The US Justice Department plans to propose changes to a legal shield enjoyed by companies such as Google and Facebook amid criticism that the tech platforms carry material that promotes illicit conduct and suppresses conservative opinions.
The Justice Department is concerned that tech companies are expanding beyond the original intent of the liability provision, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, in order to immunise them from laws, Jeffrey Rosen, the department’s No. 2 official, said at a conference in Washington.
“After 25 years it seems that the time has come for Congress to assess what changes to Section 230 are now needed,” Mr Rosen said. “When all is said and done, we’d like to see the benefits maintained and enhanced while the harms are mitigated.”
Meanwhile, the Justice Department should expand its antitrust investigation of Alphabet’’s Google to include the internet giant’s conduct in online search, in addition to digital advertising, two US senators said.
Missouri Republican Josh Hawley and Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said that the department’s inquiry appears to be too narrowly focused on advertising even though the company is a monopoly in internet search, “where the opportunities for anticompetitive conduct are substantial”.
“It is critical to remember that the company’s primary function is supplying a search engine to users,” they wrote to US Attorney General William Barr.
“Narrowing the investigation’s focus such that Google’s anti-competitive practices to dominate the online search market is not captured does a grave disservice to consumers,” they said.
The senators’ plea comes before a Senate hearing that will examine claims that internet platforms like Google favor their own services over those of rivals.
Executives of Yelp, which has long complained that Google is thwarting competition in the market for local searches, plans to tell senators on the competition subcommittee that reports the Justice Department is focused on Google’s conduct in the digital advertising market are a concern.
“Making the focus too narrow would be a grave mistake,” Luther Lowe, Yelp’s senior vice president for public policy, said in written testimony.
“You can’t look at Standard Oil without looking at oil. You cannot investigate Google without looking at search,” he said.