February 23, 2024
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Our View: Google should have to answer for reckless site-blocking issues

IN THIS ARTICLE

While the Supreme Court is hearing arguments over whether platforms like Google, Meta and Twitter have liability for what third parties publish on their sites and how their algorithms work, that’s not the only issue facing Big Tech.

As we’ve written about recently, the Justice Department has filed suit against Google and its parent Alphabet seeking to break up its dominant position over certain types of advertising.

And in recent days, the Business Times itself has been the victim of another Big Tech power play – the ability to use spam alerts or malware warnings as a way to take independent media companies offline.

This problem is not as deeply reported as the advertising dominance and tendency for algorithms to steer people – particularly young people – to dangerous content. But it is there, nonetheless.

For the Business Times, it meant being blocked by Google and its Google Chrome search engine for roughly 72 hours, even though it took only about one hour to locate and remove what we suspect was the offending malware.

As we wrote at the time, removing us from Chrome for that much time gives an unfair advantage to Google and its own advertising efforts because our locally produced Pacific Coast Business Times ads are not visible.

Yes, it was possible to see our site on Bing and Microsoft Edge but Google is so dominant in this space that visibility on Microsoft products is a poor consolation prize. Masen Yaffee, president of NDIC, the Santa Barbara-based company that manages our website, said via email that Google is a “de-facto monopoly” when it comes to search. He thinks Google should listen to its users and voluntarily adopt some standards. I think the only way to get there is through regulation that focuses on disclosure and transparency – just like the airlines and their on-time departures. A better answer would be true accountability, where Google has to explain why it is blocking your site, where it is accountable for the duration the site is blocked and where users can know how many sites are being blocked and for how long at any given time.

THORNBERG’S RESEARCH IS WORTH THE PRICE OF ADMISSION

Chris Thornberg, founder of Beacon Economics is making some news thanks to a faculty protest over arrangements between his economic consulting firm and the UC Riverside School of Business. Beacon has a revenue-sharing/licensing agreement with UC Riverside that makes money for the university. But he’s not a full-time faculty member and is well paid for his economic research outside of academia and that’s causing a problem for the faculty, at least according to the Los Angeles Times. Thornberg is well known on the Central Coast, where he presents his forecasts several times a year. He also happens to be a well-respected economist with a good feel for what California needs to do in terms of housing, immigration and economic development. Our two cents is this: Let Thornberg be Thornberg.