can try it for seven days for free and cancel anytime. 

So those are the apps to make your move to the city easier. Don’t make the mistake I did and discover them too late. Use the apps early and often.

Published in News & Information