The social media site Gab.ai is accusing Google of violating federal antitrust laws when the tech giant booted Gab from the Google Play Store, according to lawsuit filed Thursday. The legal action is the latest salvo in an escalating battle between right-leaning technologists and leaders against Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook and Google.
Gab alleges in the lawsuit that “Google deprives competitors, on a discriminatory basis, of access to the App Store, which an essential facility or resource.”
Snark aside, the WashPost story actually seems trustworthy. They did manage to label Gab (correctly) as right-leaning while not mentioning which way Google leans, but they give enough other details to portray Google’s actions as blatant political discrimination:
Google banned the social media platform from the Google Play Store last month, citing violations of Google’s hate speech policies. Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, had become an active user on Gab after a succession of companies refused to service his site. Gab also counts other controversial right-wing figures among its users, including Milo Yiannopoulos and Andrew “weev” Auernheimer.
“In order to be on the Play Store, social networking apps need to demonstrate a sufficient level of moderation, including for content that encourages violence and advocates hate against groups of people,” Google said.
But never mind that, because Google has the right to do so, and Gab’s attempt to deploy governmental force against Google is even more contemptible.
Never mind that Gab’s argument doesn’t (to this layman’s eye) hold legal water, because the essential facilities doctrine only applies to “competitors” and, despite Google’s occastional pretense otherwise, Google isn’t in the social-media business. Let’s look instead to ethics and rights, in this case freedom of association.
Put plainly, Google has the right to refuse to host or distribute something on its platform. If you don’t like it, use a different platform
If you don’t like the Google search engine, there are plenty of others. If YouTube annoys you, you can go to Vimeo, Vid.me, or Twitch. And if you can’t get onto the Play Store, use F-Droid, or do what Gab and F-Droid already did and offer the APK for direct download. Unlike the bad old days where you had to go through the whole extra step of getting an APK-installer app, more recent versions of Android can install APKs all on their own, with just a change in your phone’s settings.
And if you’re looking for a principled social media company, don’t bother. Gab is still valuable, because it doesn’t have the same hangups and biases as Twitter does, but its leadership chose self-interest over principle the very first time the choice presented itself. And the next Gab, unless it’s run by saints or bodhisattvas, will disappoint just as quickly.