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C'est la Z

Censorship, TOS, and a slippery slope

Lots of chatter with Donald Trump being kicked off platforms left and right. On the one hand we're getting a lot of "it's censorship, it's unust" and on the other side we have "it's about time." I'm of course in the "it's about time" category but even so, there's a cause for concern and a lot of meat for a discussion on tech policies.

What makes this interesting discussion fodder is that Trump was removed from different levels of the internet. First you've got actual applications like Twitter and Facebook. Next you've got the Play and Apple stores and finally, you've got AWS which provided cloud services to Parler. At each level the removal of Trump and others inciting hate and violence have different ramifications and nuances.

Facebook and Twitter

First let's look at Facebook and Twitter. On the one hand this is an easy one. They're not government agencies - they're private companies so the first amendment doesn't apply. Next, were they denying service to Trump? No - he had an account on both services. What did happen is that he violated terms of service. While I'd never follow Trump, I did follow an account that tweeted his tweets. The account was set up to see if it would be suspended - guess what, it was - more than once. This isn't discrimination or censorship, this is bouncing the unruly patron at the bar or, dare I say removing the person who refuses to wear a mask from your store.

If you're one of those free market regulation bad people I don't want to hear it. In this case, the market did indeed decide.

There is, however, a big problem and that's the fact that Twitter, Facebook and a few other players have so much power. You could argue they're de facto monopolies. For years they willingly amiplified Trump's lies and now overnight removed him. That's a huge amount of power for a company to have. People like me have felt that for years, Facebook and Twitter have been behaving irresponsibly and as of last week people on the right feel that way and Dorsey and Zuck can't be voted out of office. One can of course argue "The Market" but it's not that simple with the market being dominated by a small number of players.

I'm doubting that calls to split up the tech giants will be helpful. I don't know if we're better off now as opposed to before AT&T split and I'm not sure that strongarm regulation is the answer.

Enforcing open proticols, APIs and standards would probably help a great deal but in any event, we do have a problem with big tech but it's not what the right is crying about now.

The stores and AWS

Next we have the app stores removing Parler. I'm guessing this is also a violation of TOS issue but there's another issue here which is liability. Is Google or Apple liable or responsible for something on an application they distribute.

Related but different is AWS - are they responsible for things that occur on their servers even though it's Parler or whomever creates and runs the applications running on the Amazon Cloud?

Napster enters the chat.

Not exactly the same, but similar. For you youngsters, Napster was one of the early file sharing services. It was basically an IRC based setup to locate mp3 files in order to facilitate their transfer. Napster never hosted any of the files in question but the music industry went hard after them.

Even earlier you had Back in the day they said that people came to the internet for email but stayed for Usenet news. Basically, they were forums or chatrooms on just about any topic. I of course subscribed to comp.lang.c, and a bunch of others. You connected to your news server to retrieve and post messages and messages were transferred periodically between servers. Originally using UUCP which had computers dialing each other up on set schedules but later over the internet. The servers didn't own or even know what was in the messages. They just stored and forwarded.

The question came up with binary groups - in particular. Groups like would contain messages with encoded images. A single image wouldn't fit into a message and messages were ascii so binary data couldn't be directly sent. Images were encode using a program called uuencode and split into a bunch of messages.

As one might expect, the binary groups ended up a place to traffic adult and/or illegal material.

The question was were the server's owners responsible? They didn't create or own the posted material. They probably weren't even aware it was on their servers.

This is a question cloud hosts like AWS have to consider on top of public perception and just doing what's right (whatever that is).

A final note on this is that Net Neutrality, while maybe not applying in this specific instance harps on the same questions - with net neutrality, ISPS must treat all network traffic the same. Without it they are free to do what they want - they could slow down or block services they don't want to support. Not the same since cloud servers are not ISPs but certainly similar.

Lots of meat here and there's no clear cut right thing to do. Should the market decide? Is regulation needed? If so how much. Should it just be at the application level or how about the cloud? The Net Neutrality issue isn't that old but when it came up nobody was talking about the cloud and app stores as gatekeepers didn't exist. Add to that the fact that our elected officials are, let us say, not the most up on modern tech and tech issues.

I can see a lot of rich discussion coming out of this.

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