Antitrust ruling against Google search would hurt free speech online, says legal scholar

Google Free Speech Antitrust First Amendment

Google search results are protected free speech, argues legal scholar and blogger Eugene Volokh. And because of this, any antitrust ruling against Google that would force changes to the order of its search results wold be a violation of Google’s First Amendment rights.

As Volokh, who teaches at the UCLA School of Law, explains in detail in a Google-commissioned white paper published Wednesday, the order of search results is akin to the layout of a newspaper; newspaper editors have the right to choose which stories to run, where in the paper to run them, and how much space to give these stories. Similarly, Google has the right to choose the order in which its search results appear — even if that means pushing links from Google competitors lower in the stack.

“The judgments are all, at their core, editorial judgments about what users are likely to find interesting and valuable,” Volokh wrote. “And all of these exercises of editorial judgment are fully protected by the First Amendment.”

Volokh’s white paper, written with attorney Donald Falk at Google’s request, comes amid an antitrust investigation of Google by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). A number of businesses have accused Google of unfair competition practices, which are illegal under Section 5 of the FTC Act, for promoting its own products over that of its competitors. The companies who claim to have lost significant traffic and revenue include Expedia, Trip Advisor, Yelp, and others.

The FTC has not yet decided whether or not to bring an antitrust lawsuit against Google, or how exactly to go after the Internet giant if it does. However, such a suit looks likely, as the Commission opted to bring in renowned litigator Beth Wilkinson, an attorney with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison who is best known for convicting Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, to lead its investigation.

Part of the difficulty for the FTC is that Google’s service is free, which makes it difficult to prove that consumers are hurt by its link-bumping practices. Furthermore, a variety of other search engines exists, so anyone who doesn’t like how Google does things can easily use another service instead. As Google has long maintained, “competition is one click away.”

If the FTC does decide to go after Google for breaking antitrust laws, the outcome could have sweeping consequences for both Google and the Web at large. According to Volokh, if the FTC wins an antitrust lawsuit against Google, it could fundamentally undermine all forms of free speech online.

“What can be said about Google, can be said about newspapers, encyclopedias and a wide range of information sources,” said Volokh in an interview with The Hill. “I would be very worried if I were any other speaker on the Internet.”

“You can’t restrict speech just because it’s unfair,” he added.

Critics of Google’s search practices argue that the First Amendment does not allow companies to undermine competition.

Image via Margaret M Stewart/Shutterstock

Product Review

Don't hate. Samsung's first 8K TV dazzles even without 8K content

Samsung gave us a day to put its Q900 85-inch 8K TV to the test, and we did our level best to poke holes in its performance. In the end, the TV proved it is worthy of its existence, even if 8K content is nowhere to be seen.

Hinge's new feature wants to know who you've gone out on dates with

With its new "We Met" feature, Hinge wants to learn how your dates are going with matches in its app. That way, it can inject the information into its algorithm to provide future recommendations that better suit its users' preferences.
Smart Home

Google is porting some Home Hub features to other smart displays

Google is proud of its new Google Home Hub, but in a surprise move, it's bringing many of the features associated with the new device to all the Google-enabled smart displays in its ecosystem, as well as some competing devices.
Home Theater

Brainwavz Blu 300 wireless earbuds deliver major water resistance at a low price

Brainwavz is known for its mid-range offering like the quad-driver B400 or the 3D-printed B200, but that's not all the company does, as proved by its latest product, the Blu 300 wireless earbuds.

You need a website, and these tools will help you make it

We compiled a list of the best website builders, both paid and free. If you don't want to pay for someone to make your website and want to do it yourself, this roundup should point you in the direction you want to go.

Google to shut down Google+ after exposure of 500,000 users’ data

After Facebook revealed that 50 million users may have been exposed as a result of a security vulnerability, Google announced it discovered a bug that left 500,000 Google+ users exposed. It will also shut down Google+.

Google Slides now auto-transcribes verbal presentations for real-time captions

A new feature for the Google Slides presentation software uses a computer's built-in microphone to transcribe the words of a speaker in real time, displaying them for everyone to see.
Social Media

Sick of Facebook privacy scandals? Here's how to protect your personal data

With a number of security scandals in 2018, it has us questioning if we should get rid of Facebook. Here's how to protect your personal data without deleting your account, as well as how to just nuke the thing altogether.

Pixel 3, Home Hub, and Pixel Slate — our first look at all Google’s new devices

Google has taken the wraps off of a slew of new devices, including the Pixel 3 smartphones, Google Home Hub smart display, Google Pixel Slate tablet, and more. We were at the event, and took a ton of photos of all of Google's new products.

Spotify vs. Pandora: Which music streaming service is better for you?

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.

PayPal will soon let you withdraw cash at Walmart, but there’s a catch

PayPal has teamed up with Walmart to allow its account holders to withdraw and deposit cash at the store. The service launches at all Walmart stores across the U.S. in early November, but there's a catch.

Here's how to download a YouTube video to watch offline later

Learning how to download YouTube videos is easier than you might think. There are plenty of great tools you can use, both online and offline. These are our favorites and a step by step guide on how to use them.

Carbuying can be exhausting: Here are the best used car websites to make it easier

Shopping for a used car isn't easy, especially when the salesman is looking to make a quick sale. Thankfully, there are plenty of sites aimed at the prospective buyer, whether you're looking for a sedan or a newfangled hybrid.

How to recover Google contacts

If you accidentally deleted an important person from your Google Contacts, they might not be lost forever. Recovering them is a fairly easy process -- as long as you do it quickly. Here's how.