Weekend Roundup: Facebook, Twitter, and the Battle Over Section 230

It’s the weekend! Before we call it a week, let’s revisit some of the biggest tech stories of the past few days, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comments at a Congressional hearing that might hint at the future of the web. 

Facebook, Twitter, and the Brewing Battle Over Section 230

Will the U.S. Government revamp Section 230, changing the internet as we know it in the process? That was the question hovering over a major U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing this week. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg were among those testifying, and they pushed back against Senators’ accusations that Section 230 is encouraging bad behavior on the part of the tech industry. 

In essence, Section 230 spares websites and social networks from having to take responsibility for potentially defamatory content; for example, you can’t sue Facebook because a user posts a mean comment about you on their profile page. However, website and social-network administrators also have a responsibility to moderate traffic in some ways—otherwise, blatantly illegal and harmful content would spread online. 

During the hearing, Republican senators argued that tech CEOs and administrators have overstepped their bounds by de-platforming or blocking political content (especially Twitter, which has blocked links to articles about political controversies, and posted fact-checking messages next to President Trump’s Tweets). 

While many technologists are aggressively in favor of Section 230, Zuckerberg used the hearing to suggest he’s open to additional legislation: “We support the ideas around transparency and industry collaboration that are being discussed in some of the current bipartisan proposals.” 

In theory, we could see legislation passed that would force websites and social networks to open up their moderation policies to public scrutiny, as well as move quickly to obey any court orders about removing content. In turn, that could have a substantial impact on how everyone from website administrators to web developers do their jobs. 

Hospitals Facing Cyberattacks

As if there wasn’t already enough going on, hospitals are reportedly facing a wave of cyberattacks. According to The New York Times, hackers based in Russia are targeting 400 hospitals. The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Health and Human Services have already issued warnings.

What do the hackers want? Money. Experts hypothesize this latest round of attacks might be retaliation for the takedown of Trickbot, a notorious botnet. Microsoft and government agencies collaborated on Trickbot’s dismantling, which in turn may have irritated the hackers who depended on it for revenue

Apple: The Next Search Engine Giant?

Even as Google faces government anti-trust scrutiny over its search-engine dominance, Apple might be moving to build a search engine of its very own. 

According to TechCrunch, there’s some evidence that Apple’s at least kicking the tires on a full-fledged engine: “The most visible change is the fact that in iOS 14, Apple is now showing its own results when you type queries in the home screen. In addition, there seems to be an increase in activity from Apple’s web crawler.”

Three years ago, Apple also hired Google’s head of search, John Giannandrea, although his official role is A.I. and Siri. And given the company’s cash reserves, they could hire pretty much all the talent they needed to launch a web crawler. 

But should Apple compete with Google in search? It’s worth remembering that Google currently pays Apple billions of dollars to be the default search engine on iOS—money that Apple wouldn’t want to give up except in the most extreme circumstances. And unlike Facebook, Apple doesn’t compete directly with Google for ad dollars, so there’s not a lot of financial incentive to spin up a search rival.

On the other hand, Apple is a company whose guiding ethos has always been to do everything in-house. That’s why Apple launched a Maps app, rather than continuing to rely on Google. So it’s possible to see a future where Apple decides to launch its own search product—especially if the U.S. government does something to curtail Google’s reach.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Stay safe.