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  • John O'Rangers

Big Tech Censorship


By now most of you have probably heard about the controversy surrounding "Big Tech" and censorship. I wanted to take some time to explain in layperson's terms what has occurred and some of the issues surrounding the matter. First, I want to be clear with everyone that I do not wish to discuss the politics of this situation. CDC is a business that welcomes people from all walks of life and appreciates everyone. So as a business owner who serves the community, it is not appropriate for me to take partisan positions. Just the facts, Ma'am.


OK, in a nutshell what has occurred is that the big social media platforms have been actively censoring or flat out suspending accounts of those they believe project a political position contrary to what appears to be their own. The most notable has been President Trump, who has been deplatformed from Twitter, which is a social media platform where he was most active. There have been other prominent pundits and various political figures who have also been kicked off some of these platforms. This has raised the argument of whether or not free speech is being violated. The situation is very fluid and controversial to say the least, and people have varying opinions on it.


The waters have been further muddied due to another social media platform that has been completely shut down by the tech companies due to what they claim are violations of their terms of agreement. The platform is called Parler, and it is a competing social media platform that welcomed free speech and limited its censorship guidelines. Their goal was to provide an alternative to the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, and they were having some success. They are a small operation, and have been reliant on technologies that made them vulnerable.


What has occurred with Parler is that Big Tech shut them down. Now how did they do this? Parler created Android and iOS apps, in addition to a website based version. Google and Apple kicked them out of their respective stores and currently have banned them from mobile devices. Interestingly, Parler was, prior to the shutdown, at or near the top of most popular App downloads, yet the two largest companies, Google and Apple, decided that they didn't like them and kicked them out. They cited terms of service, however the people from Parler contend that they were not in violation of their terms of service. The argument is currently being litigated, and where it goes at this time is an unknown.


Parler's battle with Apple and Google is only part of the problem though. Their hosting service has also cut them off. I'm no expert in this area, but what's important to realize is that whether it's a website or a big social media platform, there is someone out there with a computer server that has to host it so users can access it from the Web. Remember, whenever you use the Internet, the reality is that you're connecting to another computer somewhere. In Parler's case, they had 8 million users, so their hosting needs are very high. You're not going to run something like that on a little desktop in an office somewhere. It requires access to large servers in massive data centers throughout the country.


So the problem is, who has the lion's share of these big servers? Big Tech does, and Parler, like many other platforms, pays for this server space. Who is the big fish with this server space? The one and only Amazon of Jeff Bezos fame. They are a leader in this area, and tons of companies use them for their hosting services. Microsoft is a big player in that game, as are a few others. So what occurred is that Amazon turned around and ALSO kicked Parler off their servers, citing terms of service and other issues. What it all boils down to is that all the Big Tech companies appear to have worked together to muscle Parler out of business. There may be more to the story we don't know, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.


Parler is currently the most visible entity that's going through this, but they're not the only one. YouTube is getting controversial because they are owned by Google. Google appears to be using their might to push competing video platforms out of the way in favor of their interests in YouTube. The most notable competitor is a company called Rumble, and they are going through litigation over this matter. They have demonstrated that YouTube is being used to push the big name operators, such as TV networks, movie houses, and other deep pocketed clients. Small time video makers seem to be unable to get any traction on that platform. They've shown where someone can start a channel on YouTube and maybe get 10,000 subscribers, yet the same person can go over to Rumble and get 500,000 just like that.


And on top of that, it is alleged that Google is making it hard for Rumble videos to show up in search engines. So as I understand it, if you search on Google for videos of "Cute Puppies", for example, the search will find a video on YouTube, but if the same exact video is on Rumble? Nowhere to be found. So that issue appears to be one of contention, and where it ends up I do not know. But it's important to understand what is going on.


Now let me turn the page towards hardware, which is CDC's wheelhouse. No one is really talking about this save for the Right to Repair movement. Like what Parler and Rumble are going through, independent repair shops like CDC have been living with this for quite some time. Big Tech has long been doing various sneaky tactics to block repair of your device by anyone other than their own entities. There are many examples of this, from Apple's embargo of SMC chips for MacBooks, to various pairings of components and so forth. It's a real hassle, and the marketplace's demands for repair are not being met because of this behavior.


Let me give you a current example of what's going on with hardware. The iPhone 12 I'll pick on, not because I'm trying to tick off Apple, but because it's just a fact. Apple has been incrementally encrypting components on the iPhone for several year now. But we'll stick with the current model because it says enough. Let's say your i12 has a rear camera failure, OK? You bring it to CDC, we replace the camera. OK fine. Only one problem...the image shakes. It won't stop shaking unless the phone is connected to and Apple server, where it basically sends a code back to "approve" the component, and then it stops shaking. The display and battery is similarly encrypted. Unless it's paired, you get a pop up message that says "Unable To Verify That The Display Is Genuine". Samsung is also doing similar moves with their newer phones.


So with that being the situation with hardware, you might ask "OK Mr. John at CDC, if that's the case, why aren't YOU getting in touch with Apple and Samsung and acquiring the tools" Look I'd love to, but guess what? They won't do it!!! They absolutely refuse to make any of these tools and parts available. Everything I buy is from independent wholesalers who import the stuff directly. Occasionally third party companies figure out how Apple does things and develops their own tools, but that's becoming increasingly harder to accomplish due to the sophistication of the technology. So it's clear that, like Parler and Rumble, Big Tech is aggressive against small entrepreneurs like CDC, that much is clear.


So what can be done about it? It will be interesting to watch the Parler and Rumble situation, because they could theoretically change the game. The problem we face is that companies like Apple are private organizations, so while banning people from their platforms is questionable, it probably isn't illegal. First amendment matters typically apply to the public sphere, not the private one. So if you go out to the town square and yell that pigs can fly, if the police come by and take you away, that might be a violation of your first amendment rights. But if you do the same thing at your job and the boss fires you, that's likely not a violation because it happened in a private setting. There are varying interpretations of all of this, but what I'm saying is generally the correct guideline to follow.


I don't feel that first amendment violations will fly in any litigation against Big Tech. I also have been against Right to Repair, not because they do not have a point, but because I don't feel their solutions will work. Getting the government to compel Apple to sell parts and tools to anyone and everyone probably won't fly because they're a private company. Where I do think they'll have more success is in anti-trust arguments. If Apple or Samsung doesn't want Parler, they can do that, but the fact that the entire industry has blockaded them is where the argument lies. If you can't run a competitive enterprise because the competition has that much power, that's a problem.


So my personal opinion? No, I don't think you can expect any of these companies to be forced to let Parler in on the action and no I don't think Right to Repair as it is presently structured would be successful. But I do think anti-trust will be successful, and we have history on our side with that. Some of you old enough might remember the Ma Bell/AT&T breakup in the early 1980s. That I think is a good model to look at. In that case, AT&T had such control over telecommunications, that competing companies couldn't even get off the ground. The battle went on for several years in the 1970s, until eventually AT&T realized they were going to lose and voluntarily broke themselves up. I won't get too detailed on that situation, but what I can say is that Big Tech seems to be similar in what is going on.


So that's the story my friends. The politics are one thing, but overall I think the situation has greater implications that just partisan leanings. Everyone is affected because we live in an age where Big Tech's products are part of our daily lives. We have to ask the question if we are being served fairly by these entities, or have they accumulated too much unchecked power?



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