As the technological realm becomes more pervasive, whom can we trust? Each week, Liberty Nation brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception.
Alexa, Donate to Candidate X
Alexa is the handy home assistant who helps with everyday tasks, from switching off your lights hands-free to revealing the weather forecast. Now, Alexa is going political. In addition to serving as a conduit for “objective” news on elections, she is now capable of sending political donations on your behalf.
Amazon recently announced on its blog that “Presidential Candidates can sign up to receive campaign contributions via Alexa.” The company stated:
“All candidates are invited to make use of this technology — on-boarding is simple and doesn’t require any technical experience. Starting next month, customers will be able to simply say, ‘Alexa, donate to [candidate name]’ to contribute up to $200 to any participating candidate’s campaign fundraising efforts.”
Alexa Political Contributions accepts donations from US citizens or lawful permanent residents over the age of 18. Only presidential candidates who sign up for the service will be able to receive donations through Alexa — assuming that every candidate is eligible to sign up, that is.
Alexa already accepts contributions to charities; however, to avoid running afoul of Federal Election Commission guidelines, considerably more data must be collected for political donations, including the contributor’s name, address, employer, occupation, and citizenship status. This service is run through the cash-free Amazon Pay, which uses the information from your Amazon account to process payments.
Alexa intends not only to facilitate your ability to support presidential candidates but also to provide you ever-more detailed information on those candidates. According to Amazon, “We federate across hundreds of information sources, and we collaborate with nonpartisan organizations to provide customers with information on polls, ballots, results and more” to provide news on the election. It continues:
“As the 2020 U.S. Presidential election nears, we’ll be building on last year’s election experience and adding even more ways for Alexa to provide the information that matters most to you this election cycle — including support for new questions and features to keep you up to speed …
“And if you’re looking to get a refresher on how the election process works, an update about who’s in the running and who’s not, the timing for the next debate, or simply learn more about a candidate’s stance on a particular issue — just ask Alexa.”
The company adds, “Alexa herself does not have opinions on politics or candidates.”
Facebook’s Identity Crisis
With social media censorship a hot issue right now, there has been talk about the difference between a “publisher” and a “platform” or “utility.” Under Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act, online service providers are immune from liability over content posted by users — unlike publishers, who are liable for the content they publish.
Today, social media platforms find themselves in an awkward position: They want to discriminate against certain viewpoints yet do not wish to become liable for every single message posted on their websites.
As part of its ongoing lawsuit with right-wing activist Laura Loomer — who is suing the company for infringing on her free speech by deactivating her account — Facebook positioned itself as a “publisher.” The company expressed its First Amendment right not to publish certain content and urged the court to dismiss Loomer’s complaint. “Under well-established law, neither Facebook nor any other publisher can be liable for failing to publish someone else’s message. The First Amendment provides absolute protection for such decisions,” the motion claimed. Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act does allow interactive services to engage in ”‘Good Samaritan’ blocking and screening of offensive material” to restrict content “that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.” However, this does not seem to be the basis for Facebook’s motion against Loomer; instead, the company focused on its First Amendment rights.
Essentially, Facebook declared itself a publisher that is entitled to censor material it does not wish to disseminate. This may open up the company to a tidal wave of legal problems, however, as it has so far avoided labeling itself in such a way and may no longer find itself immune under Communication Decency Act if it pursues this direction. In fact, Zuckerberg insisted in front of Congress that Facebook is a “tech company” and not a publisher but that it was still responsible for the content.
Loomer’s team responded to the motion:
“This raises three important questions.
“The first is whether Facebook’s admission will cost it its Section 230 protections. If that happens, then will Zuckerberg be held legally liable for lying to Congress? Finally, if Facebook is a publisher, could it face a defamation lawsuit for banning the likes of Loomer, Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones, and Paul Joseph Watson, and labeling them ‘dangerous individuals trafficking in hate’?”
Facebook’s admission may seem careless, but perhaps the company is taking a calculated risk: Once this lawsuit is over, it may face a few defamation suits, but it may also have gained the legally recognized power to censor its content at will.
That’s all for this week from You’re Not Alone. Check back in next Monday to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.