The Cyberlaw Podcast: The Ad-Based Internet: Is The Roof Caving In, Or Just A Few Rafters?

Stewart Baker
Tuesday, February 8, 2022, 8:32 AM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
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Another week, another industry-shaking antitrust bill from Senate Judiciary:  This time, it’s the Open App Store Act, and Mark MacCarthy reports that it’s got more bipartisan support than the last one. Maybe that’s because there are only two losers, and only one big loser: Apple. The bill would force an end to Apple’s app store monopoly. Apple says that would mean less privacy and security for users; Mark thinks there’s something to that, but Bruce Schneier thinks that’s hogwash. Our panel is mostly on Bruce’s side of the debate. Meanwhile, Apple’s real contribution to the debate is the enormous middle finger it’s extending to other regulators trying to rein in Apple’s app store fees.

Megan Stifel reports that Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber issues, has been traveling Europe to beef up our allies’ cyber defenses as a Russian war looms in Ukraine. Details about how she’s doing that are unsurprisingly sparse.

Meanwhile, Europe is finally coming to grips with the logical consequences of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for the internet as we know it. Turns out, the whole thing is illegal in the EU. The Belgian data protection authority brought down a big chunk of the roof in holding the IAB liable for adtech bidding procedures that violate the GDPR. And a German court fined some poor website for using Google fonts, which are downloaded from Google and tell that company (located in *gasp* America) a lot about every user who goes to the website. Nick Weaver explains how the tech works. I argue that the logical consequence is that GDPR outlaws providing IP addresses to get data from another site—which is kinda how the internet functions. Nick thinks the damage can be limited to Facebook, Google and surveillance capitalism, so he isn’t shedding any tears over that outcome. This leads us to a broader discussion of Facebook’s travails, as its revenue model becomes the target of regulators, Apple, TikTok, Google, liberals and conservatives—all while subscriber growth starts to stall.

I remind listeners of Baker’s Law of Evil Technology: “You won’t know how evil a technology can be until the engineers who built it begin to fear for their jobs.” 

Megan and I break down the American Airlines lawsuit against The Points Guy over an app that syncs frequent flier data. I predict American will lose—and should.

Mark and I talk about the latest content moderation flareups, from Spotify and Rogan to Gofundme’s defunding of the Canadian lockdown protest convoy. Mark flogs his Forbes article, and I flog my latest Cybertoonz commentary on tech-enabled content moderation. Mark tells me to buckle up, more moderation is coming.

Megan tells the story of PX4, who is hacking North Korea because it hacked him. Normally, that’s the kind of moxie that appeals to me, but this effort feels a little amateurish and ill-focused.

In quicker hits, Nick and I debate the flap over, and I try to rebut claims that face recognition has a bias problem. Megan explains the brief fuss over a legislative provision that would have enabled more and faster Treasury regulation of cryptocurrency. Speaking of Section 230, Mark touches on the Senate's latest version of the EARN IT bill, as the downsizing continues. I express surprise that Facebook would not only allow foreigners to solicit help from human traffickers on the site but would put the policy in writing.

Download the 393rd Episode (mp3) 

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The views expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not reflect the opinions of their institutions, clients, friends, families or pets.


Stewart A. Baker is a partner in the Washington office of Steptoe & Johnson LLP. He returned to the firm following 3½ years at the Department of Homeland Security as its first Assistant Secretary for Policy. He earlier served as general counsel of the National Security Agency.

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