My tech toolbox will include less of the Google hegemony

“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

This is actually a shorter version of a post I tried to put up earlier today. The gist is that I am uncomfortable with a few tech giants like Google deciding what communications can be consumed when the "soapbox” is effectively a virtual soapbox now and anything you want heard must go through the Interwebs. The First Amendment isn’t directly implicated, but a few companies now have almost total control over the digital public square, and they are putting their thumbs heavily on the scale.

I read an article yesterday that commented on internal Google emails that referred to Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson, and Dennis Prager as “nazis.” I find that both depressing and disgusting. Depressing, as it shows that the current members of society are profoundly ignorant about the Holocaust. Disgusting, since it is simply a horrible slander.

I have heard all three of them speak more than once (Ben Shapiro and Dennis Prager mostly on the radio and Jordan Peterson in interviews). While I don’t know what lies deep in their hearts, I’ve heard nothing remotely close to justifying that abusive label by Google employees. Moreover, nothing they have to say is sufficiently awful to support an effort by Google’s employees to craft ways to exclude their content from recommendation algorithms. According to the story I read, those three individuals all had relatives that were killed during the Holocaust. Now, I happen to think Ben Shapiro, in particular, is frequently an obnoxious and arrogant punk. But at least he refuses to back down from the heckler’s veto mob, so credit for having brass ones I suppose. And not liking an opinion does not make one a “nazi.” That should go without saying. Apparently, it doesn’t.

The bottom line is that, after seeing tech companies like Google and Twitter and Facebook de-platform people while hiding behind their Section 230 immunity, I’ve decided that Google doesn’t get to look at my every purchase, newsletter and interest to make money by targeting ads at me.

I have started to view these lockstep platform bans as cartel behavior. Certain practices in the restraint of trade are categorized as being automatically unlawful. Such practices include group boycotts of competitors, customers or distributors. Implicit cartel agreements to refuse to deal with a class of customers might be per se unlawful behavior in restraint of trade.

If it isn't per se unlawful, the fallback analysis is the "Rule of Reason." I don't specialize in antitrust (at all), but this seems like a theory that should be examined closely by organizations with some resources that are being de-platformed and de-monetized.

Martin Niemöller offered the right warning; if you stay quiet for too long, eventually nobody will be left to speak out when they come for you.

COMPLEX TECH: Give this sweet browser a test drive

If you are slightly adventurous, you moved over to Firefox as your browser.  If you are a little more daring, you moved to something even lighter, Google Chrome.  Pshaw.  If you want to browse with the newest hotness, give Google Chrome Beta a test drive.  It is stable and squeaky clean in its minimalism.  If you are running Windows 7, it is the perfect compliment to a polished operating system.

Google takes a first step at upsetting the cell phone purchase apple cart

Of interest to the gadget-loving attorneys out there, today Google announced on its blog a first step towards another attempt to change how consumers buy cell phones.  Google will offer the Nexus One "superphone" through a Google-hosted store.  The Nexus One was built by HTC and runs the Android operating system.  Google was heavily involved in the creation of the device and customized the operating system to showcase what the newest version of Android can do.  Google said that other phones on other carriers will follow.

Keep an eye on Google in this space.  As with its Google Scholar search capabilities that allow free searching for caselaw, this first step by Google into the mobile phone sales arena won't unseat the major players...yet.  In fact, the initial offering is a fairly conventional choice of a subsidized phone through T-Mobile or an unlocked Nexus One at a typical smartphone price.  The interesting part of this development is Google's ability to bring so many handset manufacturers together under the Android umbrella.  Handset makers just want to sell their hardware.  A desirable consumer experience and a solid operating system with the ability to run large numbers of third-party applications sells the hardware.  Apple proved that.  If Google gains enough traction in the cell phone space to change pricing models and, perhaps, move towards a different subsidy model, such as ad and metrics-based subsidies, could inject a new dynamic into this market.

For the mobile lawyer, this may mean a downward pressure on prices and an increase in the quality of smartphone choices as service providers compete in the one way they most easily can - offering better handsets with lower service prices.

Google gets in on the legal research game

To Westlaw and Lexis:

You have a big head start, but the world's largest search monster just left the land of nightmares and placed itself squarely in your rearview mirrors.  Google has surfaced search functionality that will return full-text opinions from state and federal courts.  Google Scholar, still in "beta," allows searches by case name, topic, or key words.  Advanced filters allow for creative search construction.  The November 17, 2009 announcement on Google's blog is here.

I did some test searches, and the results are good, but not quite as current as Westlaw or Lexis would provide.  Each case, when viewed, includes a "how cited" tab that, rather than explaining the correct citation syntax, provides a list of other cases citing to that case and an interesting list of case quotes showing how the case is cited in context.  Testing with Tobacco II, I was able to find that Cohen v. DirecTV cites Tobacco II, but Cohen isn't yet returned as a result when searching for it by name.  Either Google is waiting for finality before providing access to opinions, or its data source is slow to update.  As another plus, the cases include pagination information.

Setting all else aside, it's free and it's simple.  At this point, Westlaw and Lexis should stock up on clean underwear.