Computer Ethics, Fall 2023 online, class 5

Thursday Sept 28

Class 5 Readings

Read chapter 2 of Baase on privacy


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.


Privacy vs Children

This is proving to be an intractable conflict. Here's an article by a privacy group, suggesting that the Thorn organization, which works to protect children from abuse, does "profit" from the EU visibility, and makes serious money selling its database to US law enforcement and others.

It is clear that, if the EU image-scanning proposal goes through, it will be expanded to cover terrorism the next time there's a big incident. It's less sure at what point narcotics trafficking will be added. The article above does not really have any examples, though, of clearly inappropriate benefit.

Noam Chomsky says nobody is really a moral relativist

What do Computers have to do with privacy


Sakheim & Gur


Microsoft v US