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The Bipartisan Politics for More Google Facebook Amazon Accountability

In this post-mid-term election sea of partisanship, expect a political safe harbor for bipartisanship in the next Congress to protect consumers and level the playing field, by bringing more accountability and transparency to the Internet’s unchecked, winner-take-all, biased-brokers, of online supply and demand: Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

This is timely and relevant because conventional wisdom appears to dismiss bipartisanship in this area as a phase and not lasting to conclude that no Internet-related legislation passes next Congress.

This analysis considers the political reasons why a Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-controlled House could cooperate and pass bipartisan legislation that brings much more accountability and transparency to the unaccountable Internet triad of Google, Facebook and Amazon.

The Reasons Efforts for More Google Facebook Amazon Accountability Will Remain Bipartisan 

First, there are evident high-level lasting concerns from both the right and left about the Internet triad’s unaccountable power.

President Trump was asked at his post-election press conference if he would work with Democrats on Google and Facebook social media regulation and he said: "I would certainly talk to the Democrats if they want to do that, and I think they do want to do that" and the President indicated in a recent Axios interview that his Administration is “looking at” more antitrust scrutiny for three companies in particular: Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

And Senator Mark Warner, the Ranking Member on the Intel Committee and the Senior Democrat in Congress taking the lead on bringing accountability to Internet platforms emphasized his bipartisan interest on these issues in a Verge interview this week explaining: “What I don’t want is this area to become partisan, this is a lot more future-past than it is conservative-liberal.”   

Consider a sampling of Republican and Democrat lasting concerns.

Republican: President Trump, House Majority Leader McCarthy, and Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale have frequently accused social media (Google, Facebook and Twitter) of bias and censorship of conservative views. President Trump has repeatedly criticized Amazon for arbitraging taxes and cheating the USPS and taxpayers. And First Lady Melania Trump’s signature policy issue is “Be Best,” an online anti-cyber-bullying initiative

Senator Hatch has called for the FTC to reopen its 2013 antitrust probes of Google. Senator Cruz has called for ending Section 230 immunity for those that engage in censorship like Google and Facebook.

FCC Chairman Pai has called for more public oversight for “tech giants” on transparency, privacy and online expression. And FTC Chairman Simons and DOJ Antitrust Chief Makan Delrahim testified they are focused on Internet platforms and believe their privacy harms could be addressed under the quality factor of the antitrust consumer welfare standard. 

Democrat: Following the 2016 election there has been broad continuous harsh Democrat criticism of Facebook and Google’s role in 2016 election interference, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and privacy/data-protection failures. Influential left mega-donor, George Soros, declared Google and Facebook a “menace” to society in his annual world outlook letter.

Senator Warner has produced a white paper that has proposed twenty ideas to regulate social media and submitted it to FTC. Section 230 author Senator Wyden has criticized platforms for not responsibly using their freedoms, by only using it as a shield to protect themselves, but not also using it as a sword to protect others. Senator Warren has suggested breaking up Amazon. Senator Sanders has introduced the Stop BEZOS Act to end Amazon’s public subsidies. Senator Manchin has proposed a Section 230 fix to address the opioid crisis, a la the FOSTA, Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act’s approach.

The House has created a Tech Accountability Caucus creating a voice for the House Black and Hispanic Caucuses to spotlight Google and Facebook’s poor diversity numbers. And Obama FCC Chair Wheeler criticized Google and Facebook’s permissionless invasion of privacy, injury to competition, and interference in elections.

 

Second, many appear to be mistaking the Internet triad’s user bases, brands, lobbying, fundraising, and advertising power with political voter power in elections.

The extraordinary techlash against predominantly Google, Facebook, and Amazon over the last sixteen months in the run-up to the mid-terms has manifested in bipartisan political opposition to the Internet triad’s myriad of abuses of consumer privacy, data security and safety, fairness, fair representation, civility, election integrity, etc.  

It should not be lost on the reader that both Democrats and Republicans were exceptionally incensed with Facebook’s and Google for political/election reasons, albeit over different complaints.

Democrats were incensed by the Cambridge Analytica privacy/data abuses and deceptions and their foreign manipulation effect on the 2016 election, while Republicans were incensed with Google and Facebook’s selective censorship of conservative views in the 2018 mid-term elections.

Now both the left and the right do not fully trust Google, Facebook and Amazon to be fair and responsible concerning political or election matters, and deep violations of foundational trust like that aren’t easily forgotten or quick to go away.

What has changed politically in an electoral sense for Google, Facebook, and Amazon, from the extraordinary techlash of the last sixteen months?

While consumers still use and value the Internet triad’s products, services and brands, these companies are now also looked at through a new political perception lens as well, and that political perception from the populists, both the Democrat and Republican populists, is much more politically negative, suspicious, and less-trusting than before 2016 election day.

In a nutshell, the currently ascendant populist bases of both the Republicans and Democrats fear and distrust Google, Facebook and Amazon’s exceptional power, without the accountability that is normal for everyone else.

Thus, neither political party wants to be perceived as the party that is more concerned about protecting Google, Facebook and Amazon than protecting voters/consumers.        

Why would the techlash have such a substantial political effect on Google, Facebook, and Amazon?

Let’s look at what two of the most relevant political surveys over the last couple of years tell us about the stark political values clash between Google, Facebook and Amazon’s tech libertarian political values and the largely opposite political values of most of the 2016 electorate.

Those political studies are the Democracy Fund’s: “Political Divisions in 2016 and Beyond”, June 2017; and the New York Times, “Silicon Valley Politics: Tech Libertarian Poll” from 9/6/17. (Note: it will take several months for the 2018 mid-terms’ data to be analyzed similarly to the 2016 data in these studies.)  

This first summary analytical chart here illuminates how at odds Google, Facebook and Amazon’s tech libertarian political values are from ~96% of the American electorate, and how their political values are in ~50% opposition to social conservatism, ~50% opposition to economic liberalism and 100% opposition to populists’ social conservatism and economic liberalism.

The second page of this chart shows how both sides are competing for the same populist, forgotten American voters. A very big reason bipartisanship will continue is because neither side can or wants to cede this pivotal voting bloc to the other going forward.  

This data helps show why ensuring a level-playing-field implicitly politically enjoys the strong bipartisan support of American voters and how Google, Facebook and Amazon’s many abuses have spawned political opposition from both sides’ political bases; e.g.

·        On the left for their market concentration, big income inequality, and for being anti-labor/EEO and anti-regulation/government;

·        On the right for being the penultimate globalists and pro-active censors of conservative voices and values; and

·        Both the left and right believe that no one is above the law or outside the rules, so there should be same rules/accountability for all.

Third, the core common bipartisan interest here -- holding abuses of unaccountable power accountable -- transcends partisan politics.

As both the Right and Left have learned the hard way, these unfettered, bottleneck market and political powers can effectively and imperiously censor, exclude, or ban people or entities at any time, for any reason – without any explanation, due process, or real recourse, because they argue the Congress immunized and exempted them from any of this accountability in 1996 in Section 230.

Simply, both the left and right now understand they too can be thrust into that untenable, take-it-or-leave-it place where they are not in control of their own destiny when dealing with today’s Internet triad autocracies. 

America’s founding purpose was a revolution against abuses of an unaccountable royal autocracy.

Our founding fathers understood the existential threat of unchecked power to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” so our Constitution was designed with the purpose of preventing its return. It did so by creating an ingenious system of separation of powers, checks and balances, and individual rights.

A century ago antitrust and unfair and deceptive practices law recognized private monopolies could lead to harmful unaccountable abuses of market power. Our entire justice system is predicated around the rule of law and its fairness of accountability, recourse, and due process. 

That foundation is the opposite of Section 230’s largely unbounded exemption of regulation and immunity from civil liability for internet platforms to protect free speech, which unwittingly over time has put Internet platforms above the law and outside the rules, and put government in the upside-down role of protecting Internet platforms from people rather than protecting consumers from Internet platform abuses.

Both the left and right also have figured out that just like the self-described Internet intermediary platforms have become de facto dis-intermediary powers, that can and do use their bottleneck control to non-transparently dictate self-serving outcomes and abuse the confidential information they collect on others to disadvantage their competitors and political opponents.

Both political parties now realize they have the same huge problem that many users and companies have long understood that they have.

They are at the mercy of dominant unaccountable bottlenecks, that do not share their values, without any real checks and balances, rights, recourse, or due process, to ensure they will be treated ethically, justly, and fairly.

Fourth, this bipartisan potential is proven fact in the recent real world, not theoretical.

Congress passed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) in the spring of 2018 with overwhelming bipartisanship -- 97-2 in the Senate and 388-25 in the House. And FOSTA passed relatively quickly over the opposition of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and the Internet Association that they founded. 

It is not a partisan issue to protect consumers and children from real harms by ensuring legal accountability for crimes Congress never intended to shield with civil immunity under Section 230.

Protecting consumers from known foreseeable harms is evidently a bipartisan raison d’être for most elected officials.

Conclusion: 

The techlash over the last sixteen months has changed the political perception of the left and right toward Google, Facebook, and Amazon from being innocent, benign, altruistic solutions to the world’s problems to the being the cause of some of the world’s problems, and from a force for good to a source of proliferating unaccountable harms. 

Google, Facebook, and Amazon’s constant public representations that they are apolitical, neutral conduits, unbiased intermediaries, and honest brokers, have not matched with the public evidence to date. The techlash has exposed them as partisan conduits, conflicted dis-intermediaries, and biased brokers. This has led to a potent brew of warranted broad bipartisan distrust.

Just as these self-proclaimed innocent intermediaries routinely play each side against others, both the left and right realize they have been played by them and consequently now do not trust them as they did before.

Blind trust is hard to restore when people’s eyes are opened so wide.      

In sum, in this part of the current partisan political environment, there is more potential and opportunity for real and successful bipartisanship to protect consumers and level the playing field than on most any other issue.

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Scott Cleland served as Deputy U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy in the George H. W. Bush Administration. He is President of Precursor LLC, an Internet competition and policy consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, some of which are Internet platform competitors, and he is Chairman of NetCompetition, a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests. Cleland has testified before the Senate and House antitrust subcommittees on Google. Eight different Congressional subcommittees have sought Cleland's expert testimony and when he worked as an investment analyst, Institutional Investor twice ranked him the #1 independent analyst in his field.

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Precursor LLC Research on Asymmetric Accountability Harms:

Part 1:   The Internet Association Proves Extreme U.S. Internet Market Concentration [6-15-17]

Part 2:   Why US Antitrust Non-Enforcement Produces Online Winner-Take-All Platforms [6-22-17]

Part 3:   Why Aren’t Google Amazon & Facebook’s Winner-Take-All Networks Neutral? [7-11-17]

Part 4:   How the Google-Facebook Ad Cartel Harms Advertisers, Publishers & Consumers [7-20-17]

Part 5:   Why Amazon and Google Are Two Peas from the Same Monopolist Pod [7-25-17]

Part 6:   Google-Facebook Ad Cartel’s Collusion Crushing Competition Comprehensively [8-1-17]

Part 7:   How the Internet Cartel Won the Internet and The Internet Competition Myth [8-9-17]

Part 8:   Debunking Edge Competition Myth Predicate in FCC Title II Broadband Order [8-21-17]

Part 9:   The Power of Facebook, Google & Amazon Is an Issue for Left & Right; BuzzFeed Op-Ed[9-7-17]

Part 10: Google Amazon & Facebook’s Section 230 Immunity Destructive Double Standard [9-18-17]

Part 11: Online-Offline Asymmetric Regulation Is Winner-Take-All Government Policy [9-22-17] 

Part 12: CDA Section 230’s Asymmetric Accountability Produces Predictable Problems [10-3-17]

Part 13: Asymmetric Absurdity in Communications Law & Regulation [10-12-17]  

Part 14: Google’s Government Influence Nixed Competition for Winner-Take All Results[10-25-17]

Part 15: Google Amazon & Facebook are Standard Monopoly Distribution Networks [11-10-17]

Part 16: Net Neutrality’s Masters of Misdirection[11-28-17]

Part 17: America’s Antitrust Enforcement Credibility Crisis – White Paper [12-12-17]

Part 18: The U.S. Internet Isn’t a Free Market or Competitive It’s Industrial Policy [1-4-18]

Part 19: Remedy for the Government-Sanctioned Monopolies: Google Facebook & Amazon [1-17-18]

Part 20: America Needs a Consumer-First Internet Policy, Not Tech-First[1-24-18]

Part 21: How U.S. Internet Policy Sabotages America’s National Security [2-9-18]

Part 22: Google’s Chrome Ad Blocker Shows Why the Ungoverned Shouldn’t Govern Others [2-21-18]

Part 23: The Beginning of the End of America’s Bad “No Rules” Internet Policy [3-2-18]

Part 24: Unregulated Google Facebook Amazon Want Their Competitors Utility Regulated [3-7-18]

Part 25: US Internet Policy’s Anticompetitive Asymmetric Accountability - DOJ Filing [3-13-18]

Part 26: Congress Learns Sect 230 Is Linchpin of Internet Platform Unaccountability [3-22-18]

Part 27: Facebook Fiasco Is Exactly What US Internet Law Incents Protects & Produces [3-26-18]

Part 28: How Did Americans Lose Their Right to Privacy? [4-14-18]

Part 29: The Huge Hidden Public Costs (>$1.5T) of U.S. Internet Industrial Policy [4-15-18]

Part 30: Rejecting the Google School of No-Antitrust Fake Consumer WelfareStandard [4-20-18]

Part 31: Why New FTC Will Be a Responsibility Reckoning for Google Facebook Amazon [4-27-18]

Part 32: “How Did Google Get So Big?” Lax Bush & Obama FTC Antitrust Enforcement [5-23-18]

 

Part 33: Evident Internet Market Failure to Protect Consumer Welfare -- White Paper [5-31-18]

Part 34: What Happened Since FTC Secretly Shut 2012 Google-Android Antitrust Probe? [6-8-18]

Part 35: Buying WhatsApp Tipped Facebook to Monopoly; Why Didn’t FTC Probe Purchase? [6-19-18]

Part 36: The Sea Change Significance of Simons-FTC Privacy and Antitrust Hearings [6-27-18]

Part 37: New U.S. Privacy & Data Protection Law Is Inevitable Like a Pendulum Swing [7-9-18]

Part 38: Why a US v. Google-Android Antitrust Case Is Stronger than US v. Microsoft [7-16-18]

Part 39: Google-Android’s Deceptive Antitrust Defenses Presage a US v. Alphabet Suit [7-20-18]

Part 40: Case Study of Google Serial Over-collection of Private Data for FTC Hearings [7-30-18]

Part 41: The Unfair and Deceptive Online-Offline Playing Field – FTC Hearing Filing [8-7-18]

Part 42: What Most Stunts FTC Antitrust and Consumer Protection Law and Enforcement? [8-21-18]

Part 43: Why New U.S. Privacy Data Protection Law Will Preempt State Privacy Laws [8-27-18]

Part 44: What’s the FTC Hearing before their Hearings on the Unlevel Playing Field? [9-6-18]

Part 45: Google Facebook & Amazon’s Anticompetitive Nontransparent Exchange of Ideas [9-12-18]

Part 46: The Unlevel Playing Field of Asymmetric Competition Expectations [9-17-18]

Part 47: How EU Amazon Antitrust Probe Spotlights Amazon as an Unlevel Playing Field [9-26-18]

 

Part 48: Google Facebook Amazon’s Non-Neutral, Neutrality Nonsense Harms Competition [10-2-18]

Part 49: FTC-DOJ Signal Privacy Is a New Antitrust Risk for Google Facebook [10-9-18]

Part 50: Google+’s Market Exit Spotlights Google + Facebook Cartel Market Allocation [10-16-18]

Part 51: Google Facebook Amazon’s Civil Liability Immunity = A Culture of Un-Ethics? [10-23-18]

Part 52: Google Facebook & Amazon’s Efficient Vortex Traps [10-31-18]

Q&A One Pager Debunking Net Neutrality Myths