Google’s stock price is up over 16% today. Good for them! And good for their investors. Don’t be evil.
There are plenty of reasons to be bullish on Google. And one of them is that they are legally allowed to profit on bullsh*t. OK, be slightly evil.
It’s a well-kept secret that commercial information on the Internet is subject to basically zero legal regulation. So while TV stations, radio stations, newspapers, and other “old media” can be held liable for publishing false information, Google, Bing, and other search providers CAN’T.
The result is that Google and its smaller competitors have the right take money for ads that they KNOW ARE FALSE. Some of the most offensive ads are “bait and switch” schemes, like offers for a $19 locksmith service that get jacked to $300 when the locksmith gets out to your location.
A brave guy and legitimate locksmith named Mark Baldino thought that the situation was unfair. He notified Google and others about false ads and asked the search engines to take the ads down. When they refused, Baldino took them to Court.
If you imagined a stirring jury trial filled with impassioned pleas for justice, keep imagining. The case was basically thrown out of court.
Why, you ask? Great question.
The answer is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The main thrust of the law was designed to help keep pornography offline. I think you know how well that fight went; in fact, those parts of the law were ruled unconstitutional not long after enactment. (And fetishists of all stripes have a safe home online to this day.)
But this little nugget from the federal legislation survived:
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
On its face, this isn’t necessarily a poison that costs the American taxpayer and honest citizens billions of dollars a year. But unlike beauty, bad laws are not skin deep. And that’s exactly what this law winds up doing.
In throwing out Mark Baldino’s case by claiming that Google had immunity from all liability under Section 230, the Court ruled:
“This immunity extends to all information posted that does not originate with the defendant as an information content provider. A publishing website is immune under the CDA even when given notice that it has published false information. Although editorial discretion might be feasible for the traditional print publisher, the sheer number of postings on interactive computer services would create an impossible burden in the Internet context.”
So: even if Google KNOWS IT IS PUBLISHING FALSE INFORMATION, and for which it is PAID MONEY, Google CANNOT be sued for propagating that false information.
Ladies and gentlemen, the United States Congress!
Baldino has appealed, and hopefully he can get the decision overturned. But the problem isn’t that the Court’s ruling is wrong; the problem is that the Court appears to have correctly applied existing law.
The laws need to be changed. Until they are, commercial information on the Internet is rife with scams that threaten your finances and your physical safety.
I break down the problem in plain terms, and tell you exactly how you can avoid being victimized, in my new book, Cyber Fraud: The Web of Lies. Read the first chapter for free, or order a copy, at www.cyberfraudtheweboflies.com. I also do personal appearances. Book signings, weddings, bar mitzvahs: have your people call my people.
Oh, and be sure to by Google’s stock yesterday. And while you’re in that time machine, please go back to 1996 and tell Bill Clinton not to sign the Communications Decency Act. Or hire Monica Lewinsky.