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Google Facebook Amazon’s Civil Liability Immunity = A Culture of Un-Ethics?

Why is the techlash cloud following Google, Facebook, Amazon, and others around, like the cloud of dirt that followed Pigpen around in the iconic Peanuts comic strip?

One theory is advanced by Kara Swisher, a New York Times columnist and proven thought leader, who mused in her columnWho Will teach Ethics to Silicon Valley?” because Silicon Valley CEOs have evident ethics and maturity deficiencies.

Her lede was “I think we can all agree that Silicon Valley needs more adult supervision now” and asked: “Is the solution for its companies to hire a chief ethics officer?” 

Ms. Swisher is right in spotlighting that Silicon Valley, and predominantly its Internet platform leaders, need ethics teaching and more maturity.

Face-palming public mistake after face-palming public mistake indicates Internet platform leadership -- CEOs, Boards of Directors and the C-Suite -- evidently lack the necessary ethics chip and a moral domain knowledge to lead given their outsized unchecked market power and opaque manipulative influence that their Internet platforms can wield over most everyone on many things with relative impunity. 

After chronicling just two weeks of Silicon Valley CEOs’ many ethical lapses, Ms. Swisher closes with some very insightful and ominous questions that expose the depths of the unethical and amoral abyss that unaccountable, winner-take-all Internet platforms now swim in.

“…how do you put an official ethical system in place without it seeming like you’re telling everyone how to behave?”

“Who gets to decide those rules anyway, setting a moral path for the industry and — considering tech companies’ enormous power — the world.”

Ponder how scary Ms. Swisher’s insights here are if she is only partly right, and I believe she is mostly right if we define “Silicon Valley” here as the unchecked, winner-take-all Internet platforms.

Normally her questions would be irrelevant, because the answers would be obvious, a given, common knowledge, and the norm that applies everywhere in the U.S. – but here they are highly relevant questions because it involves the special, privileged, rarified air of ungoverned Internet-Platform-World.

America’s “official ethical system” that determines “who gets to decide those rules” flows explicitly and implicitly from the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, rule of law, and due process, that are all predicated on timeless Judeo-Christian ethics, values, and morals.   

To better understand the unethical anomaly of the Internet platform world here, please consider some follow-up questions to Ms. Swisher’s questions to help get to the bottom of how this dismal dearth of Internet platform CEO un-ethics could come to be.

What exogenous variable must be at work here to explain why this ethical leadership immaturity and deficiency is only happening pervasively and with great frequency over the last decade with only one cohort of business CEOs -- those of Internet platforms?

And what could enable and shield only one cohort of CEOs from practically not needing to have ethics or a moral compass to do their job? 

That evident difference maker is America’s 1996 Internet industrial policy in Section 230 of the 1996 Telecom Act, which is the only comprehensive Internet-specific Federal policy, law, and authority in the U.S.

Section 230 U.S. Internet policy uniquely creates a largely ungoverned Internet edge place “unfettered by Federal and State regulation,” best known as the “Wild West Internet” where “interactive computer services” are in advance, permanently, and broadly, immunized from civil liability for whatever the Internet platform does or does not do.

For Internet platforms who interpret Section 230 as a universal get-out-of-jail-free Monopoly® card this Internet immunity from civil liability is a de facto legal exemption from the three quarters of U.S. rule of law that is civil law, and which is the civil, ethical/moral accountability foundation of American civil society and daily life.  

That’s because civil law represents the cumulative tested legal experience, wisdom, judgement, problem-solving, precedents, processes, and procedures that have essentially defined in detail what America determines is right and wrong; just and unjust; fair and unfair; honest and dishonest; ethical and unethical; and civil and uncivil discourse and behavior.  

Thus it should not be surprising that Internet platform CEOs, who in their many years of leading their companies did not have to know or care much about the normal ethics, values, and morals ingrained in civil law that every other CEO and person has to know and care about, because in Section 230 Congress unwittingly made only Internet platforms practically immune from most normal civil responsibilities and accountabilities to others and society.

With no civil liability, responsibility, or accountability guardrails, winner-take-all market power is: an unfettered government entitlement; might is right; possession is ownership; competitors and captive customers are the same; self-dealing, front-running, predatory pay-to-play, and opaque conflicts of interests in multi-sided markets are slyly branded “efficiencies” and “innovations.”

In addition, Internet platform freedom is self-servingly interpreted as the freedom to do what one wants to do to others that are on your platform, not normal civil freedom, which is the freedom from government tyranny and harms from others.

What Ms. Swisher insights importantly spotlight is the difference between what happens to companies and their CEOs with longstanding no government accountability versus the limited government and normal civil limits every other CEO and American must live with every day.

Section 230 has become a cheaters charter, i.e. what you get when people don’t have strong personal ethics and morals, or face any real potential consequences for trampling on normal ethical or moral boundaries that would normally protect the hundreds of millions of users and millions of competitors, publishers, suppliers, advertisers, and developers that have no alternative, but to use Google, Facebook, or Amazon.  

 

Conclusion

The U.S. Government has effectively granted Internet platforms unimaginable unchecked power with minimal civil responsibility to anyone. Power corrupts and unchecked power without responsibility corrupts ethics, morality, and civility comprehensively.

Never before has the U.S. Government granted what has turned out to be a largely open-ended, unbounded civil immunity to a special commercial group in advance for any abuse of civil law they may choose to do or dream up in the future.

Section 230 is amoral authority that eliminates normal civil ethics, values, and morals by indiscriminately immunizing wrong, unjust, unfair, dishonest, unethical, or uncivil behaviors – in advance.

Is anyone now surprised that Internet platform CEOs who face no deterring liability, responsibility, or accountability to civil rule of law, would struggle with treating others ethically, morally, or civilly?

These ethically-challenged Internet platforms need more than the band-aids of ethics teaching or a chief ethics officer.

They most need to be subject to the same civil rules and the same accountability to U.S. civil rule of law to which every other American CEO and American are subject – i.e. a level playing field.

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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]

 

art 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]

Q&A One Pager Debunking Net Neutrality Myths