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Dirty Data: Google’s Embarrassing #ClimateStrike Charm Offensive is a Lesson in Propaganda

September 22, 2019 Comments off

As any journalist can tell you (probably off the record), Google’s press police hammers the message of the day very aggressively.  We have a perfect example of those Googlely antics with their latest charm offensive on new data centers in Europe.

Here’s the headline from The Street, which is very likely actual reporting on the story:

thestreet google data centers in EU

Not a word in the story about “clean” anything, probably because the reporters know better and are probably insulated from Google’s press police.

But–here’s the same story from TechCrunch:

techcrunch google eu datacenters.png

This TechCrunch headline ran over a huge photo of wind turbines–which has little to do with the story which is not about wind farms but about data farms.  Data farms that hog huge amounts of electricity.

us-data-center-power-consumption

Google typically requires a state–or in the EU’s case a nation–to provide a mix of energy sources, about 1/3 of which Google would like to derive from “green” sources.  But not all.  However, the TechCrunch story makes it sound like the whole point of the data centers isn’t to hog electricity and crowd out local power users but instead for Google to somehow “answer the call” by climate strikers by doing something Google would have done anyway–when Google KNOW they are burdening the local power grid.

Google announced today that it was investing €3 billion (approximately US$3.3 billion) to expand its data center presence in Europe. What’s more, the company pledged the data centers would be environmentally friendly….

It’s obviously not a coincidence that the company is making an announcement related to clean energy on Global Climate Strike Day, a day when people from around the world are walking out of schools and off their jobs to encourage world leaders and businesses to take action on the climate crisis. Google is attempting to answer the call with these announcements.

Source: HPC Wire

 

It has been baffling to me how the Green New Deal proponents haven’t focused on Google as a major polluter and electricity hog.  YouTube alone snorts down about as much power as it takes to operate the city of Cincinnati every day–if not more.  It’s hard to get straight answers about Google’s power needs.  And then there’s Facebook.
Data Centers

It should not be lost on anyone that Google and Facebook gain major political clout from placing data centers in states or European countries.  Based on Google’s most recent environmental report (2018) you have to tease out what Google’s actual carbon emissions is (in footnote 32):

  1. Google emits less than 8 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per day to serve an active Google user—defined as someone who performs 25 searches and watches 60 minutes of YouTube a day, has a Gmail account, and uses our other key services.

In Google-speak “less than 8” usually means 7.9999999999.  So let’s call it 8.  As of 2016 there were 1 billion active gmail users.  So rough justice, Google acknowledges that it emits about 8 billion grams of carbon dioxide daily, or 9,000 tons.  And based on the characteristically tricky way Google framed the measurement, that doesn’t count the users who don’t have a gmail account, don’t use “our other key services” and may watch more than an hour a day of YouTube.  You know, like kids for example.

lux-research-data-centers-electricity-use

Nature magazine sums it up:

Upload your latest holiday photos to Facebook, and there’s a chance they’ll end up stored in Prineville, Oregon, a small town where the firm has built three giant data centres and is planning two more. [Hello, Senator Wyden.] Inside these vast factories, bigger than aircraft carriers, tens of thousands of circuit boards are racked row upon row, stretching down windowless halls so long that staff ride through the corridors on scooters.

These huge buildings are the treasuries of the new industrial kings: the information traders.The five biggest global companies by market capitalization this year are currently Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook, replacing titans such as Shell and ExxonMobil. Although information factories might not spew out black smoke or grind greasy cogs, they are not bereft of environmental impact. As demand for Internet and mobile-phone traffic skyrockets, the information industry could lead to an explosion in energy use.

According to the National Resources Defense Council:

Data centers are the backbone of the modern economy — from the server rooms that power small- to medium-sized organizations to the enterprise data centers that support American corporations and the server farms that run cloud computing services hosted by Amazon, Facebook, Google, and others. However, the explosion of digital content, big data, e-commerce, and Internet traffic is also making data centers one of the fastest-growing consumers of electricity in developed countries, and one of the key drivers in the construction of new power plants.

Why might that be?  Here’s some 2011 data from the famous “The Internet is Killing the Planet” infographic inspired by Greenpeace’s “Dirty Data” research (that seems to have been forgotten in the Green New Deal):

Google co2 1

Again from Nature:

Already, data centres use an estimated 200 terawatt hours (TWh) each year. That is more than the national energy consumption of some countries, including Iran, but half of the electricity used for transport worldwide, and just 1% of global electricity demand (see ‘Energy scale’). Data centres contribute around 0.3% to overall carbon emissions, whereas the information and communications technology (ICT) ecosystem as a whole — under a sweeping definition that encompasses personal digital devices, mobile-phone networks and televisions — accounts for more than 2% of global emissions. That puts ICT’s carbon footprint on a par with the aviation industry’s emissions from fuel.

heres-steam-shooting-out-of-the-dalles-data-center-in-oregon-as-its-cooling-down

What does this have to do with music?  Actually, more than you might think.  YouTube is one of the biggest carbon producers in the Google system.  What’s consumed the most on YouTube?  Cat videos?  How-to screw in a lightbulb videos?  No.

Music videos.

And then there’s streaming.  However you might have felt about plastic discs, billions upon billions of streams uses up a lot of processing power.  And it’s like all the world’s music is hosted in the cloud, sometimes literally.  Remember “Own Nothing, Have Everything”?  I don’t know if anyone could have thought of a more inefficient delivery method from a climate point of view, but I suppose it’s possible.

The fact is we are the forced enablers of what may end up being one of the biggest energy scams in the entire climate disaster, and it’s time to put the foot down.  First of all, artists need to start asking questions of services like YouTube and the advertisers who support them.

So when Google says they’re spending $3.3 billion on data centers in Europe, don’t think for a minute that the “call” they are answering is anything except the call for more profits and political clout.

And they will feed you all the propaganda they can to make you believe that they’re just good guys answering the call to save the planet.  Which is bunk.

You Go! Rep. @TulsiGabbard Sues Google For Manipulating Election

July 30, 2019 Comments off

According to USA Today:

On [July 25, 2019], member of Congress and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard launched a lawsuit against Google claiming “serious and continuing violations of Tulsi’s right to free speech” because of Google’s suspension of the Gabbard campaign’s advertising account during the first Democratic presidential debate.

The campaign asks for an immediate court injunction to stop further meddling from Google and payment of financial damages.

According to the lawsuit, filed by lawyers representing Gabbard’s campaign Tulsi Now Inc., Google suspended the Gabbard campaign’s advertising account for several hours during the first Democratic debate, when Gabbard was briefly the most-searched candidate on Google.

Read the complaint here.

MTP readers will recall that we first focused on Google’s ability to throw elections back in 2013  (See Now That’s What I Call Bundling!).  I actually started thinking about the issue even longer ago around 2010 when news leaked out of Google offering credit to pirate sites so they could buy keywords suggested by Google employees according to the sworn affidavit of the pirate site operator in the Easy Download Center case.

The point being that Google employees were only too happy to help pirates operate by manipulating search results through keywords.  And if they could do that, what else were they up to?  I naturally thought of throwing elections.

One of the big differences between 2010 and 2019 is the difference in how people react to these facts.  In either 2010 or 2013 very few people thought that Google could or would try to throw an election.  What prompted my 2013 post was a very believable and well constructed study  “Democracy at Risk: Manipulating Search Rankings Can Shift Voting Preferences Substantially Without Voter Awareness” by Dr. Robert Epstein and Dr. Ronald E.  Robertson of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology.  The study focused on how Google could manipulate search results to manipulate public opinion.  My thought was that it was a big claim and however logical and believable it was based on anecdotal evidence, an actual academic study would provide the type of data that would be persuasive.  PBS Newshour interviewed Dr. Epstein:

 

Dr. Epstein also recently testified before the U.S. Senate hearing on Google and Censorship.

Not much has changed according to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s lawsuit:

In the June 26-27, 2019 Democratic Party presidential debates, tens of millions of Americans got to hear Tulsi Gabbard’s voice for the first time. And people liked what they heard: Gabbard quickly became the most searched-for Democratic presidential candidate on June 27-28. In the crucial post-debate period—a time when presidential candidates receive outsize interest, engagement, and donations—Americans around the country wanted to hear more from Tulsi Gabbard.

To speak to these Americans, Tulsi operated a Google Ads account (the “Account”). A Google Ads account allows a political candidate to speak directly to people who want to hear from her. For example, millions of people were searching for information on Tulsi Gabbard on June 27-28, 2019. Through Google Ads, Tulsi could instantaneously and directly speak to these people by linking them to her webpage, which provides information about Gabbard’s background, policies, and goals.  

Or at least that is how things are supposed to work on Google’s search platform—one of the largest forums for political speech in the entire world. In practice, however, Google plays favorites…

Google’s answer?  This was that bane of the IT world–a “glitch.”  Ah, yes.  Those pesky glitches!  It almost makes you think that Google search is not fit for purpose–but it seems far more likely that Google search is performing exactly how it’s supposed to work.  Not fit for purpose, just the purpose is not fit.

Think about it–Google frequently defends what I would call the “Pinto Gap”–Google’s business practice named after the notorious Ford Pinto model with the exploding gas tank.  Why the “Pinto Gap”?  Because one would have to believe that Google has determined, just like Ford, that the cost benefit of programming their search algorithm to perform in a certain way that profits Google more than doing the right thing.  Or at least the lawful thing.  One day we may find out if there is a “Pinto memo” at Google of the kind that took down Ford, but just like Ford, Google will have to be sued to find out, perhaps for products liability.  Or criminally prosecuted, because we’re way beyond Mrs. Palsgraf now.

But Google still relies on the glitch defense–maybe because they still think we’re all idiots.  USA Today quotes Google’s response:

In response, Google says “automated systems that flag unusual activity on all advertiser accounts — including large spending changes” were to blame for the suspension of Gabbard’s account. Google says their automated systems aim to “prevent fraud and protect our customers.”

“In this case, our system triggered a suspension and the account was reinstated shortly thereafter,” said Google spokeswoman Riva Sciuto. “We are proud to offer ad products that help campaigns connect directly with voters, and we do so without bias toward any party or political ideology.”

Of course.  If only she’d paid in rubles!  No one believes that glitch theory either after many investigations into how Google favors its own products in search results.  Why should Google’s outsized role in the Obama campaigns and the 2016 election–not to mention the Canadian General Election that brought their buddy Justin Trudeau to power and set the stage for Googleville (aka Sidewalk)–be any different?  Trust me, Google is only too happy for the attention to be focused on “The Russians” and Facebook–and not on them.  Until now.

soros at google

Eric and George, just two guys talking about stuff

As Professor Robert Epstein writes in Politico:

Research I have been directing in recent years suggests that Google, Inc., has amassed far more power to control elections—indeed, to control a wide variety of opinions and beliefs—than any company in history has ever had. Google’s search algorithm can easily shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent or more—up to 80 percent in some demographic groups—with virtually no one knowing they are being manipulated, according to experiments I conducted recently with Ronald E. Robertson .

Or they could simply cut off a candidate’s Adwords account if she gets too popular and is not the anointed Google candidate.

 

 

 

I commend Rep. Gabbard’s complaint to you for further reading, but here’s a couple excerpts.  Remember, the point is that after the Democrat debates, Gabbard was the most searched for candidate on Google.  If you’re a skeptic like me, you’ll say that somebody noticed that right away and thought that Google had to put a stop to it.

For hours, as millions of Americans searched Google for information about Tulsi, and as Tulsi was trying, through Google, to speak to them, her Google Ads account was arbitrarily and forcibly taken offline.

I would pick a bone with the lawyers on that sentence–it’s very unlikely that it was “arbitrary”.  Saying it was “arbitrary” seems to accept the “glitch” theory, which I don’t.  The Google search algorithm is the most valuable asset at Google.  The idea that it somehow wasn’t working and somehow wasn’t doing exactly what it was designed to do beggars belief.  So I would say don’t give them “arbitrary” for a single sentence.  Let them actually prove that–which will open up discovery on the algorithm to the extent it’s not open already.

[T]he Campaign worked frantically to gather more information about the suspension; to get through to someone at Google who could get the Account back online; and to understand and remedy the restraint that had been placed on Tulsi’s speech—at precisely the moment when everyone wanted to hear from her.

In response, the Campaign got opacity and an inconsistent series of answers from Google. First, Google claimed that the Account was suspended because it somehow violated Google’s terms of service. (It didn’t.) Later, Google changed its story. Then it changed its story again. Eventually, after several hours of bizarre and conflicting explanations while the suspension dragged on, Google suddenly reversed course completely and reinstated the Account. To this day, Google has not provided a straight answer—let alone a credible one—as to why Tulsi’s political speech was silenced right precisely when millions of people wanted to hear from her.

But in context, the explanation for Google’s suspension of the Account at exactly the wrong time is no great mystery: Google (or someone at Google) didn’t want Americans to hear Tulsi Gabbard’s speech, so it silenced her. This has happened time and time again across Google platforms. Google controls one of the largest and most important forums for political speech in the entire world, and it regularly silences voices it doesn’t like, and amplifies voices it does….

Google’s arbitrary and capricious treatment of Gabbard’s campaign should raise concerns for policymakers everywhere about the company’s ability to use its dominance to impact political discourse, in a way that interferes with the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

Now listen up because this is important:  If it weren’t for Rep. Gabbard fighting back nobody would even know it happened.  And if they’ll do it to a presidential candidate, they will definitely do it to you.  This one is live, real, and is not going away.  This isn’t a question of money, and hopefully she won’t let them buy their way out of it.  That’s how we got here.

You go!

 

 

MTP Podcast:Fix Google’s Antitrust Problem by Fixing Its Supervoting Stock

June 11, 2019 Comments off

The Two Years War: Google’s Polish Footprint Behind Poland’s Lawfare Against Artists over EU Copyright Directive

June 3, 2019 Comments off

Poland has the distinction of being the first country to tip Google’s lawfare strategy against the Copyright Directive–sue to have the whole thing overturned by Court of Justice of the European Union, the “CJEU.”  The CJEU has, among other things, the jurisdiction to  hear an “action for annulment” filed by a EU government like NATO member Poland.

So who is in Google’s Polish footprint?  According to the Google Transparency Project, we find a few revolving door people.  Want to bet one of them knows how Poland came to file their case so soon?

Sylwia Giepmans-Stepien:  Former Junior Officer in Poland Ministry of the Economy

Google Poland 1

Marta Kokoszka: Project Manager, Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency

Google Poland 2

Marcin Olender, Head of European Union and International Affairs Unit, Polish Ministry of Administration and Digitization

Google Poland 3

Big Door Keeps on Turning: Recent Departure from Google to (where else) Uber: Agata Waclawik-Wejman

Google 4

But it’s not just the old revolving door.  Google has made a substantial investment in Europe, but in particular at the University of Warsaw.

Google Europe

The Google Transparency Project describes Google’s investment in the University of Warsaw:

In early 2014, according to domain registration records, Google expanded its academic relationships in Europe further East, creating the Digital Economy Lab (DELab) at the University of Warsaw.

The program is described as an interdisciplinary institute funded by Google for the implementation of programs concerning the social, economic and cultural consequences of technology.

There is little public information about the extent of the partnership, or the amount of Google’s funding. However, the DELab website does offer some clues.

DELab’s director, Katarzyna Śledziewska, has a distinguished career in European policy and academic circles.  She also serves as a member of another Google-funded initiative, the Readie-Europe Research Alliance for a Digital Economy….

Stay tuned, this case may turn out to be an excellent vehicle to find out more about the extent of Google’s investments.

 

Victory in Europe: The Two Years War over the Copyright Directive has Begun

May 30, 2019 Comments off

[This post originally appeared in the MusicTechPolicy Monthly Newsletter.]

If you’ve heard about the new copyright law in Europe, you’ve probably heard that the new rules with either break the Internet or bring Big Tech to heel.  I’d suggest neither proposition is true but not for the reasons you might think.  The reason is that Big Tech has absolutely no intention of complying with the law unless they are made to do so and few-if any- governments have the stomach to make them.

Cynical much, you may think?  Not really.  Hardly a day goes by that some new horror story doesn’t break about some awful business practice at Google, Facebook, Amazon or Twitter.  Lawmakers wring their hands, maybe fine the company concerned and everyone goes back to sleep until the next eruption.  Those fines are in the billions, but the bad behavior continues.

There’s a simple explanation for why.  It should be obvious by now that relying on good corporate citizenship is no more likely to produce a good outcome with Big Tech than it has  been with Big Anything Else.  You can dress them up in hoodies, they can tell you to lean in and that they won’t be evil, but “trust me” has not worked out very well so far.

Not only has “trust me” not worked out in terms of outcomes, it also hasn’t resulted in compliance with the law.  And this is the real reason why the bad behavior continues.  It’s not that these horror stories are “glitches”–no, the platforms that produce the inhuman results are working exactly as they are designed to do.  Do you really think that companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon aren’t able to control their platforms, algorithms and applications?

No, these companies make things that work very, very well.  For them.  They wrap them in extraordinary spin and mythology and deceive their users into increasingly addictive behaviors.  At their core, all these platforms are in two business lines–surveillance capitalism and addiction.  They use access to music and movies and journalism as a honeypot to draw in users whose data they can scrape and resell in an unvirtuous circle.

Face it–the Amazon shopping jones is not that different that a Home Shopping Network addiction, and none of the engineered behavior addictions from Silicon Valley are that different that Brown & Williamson Tobacco chemically engineering their product to be physically addictive to smokers with the messaging to match.

Nowhere is the unvirtuous circle more obvious than in Europe during the run up to and final passage of the new European Copyright Directive.  It cannot be overlooked that the European Commission fined Google billions of dollars twice during the period that overlapped with the ultimate passing of the Directive, for a total of $6.8 billion.  Those fines seem large, but were barely discussed compared to the braying from YouTube over the Copyright Directive.

According to leading European newspapers, Google and Facebook in particular fought the Directive with tactics that are reminiscent of Russia’s Internet Research Agency that we have all become too familiar with.  Bots, spam, interference lobbying and outright threats to Members of the European Parliament, the lot.  YouTube used its platform to spread misinformation about the directive through “YouTube creators” and reportedly targeted the children of MEPs who supported the Directive.

In the end, Google and Facebook were able to turn certain parts of the Directive their way but understand this–the Directive is simply that.  A directive at the “federal” level of the European Union.  That directive now has to be put into national laws by each legislature in the 28 countries that are members of the EU before it has any legal effect.  This can take up to two years  Therein lies the rub.

If past is prologue, Google, Facebook and their Big Tech fellow travelers have absolutely no intention of ever complying with the Directive.  They will lobby away as much of the Directive as possible at the member state level–that effort was already under way before the dust had settled much less the just concluded voting for Members of the European Parliament.

They then will sit back and wait to be sued.  The courtroom is where Big Tech most excels in tying the wishes of voters into knots.  By the time there is a final non appealable judgement from the highest court of competent jurisdiction in each member state including forms of appeal that no one has even thought of yet, Google will have probably backed new legislation and collected political IOUs that Google plans to use to reverse all ground gained in the Directive.

And in the meantime, the greatest income transfer of all time will continue as Google and Facebook suck the life out of creators for their fast buck profits and stock market largesse.

The only thing that will get their attention is action that affects their behavior-breaking up these companies in particular.  But understand that any government that takes them on is essentially going to war with a corporate country that is probably better funded and nastier than any government.

Getting justice from Silicon Valley will be an apocalyptic story worthy of Skynet.  But don’t think you can affect their behavior with your so-called laws that they have no intention of obeying.  Kyle Reese is not coming.

Don’t get me wrong–I’d rather have the Directive than not.  Just don’t deceive yourself into thinking the fight is over.

The fight is just beginning.

An Insult to the Heart: Lobbyists Organize Big Tech Rallies in Europe

March 24, 2019 Comments off

The ghost of Edward Bernays walks the streets of the ancient capitols of Europe.  As the man who wrote the book on propaganda (literally) Bernays made a chilling observation:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.

In a post-Cambridge Analytica world, the battle for humanity will be fought over the equivocation of “freedom”—the basic human freedom of expression will be coopted by the corporate freedom from regulation to profit from surveillance by machines.  It is the ad-man’s old challenge–make you think something that will kill you is actually good for you.

joecamel

Descendant of Bernays’ “Torches of Freedom” Campaign

In turning the machines loose on the humans who are their product, corporations will use tools that Bernays foreshadowed–but these “men we have never heard of” will be playing with the very foundations of democratic institutions of the nation state.  Who wins this battle is up for grabs right now and nowhere are we seeing this struggle for humanity more clearly rendered than in Europe in the battle over Article 13.

In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.

Bernays described Google some 70 years before its time.

google-android-3-gingerbread

The offspring of Joe Camel proudly displayed at the Googleplex

We should understand that the “value gap” that sparked this extraordinary lobbying effort by American multinational corporations to bring Europe to heel was symptomatic of a more fundamental sickness.  That commercial symptom could, and perhaps should, be more readily understood as a “values gap”–the perverse voyeurism of the surveillance capitalists to commoditize all that touched their networks and use artists to lure the humans whose data could be scraped, whose behavior could be monitored and eventually manipulated for even greater profit.

helga google interfere

I’d suggest that is why this struggle in Europe resonates so deeply with artists around the world.  It’s not just the commercial insult.  It’s not the metaphorical Room 101 app where the winning answer is 2+2=5.

It is an insult to humanity.  It is an insult to the heart.

The First Rule of Lawfare: Is Google’s Active Measures Campaign on Article 13 a Trial Run for Election Meddling by a US Non-State Actor?

October 28, 2018 Comments off

Well, I wake up in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain.
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane.
It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor.
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.

From Maggie’s Farm, written by Bob Dylan

Google on the Back Foot with the Copyright Directive

Google and Facebook recently suffered a lobbying debacle in Europe over the European Copyright Directive.  That legislation cuts back the European version of the what Americans call the DMCA safe harbor.  A triumph for artists, Google’s European loss was the worst lobbying defeat that Silicon Valley has been handed in a long time—at least since the SESTA legislation cut back another safe harbor in the U.S.  So it shouldn’t be surprising that YouTube’s CEO is trying to influence YouTubers to lobby on behalf of Big Tech—Google desperately needs some human shields, which is exactly what participating YouTubers would be.  Once again scrubbing the floor for the House of Google.

At its core, the Copyright Directive cuts back the ability of services like YouTube to profit from infringing activities on their platforms.   One would expect corporations profiting from that safe harbor to lobby against it, just like supporters lobbied for it.  But Google and Facebook went well beyond simply lobbying by attempting to sow discord and undermine democratic institutions.  

And they got caught—red handed.   They were caught conducting active measures such as spamming, bot farming and overt messaging campaigns calculated to undermine the legislative process in the European Parliament.  You can read about it in a number of leading European publications starting with investigations by both the Times of London and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

 

screen-shot-2018-08-16-at-9-58-04-am

Google’s Article 13 Lobbying Campaign from Volker Rieck

 

Most importantly Google supporters like the Pirate Party promised—or more accurately “threatened”—that “constituents” would show up to protest, and very few did.  So Google’s active measures campaign lacked a human face—the key component that brought it down.

German MEP Helga Truepel explained why the plenary vote on the Copyright Directive was so lopsided against Google at a press conference :  “…[It was] due to this message spamming campaign. I talked to some of my colleagues here [and they] are totally pissed off, cause in the streets there were a maximum 500-800 people last Sunday [at Pirate Party protests]… and we were only deleting emails for weeks now.”

Plan B and the First Rule of Lawfare

Fast forward to today: Google needs a Plan B.  Desperately.

Google’s problem today is the Members of the European Parliament (and some members of the UK Parliament) are wise to their jive after the plenary vote.  My bet is that story is not yet concluded as it merits a criminal investigation.  Because when a corporate covert influence operation is discovered and attribution is certain, it’s hard to put that genie back in the bottle (just like Internet piracy).

But while Google desperately needs a Plan B to retain its safe harbor, publicly acknowledging its influence operation is politically awkward, bread crumbs or no.  Like fight club, the first rule of lawfare is that it does not exist.

Google and Facebook are struggling to find that Plan B as the EU lawmaking process continues with the “Trilogue”, the next step to the Copyright Directive becoming national law in the European Union.  Google seeks another way to overwhelm the system by finding human shields to mingle with the bots.  And that’s where YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki comes in with her recent appeal to YouTubers to protest the Directive.

Ms. Wojcicki may want us to overlook that Google just got caught running active measures against a democratic institution to meddle in the legislative process on another continent.  But members of the European Parliament have not forgotten.  She may be able to pull the wool over YouTuber’s eyes, but it just makes her human shields look even more duped and her methods look especially more alarming—if not terrifying—in a post-Cambridge Analytica world.

Safe Harbors, Addiction and Human Shields

Don’t underestimate how important these safe harbors are to Google, Facebook and its fellow monopolists.  They were ready to be on the wrong side of child sex trafficking legislation to preserve their other safe harbor (Section 230 of the “Communications Decency Act”)—that surely strained Sheryl Sandberg’s performance as Wendy to Mark Zuckerberg’s “boy who wouldn’t grow up.”  These safe harbors are crucial to Google, Facebook and Twitter—because it protects them as they snort up the addictive content and reward (if not sell) views, likes, follows, and “engagement.”  

Remember—YouTube is not in the music business, or even in the content business at the end of the day.  Google and Facebook are in the addiction business.  

In particular the behavioral addiction business (see Irresistible by Dr. Adam Alter).  If you’re in the addiction business, safe harbors are very, very important.  Just ask the narcotraficantes.  And don’t forget—the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island investigated Google for violations of the Controlled Substances Act that resulted in a $500,000,000 fine and a non-prosecution agreement (not to mention a shareholder lawsuit).

Straight Outta Minitrue

But I suspect it is the embarrassing lack of human shields cited by MEP Helga Truepel that drove Ms. Wojcicki to issue a meandering tl;dr blog post trying to convince “YouTube creators” to fall in with the company line on the Copyright Directive. 

Ms. Wojcicki manages to get through her entire appeal without coming clean about the point of the Copyright Directive—YouTube profits from piracy through the safe harbor that the Directive would cut back, especially Article 13.  (There’s way more to the Directive than Article 13, but that’s another story.)

She would have YouTubers sign up to the “sky is falling” claims that “the unintended consequences of Article 13 will put [the highly profitable YouTube] ecosystem at risk”.  Why?  Because “[i]t would be too risky for platforms to host content from smaller original content creators, because the platforms would now be directly liable for that content.”  

That is quite a leap—how is it that “smaller” YouTubers would be such a big problem?  After all of YouTube’s “advertiser friendly” changes that severely hurt the earning power of many YouTubers, does Ms. Wojcicki really think that YouTubers—a pretty clever bunch on the whole it must be said—are so gullible that they will miss the irony?  

And then she says this: “We are committed to working with the industry to find a better way.  This language could be finalized by the end of the year [in the Trilogue], so it’s important to speak up now.”

Given the breadth of the coalition supporting the Copyright Directive and opposing Google and Facebook, it’s not immediately clear who is “the industry.”  I can tell you that if she includes the music industry in that reference, I can save her some time.  

Nobody in “the industry” trusts Google, YouTube, Facebook or Ms. Wojcicki.  [Although the beachhead that Google scored with the MMA may make life interesting for publishers and songwriters wishing to protest against the hand that feeds the mechanical licensing collective.]  

And, frankly, I’d be surprised if many YouTubers trust her either.  Based on the vote supporting the Copyright Directive, there’s a wide swath of MEPs that have severe misgivings about all these Silicon Valley companies trying to run roughshod over Europeans.  And then there’s the two and probably soon to be three competition prosecutions against Google by the European Commission.  That’s a thing.

Ms. Wojcicki hasn’t learned (and I predict won’t ever learn) a simple truth that every record company and music publisher knows—don’t jack with the talent.  YouTube jacks with the talent frequently, so it’s unclear how the talent is going to react to this latest request that they take time out of their day to help YouTube.

It’s not a good look and it will come back to bite.  YouTube has been profiting from the safe harbor for its entire existence and wouldn’t know how to make an honest buck if their lives depended.

Is Election Meddling Next on Google’s Agenda?

Before Ms. Wojcicki tries to rally YouTubers as human shields to support Google’s billions on her bot farm, she needs to get her own house in order.

And members of the European Parliament need to get a grip on these active measures campaigns before Google goes beyond “lobbying” on an issue vote and moves on to meddling in campaign outcomes in a few months when the European Parliament stands for election.

In a post-Cambridge Analytica world, we all know it’s a short step from undermining opposition on a particular issue to undermining the election of a particular candidate.  And Google is just as capable of meddling as any state actor if not more so.

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