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Big tech companies tend to make a lot of enemies — but there are none more powerful than the US government. Apple, Google, Amazon, and Meta are regularly called in front of Congress to fend off monopoly accusations — and lawmakers bring up bills to rein in the companies just as often. The Federal Trade Commission has taken a particularly central role, leading a lawsuit to sever Facebook and Instagram while blocking new acquisitions for Oculus and the company’s virtual reality wing. Like it or not, these regulatory fights will play a huge role in deciding the future of tech — and neither side is playing nice.

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Apple tells its support staff not to shoot from the hip about sideloading.

Apple is preparing to release iOS 17.4 soon with many changes, including those meant to comply, to some degree at least, with Europe’s Digital Markets Act.

According to Bloomberg today, the company has told support staff not to engage with customers about whether or not the iPhone will get changes like third-party app stores outside of the EU.

Here’s a peek under WhatsApp’s hood at how third-party chats will work.

The Android beta (version for WhatsApp includes a way to manage third-party chat app interoperability, which is coming soon as Meta works to comply with the EU’s Digital Markets Act next week.

That’s according to WABetaInfo, which reported that users will be able to approve specific apps for the integration (or turn it off entirely).

A screenshot of the third-party chats management screen in the WhatsApp beta.
Image: WABetaInfo
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Google will face new antitrust allegations after a judge okays charges.

US District Judge Kevin Castel approved (PDF) a class action lawsuit by advertisers alleging that the company holds a monopoly in the ad market, Reuters reported yesterday.

Judge Castel dismissed some of the claims, though, including one that alleged that Google and Facebook conspired to give Facebook access to “enhanced proprietary data.”

Google is also preparing another advertising antitrust trial from the US DOJ.

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DeSantis vetoes bill that would have barred teens under 16 from using social media, but teases a “superior” one.

He explained that the veto was “because the Legislature is about to produce a different, superior bill.” The Florida governor added that he expects that new bill “will be signed into law soon.”

On X, Speaker Paul Renner later posted that the state Senate would hear a new bill, HB3, on Monday, which “will empower parents to control what their children can access online.”

32 media companies hit Google with $2.3 billion lawsuit.

The news organizations, including media giant Axel Springer, from 17 countries in Europe are suing the search giant over heavy losses they allegedly incurred as a “direct result of Google’s misconduct” in digital advertising.

“Without Google’s abuse of its dominant position, the media companies would have received significantly higher revenues from advertising and paid lower fees for ad tech services,” a statement from lawyers representing the media companies.

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White House urges developers to use memory safe programming languages to limit cybersecurity risk.

The White House says memory safety bugs are “one of the most pervasive classes of vulnerabilities.” But, coding with memory safe languages “can eliminate most memory safety errors.”

That means the White House is urging coders against using languages like C and C++. And when a complete rewrite of code isn’t feasible, it suggests prioritizing the most critical functions.

The cases are submitted.

NetChoice got the last word in the arguments over Texas’ law, with Clement saying the state had not proven social media’s common carrier status.

Clement also pointed to a statement from an anti-child predator group who said the law’s transparency requirements, which were minimally discussed in these arguments, could give predators a “roadmap” as to why their messages aren’t reaching kids.

And with that, we’re wrapped for the day — we’ll be awaiting a decision in the coming months.

Gorsuch asks how market power comes into play here.

He makes the point that unlike telegraphs where there’s basically one way to run the wires, “here one can start a new platform, at least in theory, any time.”

Nielson says when it comes to speech, it’s really not about market power at all.

US Solicitor General explains why moderation laws are different from net neutrality.

Kagan asked what makes Internet Service Providers (ISPs) so different from social media platforms in what they can be required to carry. Prelogar said ISPs are “fundamentally different” because they are not engaging in expressive action, rather simply transmitting data to let users access websites.

Kavanaugh followed up, asking with a hint of humor if he could buy into Prelogar’s argument without agreeing to net neutrality.

“You can leave for another day all of the conduit questions that come up in the net neutrality context,” Prelogar said.

YouTube would be one heavy newspaper.

“If YouTube were a newspaper, how much would it weigh?” Alito asked Clement.

Alito was trying to nail down whether a news publisher is really the right metaphor for social media companies in how they decide what content to host. Clement has made that point that even in the case where a parade organizer wanted to exclude an LGBT group, the court decided it could make that decision, even though it welcomed a large swath of other participants.

“Why are all the dog photos white?”

Clement suggests that’s what users might think if a white supremacist is posting dog photos on their social media account. He was making the point that content from some users with particularly abhorrent views could impact everything they post, making it reasonable to moderate their account as a whole.

It came in response to a question from Kagan about whether an antisemite should be prevented from posting anything from a social media site, even cat videos.

Social media companies wouldn’t host suicide prevention posts under the states’ laws, according to NetChoice.

Clement said that’s because under the states’ laws, the companies would also have to carry suicide promotion posts if they did. That’s because Texas’ law, for example, prevents discrimination on the basis of viewpoint.

That’s a wrap on Florida’s arguments.

Arguments over Texas’ social media law in NetChoice v. Paxton are just beginning now.

Coney Barrett worries about stumbling on “landmines” in a decision.

The conservative justice asked the Solicitor General if platforms could be liable for boosting content like the Tide Pod challenge (where people challenged each other to eat the laundry detergent pods) under Section 230.

Prelogar said when the platform’s own conduct causes harm it might not be protected by 230, but that’s besides the point from the First Amendment question here.

“I totally agree but I also think there are a bunch of landmines,” Coney Barrett said.

Are social media platforms like telegram carriers?

Gorsuch and Prelogar got into a rapid back-and-forth over whether social media companies can be considered common carriers like a telegram company. Gorsuch argued that despite being common carriers, telegram companies would argue they’re allowed to exclude some “bare minimum” amount of speech, but otherwise are “open to all comers.”

But Prelogar said it would be wrong to call those sorts of calls curation by the telegram companies. Unlike telegram providers, social media companies compile a large volume of content in a way that represents the companies’ own free expression.

Now the US Solicitor General weighs in.

US Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar is now weighing in, supporting NetChoice. The Biden administration weighed in on the case in briefs last year.

The state laws in Florida and Texas “don’t withstand constitutional scrutiny,” she says.

“Let’s do only puppy dogs in Florida.”

Clement said that might be the approach of social media sites if the court upholds Florida’s law. That’s because it requires platforms to enforce content moderation rules in a consistent manner, a requirement that can be hard to parse. As a result, platforms might avoid hosting controversial topics altogether.

Kagan suggests Venmo could be made to host transactions regardless of viewpoint.

Kagan is trying to find the boundaries of sites’ First Amendment rights, asking about whether direct messaging services and payment platforms like Venmo could be made to host accounts regardless of viewpoint.

Kagan said NetChoice’s argument about Facebook’s editorial discretion seems to work because Facebook is engaged in speech activities. But Venmo, she said, is not.

“Exactly what are they saying?” Thomas asks about social media algorithms.

That question gets to the issue of whether the platforms have an editorial perspective when they use algorithms to choose what they show.

“Is it a consistent message?” Thomas asked.

It’s important to NetChoice to show that it exercises editorial discretion similar to a newspaper that is allowed to reject or accept op-ed submissions as it sees fit.

Clement said that social media companies’ use of algorithms shows that there is so much material on their sites that platforms exercise a huge volume of editorial expression.

The Verge
Alito asks if Google could cut off Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow’s Gmail accounts.

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito asked if Florida’s law would cover Gmail. Clement said he thinks it could.

Without the law, Clement seemed unsure if that would mean Gmail could cut off the accounts of the major conservative and liberal talkshow hosts.

The Verge
It’s NetChoice’s time to is defend its arguments against the Florida law.

Paul Clement is arguing for NetChoice, saying Florida’s law violates the First Amendment “several times over.”

The Verge
Could Florida make a bookstore display books only in alphabetical order?

Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett asks if the law would impact how information is organized, not just whether it’s hosted. She asks if Florida could pass a law that requires a bookstore not to favor certain books in its display.

“Don’t all methods of organization represent some kind of judgement?” she asked.

Whitaker said “the question of organization is analytically distinct” from that of hosting and that despite prohibitions on shadow-banning (i.e. severely downranking content), platforms can organize content however they’d like.

The Verge
Whitaker explains why social media companies can be treated like wireless carriers.

In an exchange with conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, Whitaker explained why it’s appropriate to compare the social media companies to common carriers like wireless carriers, who can be prevented from silencing speech.

The “principle function of a social media site is to enable communication,” Whitaker said, adding that the more public forum social media platforms tend to host doesn’t change that.

Verizon wouldn’t be allowed to censor a conference call more than a one-to-one call, he said.

The Verge
Gorsuch asks if the court will need to look at Section 230 to decide this case.

Whitaker said that the preemption of tech’s legal liability shield for hosting or moderating users’ content won’t “dispose of the case.” Gorsuch suggested he would return back to this topic later on.

The Verge
Kagan points to the motivation behind the content moderation laws.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan alluded to what brought the Florida content moderation law about: platforms’ decisions to exclude speech of anti-vaxxers and insurrectionists.

“That’s what motivated these laws, isn’t it?” Kagan asked.

Whitaker earlier said common carriers have “always conducted their businesses” according to “general rules of decorum.” But he noted that “upwards of 99 percent of what goes on the platforms is basically passed through without review.”

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Arguments have begun in Moody v. NetChoice.

You can tune in directly on the Supreme Court’s site.

Live Oral Argument Audio


“Why do the stupid M&M machines have facial recognition?”

A student at the University of Waterloo in Canada asked that in a post showing a vending machine error message that revealed a facial recognition app had failed.

Student publication mathNEWS found that the machine’s maker, Invenda, advertises that it gathers “estimated ages and genders of every client.” But don’t worry, Invenda told Ars Technica the machines are “fully GDPR compliant.”

The school is reportedly removing the machines.

A picture of an out-of-order vending machine message showing the error pop-up.
Oops, you weren’t supposed to see this.
Image: SquidKid47
The Verge
The Justice Department has released its answer to Google’s antitrust trial brief.

Filed in conjunction with a coalition of states, it’s making an argument that should be familiar to trial-watchers: Google is paying billions of dollars a year to stifle competition in the search market, and advertisers and consumers are facing the fallout.

Google is not focused on spending its money, attention, and time on improving general search and search advertising because it does not have to. Recognizing how such evidence would land with the public, regulators, and courts, Google attempted to obscure these facts. ... Despite these efforts the record is clear: consumers have little choice, lose out on better products, and sacrifice their privacy — with advertisers paying higher prices — because there are no meaningful alternatives to Google.

Closing arguments are expected in May.