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

You can subscribe to The Cyberlaw Podcast using iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Pocket Casts, or our RSS feed. As always, The Cyberlaw Podcast is open to feedback. Be sure to engage with @stewartbaker on Twitter. Send your questions, comments, and suggestions for topics or interviewees to CyberlawPodcast@steptoe.com. Remember: If your suggested guest appears on the show, we will send you a highly coveted Cyberlaw Podcast mug!

The views expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not reflect the opinions of their institutions, clients, friends, families, or pets.

NEXT: Anti-Israel Advocacy at University Doesn't Create Illegal "Hostile Environment" for Israeli Citizens or Jews

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I believe you that you are concerned about someone from the right usurping some of the power controlled by the left; that would be truly terrible. CNN, MSNBC, and NPR shouldn't have to deal with Fox News. It isn't only morally wrong, it is unfair. Sure, the virus probably did come from the Wuhan lab run by the bat virus lady and, yes, it appears that Hunter Biden did misplace a laptop. Sandman was doing nothing wrong but Trump can't rest on the report that no proof of Russian collusion was found - he must prove himself innocent.

    1. The lawyer is having trouble seeing these tech companies, as utilities. Their income should be cost plus 2%. No discrimination by viewpoint.

      They should be seized in civil forfeiture. Billions of internet crimes have taken place on their platforms. They themselves have committed millions of crimes, by inflating their viewerships to advertisers. Half their accounts are not human.

      1. The next frontier in lawyer rent seeking and delusional thinking? Crime in the virtual world and not against real people in the physical world.

  2. I'll take a wait and see approach before I declare the dawn of a rightwing dominated internet just because Elon bought a small piece of the nearly 100% far left controlled tech platforms.

    1. It's sad that all the sudden free speech is right wing.

      Elon is more libertarian than right wing, and certainly he benefits from big government spending and consumer EV subsidies.

      However Biden seems to be moving him more to the right by starting to try to cut off Tesla from EV subsidies because he's non-union. Not that any of Biden's agenda is very relevant anymore.

      1. Oh, did Biden stop having an army sometime recently?

        Unfortunately, Biden's agenda remains very relevant, no matter how depressing that might be, until he's been removed from office. It's really hard to make the government irrelevant, as worthy a goal as it might be.

        1. "Oh, did Biden stop having an army sometime recently?"

          Did he start having an army recently?

          1. Yeah, actually. January 20th, 2021. That's the only reason anybody gives him the time of day, remember.

      2. Nothing says "right wing free speech" like banned book lists and vague laws with private enforcment mechanisms discouraging teachers from mentioning race or sexual orientation.

        Freedom of speech for me but not for thee!

        1. Except there are no banned books and teachers who insist on discussing sex with kindergartners actually still can, just not in a classroom discussion.

          Yes, I know, if you cannot groom kids than speech is truly not free, but come on.

  3. Didn't Spain try to make search engines and aggregators pay news sites for linking? Didn't those sites just abandon Spain? How'd that turn out in the end, I wonder. Anything good for Spain? Anyone think anything good would come to Canada?

    1. I think that may have been Australia. But I’m going from memory here, so don’t quote me.

      1. Australia did, as well as Spain. I know FB made a marginal cave in Australia, but I don't think it was particularly significant.

  4. Maybe it would be a good idea for all social media to pretend they are teachers and just take the summer off.
    Shut down and go to the beach or something.
    Come back up after the elections in the US, and see if the break has given governments a chance to realize the benefits of leaving well enough alone.

    1. Hooray! The panopticon grows apace!

    2. "Maybe it would be a good idea for all social media to pretend they are teachers and just take the summer off.
      Shut down and go to the beach or something."

      All you have to do is just turn off your computer, set your phone to airplane mode, and those scary social media companies can't hurt you any more.

      1. Given that the topic is terror that a non-progressive bought 10% of Twitter and, thus, free speech is in deep peril, your comment seems more pointless than normal.

  5. 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.

    You have a very firm grip of the wrong end of the stick.

    1. Murdoch is, and always has been, a populist conservative by instinct. Not an establishment conservative.

    2. His business model has never been to "curry favor" from the right (ie rightist politicians) - it was always to sell newspapers to a segment of the population that was poorly served by existing fare (which was either stuffy establishment conservative or lefty) - hence boobs and populism. He didn't have to "curry favor" with anyone but his readers, because newspapers were mostly not regulated. (When he moved from Australia to the UK and took over The Times, he faced regulation-by-unions, and broke a strike.)

    3. It was only when he moved into broadcasting that he faced serious regulatory issues and therefore he had to "curry favor" with the regulators - all of whom were naturally opposed to him (being lefties with a tiny sprinkling of establishment conservatives.) So all he has ever sought from regulators it to be allowed to do business. He doesn't need victories or hand outs or favoritism from regulators - he just needs inaction.

    4. A business model of waiting for close regulatory calls to go his way if and when conservative minded regulators take power has it entirely backward. What he wants is simply regulators who won't regulate him out of business. His currying has always been defensive, not offensive.

    5. His empire has slid towards establishment conservatives partly because that was a necessary accomodation for regulatory survival in the broadcast market, but also because he's an old man and he has to leave things to his much more establishment minded children.

    6. Musk is a plausible "conservaitive" internet figure for a different reason. His business is indeed entirely dependent on anti-hydrocarbon government subsidies, which is almost an entirely left wing agenda. Hence the best way to cement those vulnerable subsidies in place is to make allies on the right. Even non RINO Republicans are not going to cut off his subsidies if he becomes their only remaining means of talking to the voters.

    1. I think you're actually mistaken about that last. The other electric car manufacturers are largely dependent on subsidies, Musk sells high performance electric sports cars, he may benefit from the subsidies, but I don't think he's actually dependent on them, since you're not going to get that kind of performance out of an ICE car without laying down comparable or bigger bucks.

      Further, SpaceX, which isn't being subsidized, it's making sales by being by far the lowest cost provider, is on its way to displacing Tesla as Trump's main money maker.

      1. "Further, SpaceX, which isn't being subsidized, it's making sales by being by far the lowest cost provider, is on its way to displacing Tesla as Trump's main money maker."

        Typo perhaps? Or are you conceding that Trump mostly makes money by pretending to be successful and taking credit for work that other people have done?

        1. Yup, typo.

          And Trump's damned wealthy for somebody who only pretends to be successful.

      2. A quick search for "SpaceX subsidies" shows that SpaceX is getting subsidies from multiple angles, including from the Feds and the states of California and Texas. The most recent was the SpaceX/Starlink subsidy from the FCC.

        While Musk routinely tweets about his aversion to federal subsidies with one hand, he's stuffing them into his pockets with the other.

  6. Whining, disaffected right-wingers -- dreaming of an autistic misfit riding to their rescue -- are among my favorite culture war casualties.

  7. >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.

    LOL; the agencies are openly contemptuous of House/Senate oversight hearings.

    Worse, one lesson we learned from the Trump Administration's struggles is that, de facto, the President / White House are also mostly powerless. At best, they can only exercise control over a couple of matters at a time.

  8. May I join you in your conversation? It's quite close to me. I can say that there are many different tools to grow a business, and sometimes it is problematic to find the right ones. However, instantly, I ran into the problem, and luckily my friend advised me to hire not bad Shopify developers. It has helped me to get the right development I needed.

  9. From time to time, I needed to empty my hard drive to make it easier to explain my ideas to colleagues on various projects. To learn this, at one time I found a very useful article at this link https://setapp.com/how-to/clear-scratch-disk-mac. It helped me a lot in my work and I was able to show my ideas to my colleagues more clearly. It will be very useful to you if you decide to use it.

Please to post comments