🗞️ Congress' new beef with Amazon

  
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This week: Lawmakers feel misled by Amazon and Facebook could feel some Section 230 heat. Plus, North Carolina notches an affirmative action victory.


🔥 Lawmakers are investigating whether Jeff Bezos misled Congress 

Whatever anyone thinks of Amazon’s dominance, it hasn’t done anything that could violate criminal laws in the U.S. Could that be changing because of executives’ recent appearances in front of Congress?

  • They addressed the House Judiciary Committee last year: Among other things, the executives, which included Bezos, said they did not provide an edge to Amazon’s own products in search results, per the NYT

  • Two news stories cast doubt on what they said: Reuters and the Markup have reported Amazon has copied versions of products made in India and goosed search to get its own lower-rated products seen ahead of higher-ranked items, respectively. 

So in the eyes of some legislators, their testimony from last year was misleading 

And that’s in their most charitable reading of the events, according to the NYT. “At worst, it demonstrates that they may have lied to Congress in possible violation of federal criminal law,” the group of five lawmakers said.

  • The lawmakers also said they were considering reporting their concerns to the DOJ for a potential investigation.

The Verdict

It’s always difficult to separate political bluster from a real accusation, and the story could easily end before any investigation. The lawmakers have asked for exculpatory evidence from Amazon to prove they did not deliberately provide misleading info, according to NPR.   


🤷 Could Facebook be exempted from Section 230? 

The latest bad news for Facebook has to do with everyone’s favorite internet law: Section 230, which protects companies from legal damages for postings made by users. 

  • As we all know, Facebook has been under fire even more than normal in recent weeks: As part of all that, whistleblower Frances Haugen explained how Facebook uses algorithms to place user-created content in front of other users.

  • Normally under Section 230, internet companies would be protected for any of that content: But in response to Haugen’s comments, per The Verge, Democratic lawmakers have filed a bill that would exempt companies from that protection if they used algorithms that led to harmful content appearing for other users.   

The bill would apply to all social media companies

Twitter and YouTube, notably, also use algorithms to get content in front of people. But this is clearly a response to Facebook. 

The Verdict

The law isn’t quite as strict as it sounds. As The Verge notes, “Companies could seemingly still use large-scale analytics to recommend the most popular general content.”


🖋️ North Carolina wins a major affirmative action lawsuit 

Affirmative action has been challenged again and again in recent years. But after a key ruling regarding the University of North Carolina, the practice remains relatively unscathed. 

  • The case targeted a fairly basic use of affirmative action: The plaintiffs, a group known as Students for Fair Admissions, sued North Carolina for using race as part of its admissions process, according to ABC, contending that the practice violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and put white and Asian students at a disadvantage.   

  • UNC has said its race considerations are necessary: It wants to have a more diverse student body, a goal it says is allowed under the Constitution.

The judge agreed with UNC

Her reasoning was in line with what courts across the country have said for decades -- that diversity can lead to educational benefits and seeking those benefits is a genuine and compelling interest for a university.

The Verdict

Students for Fair Admissions said it would appeal the ruling. The group has another lawsuit against Harvard (which it already lost) and would like to see both suits argued before the Supreme Court.


💌 What else we're forwarding

Remote bar exams are still not going well: It’s year two of the pandemic, and students had major issues with remote bar exams, especially in California

Dogs in the courtroom?: They are sometimes used by prosecutors to get child witnesses to feel confident enough to take the stand, but lately, defense teams have had some issues with the pups.


🎧 Music we’re working to

Today we’re listening to Vivian Koch, a Berlin-based electronic music producer. In May 2021, she released her second album, Beyond Contact. With 6 tracks and a run time of just over 30 mins, Koch combines percussion with synthesizers to create an album full of fun and eccentricity.

Beyond Contact - Vivian Koch (30m, no vocals)
Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube Music / Amazon Music


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See ya next week!

✌🏽 Raad