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The Big Story: The Supreme Court Takes On YouTube Algorithms

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What happens when you take nine Supreme Court justices – who are “not the nine greatest experts on the internet” – and force them to untangle the nuances of YouTube’s algorithms?

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard the case of Gonzalez v. Google, which seeks to hold YouTube responsible for showing ISIS-related content that radicalized individuals.

Whether YouTube’s algorithms were  “neutral” – or if neutrality even matters– was one point of debate. Perhaps, as Justice Clarence Thomas said, YouTube is simply recommending pilaf videos to people who like cooking pilaf and ISIS videos to people who like ISIS.

“If, however, YouTube’s thumbnail previews of ISIS videos and pilaf videos make it a publisher, it wouldn’t be protected under Section 230.”

For two hours on Tuesday, the justices barraged the lawyers in Gonzalez vs. Google, talking through nuances of YouTube thumbnails and getting into legal discussions about the true definition of the term “featured.” The term “featured” implies curation, which pushes YouTube more into publisher land.

Our assessment (and that of legal experts) is that the Supreme Court will let Section 230 stand for YouTube. But the theme of tech platforms enabling terrorism could spark another type of judgment.

On Wednesday, the court heard another terrorism-related case – Twitter, Inc. v. Taamneh – which questions whether Twitter aided and abetted terrorism in violation of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

Kochava takes on the FTC

To continue the legal theme, we turn to another courtroom drama unfolding in Idaho near the headquarters of Kochava.

On Tuesday, Kochava argued to dismiss the Federal Trade Commission’s case against it for selling sensitive location data.

While there hasn’t been a decision yet, the judge indicated he was unlikely to dismiss Kochava’s complaint, but the FTC may have to amend its complaint to be more specific.

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And there’s yet another twist in this case: The FTC is losing its Republican commissioner, who is leaving because she disagrees with FTC chair Lina Khan’s leadership. By airing her public grievances, she may give ammunition to companies the FTC is targeting for unfair or deceptive practices.

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