Computer Ethics, Fall 2023

Monday Oct 2, class 5

Class 5 Readings

Read chapter 2 of Baase on privacy

Before class 2, finish reading chapter 1 and read the first three sections of chapter 4.

The Google Trial

Judge Amit Mehta is routinely granting requests to seal documents and testimony. He shouldn't. (Apparently there are now daily conferences at the trial to determine which documents should be sealed, which is probably a step forward.)

The Amazon Trial

This has now started, under the direction of FTC Chair Lina Khan. The question is whether Amazon raises prices for consumers. In the beginning, Amazon was a good deal for consumers. Then the lock-ins began. Start with Prime, where you prepay for shipping. Then there's the issue, where Amazon really did seem to be engaging in predatory pricing, despite the popular legal theory that that was self-destructive: Predatory pricing is bad, but there are a limited number of documented examples here.

Perhaps Khan's strongest theory is that Amazon doesn't allow its sellers to sell for less elsewhere (at their own online site, for example, or through traditional retailers). If you do, you get ranked lower and lower in Amazon's search. And Amazon's fees to third-party sellers (who account for 60% of Amazon's sales) for using its delivery network are rising, so such sellers have to charge more and more to sell on Amazon.

Here's a NYTImes opinion by Cory Doctorow (who is not exactly neutral):

Right now, the FTC is not asking for a breakup of Amazon, but rather an injunction or two to block specific practices. The main target seems to be the don't-sell-for-less-elsewhere rule.

The EU Digital Services Act

This went into effect a month ago. We earlier talked about the privacy requirements. But the law also addresses content moderation. Specifically, it requires removing "disinformation". If Biden says inflation is under control, is that "disinformation"? If Trump says it is not? Actually, the law only refers to "illegal" content, but in the EU a lot more content can be illegal; for example, medical misinformation and state propaganda. Amazon would (finally) be liable for illegal or defective products sold at

Content moderation is extremely difficult. Some people's disinformation is others' gospel truth. Elon Musk is already filing litigation. In the US, the Fifth circuit found the Biden administration's policy of simply notifying social-media companies of misinformation was a violation of the first amendment.


Noam Chomsky says nobody is really a moral relativist

Supreme Court will decide Florida and Texas social-media laws

Both states introduced regulation of social media. Both states forbid "censorship" of some speakers, though the details differ. The appeals court in Florida struck down the law; the 5th circuit upheld the Texas version.

The problem with bans on censorship is that social-media companies have a huge financial interest in keeping their users happy, and hate speech is something that definitely drives users away.

Meta in Myanmar

Protests involving mass murder of the Rohingya minority were organized via Facebook. How much is Facebook to blame?

Facebook has worked hard in Myanmar, and in many other countries, to make accessible at low cost. In many cases access is "zero-rated"; that is, data to and from is transmitted for free.

Facebook clearly did not have any idea how much its service would be used to organize attacks on the Rohingya.


    Supreme Court cases


Non-governmental privacy