The Cyberlaw Podcast: Have Facebook and Google Cornered The Market On Antitrust Troubles?

Stewart Baker
Wednesday, January 19, 2022, 1:36 PM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

Just one week of antitrust litigation news shows how much turbulence Facebook and Google are encountering. Michael Weiner gives us a remarkably compact summary of the many issues, from deeply historical (Facebook’s purchase of Instagram) to cutting edge tech (complaints about Oculus self-preferencing). In all, he brings us current on two state attorney general cases, two Federal Trade Commission cases and one Department of Justice case against the twin giants of surveillance advertising. 

Speaking of litigation, no major new technology has been greeted with more litigation in its infancy than face recognition. So this week we interview Hoan Ton-That, CEO of what must be the most controversial tech startup in decades—Clearview AI. We probe deeply into face recognition’s reputation for bias, and what the company is doing about it. Hoan is clearly taking the controversy in stride and confident that the technology will overcome efforts to turn it toxic. Meanwhile, I note, the debate is clearing out what would have been formidable competition from the likes of Microsoft, Amazon and IBM.  If you think face recognition should be banned as racist, sexist and inaccurate, this interview will make you think.

Meanwhile, David Kris notes, rumors of war are rampant on the Russian-Ukrainian border—and in cyberspace. So far, it’s a bit of a phony cyberwar, featuring web defacing and dormant file wipers. But it could blow up at any time, and we may be surprised how much damage can be done with a keyboard. 

Speaking of damage done with a keyboard, open source software is showing how much damage can be done without even trying (although some developers are in fact trying pretty hard). Nick Weaver and I dig into the Log4j and other messes, and the White House effort to head off future open source debacles. 

David is in charge of good news this week. It looks as though Russia has arrested a bunch of REvil co-conspirators, including one person that the White House holds responsible for the Colonial Pipeline attack. It’s surely not a coincidence that this hint of cooperation from Vladimir Putin comes when he’d very much like to have leverage on the Biden administration over Ukraine.

The EU is now firmly committed to cutting off the continent from a host of technologies offered, often free, by Silicon Valley. Google Analytics is out, according to Austrian authorities, even if this means accusing the European Parliament of violating European law. Nick reminds us that this isn’t all the services that could be cut off. Google Translate also depends on transatlantic data flows and could become unavailable in Europe. I offer an incendiary solution to that problem. 

Secure messaging is still under attack, but this week it’s European governments taking the shots. The UK government is planning an ad campaign against end-to-end encryption, and Germany is growling about shutting down Telegram for allowing hate speech. Nick issues a heartfelt complaint about the disingenuity of both sides in the crypto debate.

Speaking of Germans who can’t live up to their reputation on protecting privacy, Nick notes that German police did exactly what Gapple feared, using a coronavirus contact-tracing app to find potential witnesses. Meanwhile, in good news, let’s not forget Twitter, whose woke colonialism led it to suspend Nigeria’s president for threatening secessionists with war. Turns out it was easier to go to war with Twitter, which has now unconditionally surrendered to the Nigerian government

Finally, I claim kinship with Joe Rogan as one of the podcasters that bien pensant NGOs and academics hope to censor. My plan is to create a joint defense fund to which Joe and I will each contribute one percent of our podcasting revenues.

Download the 390th Episode (mp3) 

You can subscribe to The Cyberlaw Podcast using iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Pocket Casts, or our RSS feed. As always, The Cyberlaw Podcast is open to feedback. Be sure to engage with @stewartbaker on Twitter. Send your questions, comments, and suggestions for topics or interviewees to Remember: If your suggested guest appears on the show, we will send you a highly coveted Cyberlaw Podcast mug!

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.

Subscribe to Lawfare