The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

A Murdochized internet?

Episode 402 of the Cyberlaw Podcast


The theme of this episode of the Cyberlaw Podcast is, "Be careful what you wish for."  The wish for techlash regulation is still growing around the world.  Mark MacCarthy  takes us through a week's worth of regulatory enthusiasm.  Canada is planning to force Google and Facebook to pay Canadian news media for links. It sounds simple, but arriving at the right price – and the right recipients—will require a hefty dose of discretionary government intervention. Meanwhile, South Korea's effort to regulate Google's Android app store policies, which also sounds like a simple undertaking, is quickly devolving into an elaborate effort at price regulation. The movement continues, Mark notes, even in China, which once seemed to be moderating its hostility to tech platforms; yet the Chinese government just announced algorithm compliance audits for TenCent and ByteDance.

Nobody is weeping for Big Tech, but anybody who thinks this kind of thing will really hurt the tech giants has never studied the history of AT&T – or of Rupert Murdoch for that matter. Incumbent tech companies have the resources to protect themselves from undue regulatory burdens – and to make sure competitors will be crushed by them. The one missing chapter in a story of gradual mutual accommodation between Big Tech and Big Government, I argue, is a Rupert Murdoch figure – someone who will use his platform unabashedly to curry favor not from the left but from the right. It's an unfilled niche, and a profitable one: even a moderately conservative Big Tech company is likely to find all the close regulatory calls being made in its favor as soon as the GOP takes power. If you think that's unlikely, you missed the last week of tech news. Elon Musk, whose entire business empire is built on government spending, is already toying with occupying a Silicon Valley version of the Rupert Murdoch niche. His acquisition of nearly 10% of Twitter is an opening gambit that is likely to make him a conservative(ish) antidote to Silicon Valley's political monoculture. Recent complaints that the internet is becoming politically splintered are wildly off the mark today, but they may yet come true.

Nick Weaver brings us back to earth with a review of the FBI's successful (for now) takedown of the Cyclops Blink botnet – a Russian cyber weapon that was disabled before it could be fired. Nick reminds us that the operation was only made possible by a change in search and seizure procedures that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and friends condemned as outrageous just a decade ago. In addition, he reports, Western law enforcement last week broke the Hydra dark market. In more good news, Nick takes us through the ways in which bitcoin's traceability has enabled authorities to bust child sex rings around the globe.

Nick also brings us This Week in Bad News for Surveillance Software: FinFisher is bankrupt. The EU is investigating Israeli surveillance software on its ministers' phones; and Google has banned apps that use particularly intrusive data collection tools, the latter having been outed by Nick's colleagues at the International Computer Science Institute.

Finally, Europe is building a vast network to do face recognition across the continent. I celebrate the likely defeat of ideologues who've been trying to toxify face recognition for years. And I note that one of my last campaigns at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was a series of international agreements that lock European law enforcement into sharing of such data with the United States. Defending those agreements, of course, should be a high priority for the State Department's on-again off-again (and now on again) cyber bureau.

Download the 402nd Episode (mp3

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