Google is certainly known for being a daring company, but there are not very many that would think of Google as a financial regulator. Yet on Wednesday, that’s exactly the role Google took on itself when it decided that it would not run payday loans any longer.
These are short term loans that usually have annual interest rates exceeding 300%. This move by Google will definitely have a negative effect on the lenders, since, according to Pew Charitable , it makes up approximately 33% of the payday loan market. A payday lenders trade group claims that Google’s actions discriminate and are effectively a kind of censorship.
Is it censorship?
It would seem that because Google is a private company, and not the government, it would not be considered censorship. Private companies have the right to create their own ‘rules of play,’ however, because Google has such a huge volume of digital advertising that runs through its massive network, it is powerful enough to achieve change quickly. But is that authority similar to that which the government holds?
It is anticipated there will be a rise in protests if powerful technology companies continue to utilize their influence to move their causes forward in society. Just this week, Facebook was accused of not including articles that were too conservative in its trending list. Last month, PayPal, a powerful online payment company, publicized that it’s canceling its North Carolina expansion to protest the new law in the state limiting bathroom access for transgenders.
Another side to the matter
However the causes these companies are siding with are not always progressive. Take Uber, for example, who treats its drivers as independent contractors so they are not covered by most labor laws.
There is a fascinating pattern developing that is far more subtle than an out of control power grab by corporate America.
Google might proclaim this move is simply putting the balance back in the hands of the borrower. PayPal might proclaim that it did what it did because of civil rights. To some degree, corporate power is kept in balance by numerous laws and regulations that includes those against unsafe working conditions, discrimination, and unfair competition. For example, PayPal would be in huge trouble legally if it fired employees that supported the North Carolina bathroom law.
What about Facebook?
It can be very difficult to recognize the problem, never mind diagnose it. A good example of this is the current Facebook debate. It is not yet clearly understood just how extensive the bias in Facebook’s trending list was. An article in The New York Times’s cited past employees who claim that articles were included or excluded not on their political point of view but rather on their apparent credibility.
However, even if Facebook was to suppress all right-wing articles, which would destroy its reputation, reduce its credibility, and weaken its business, it would not be illegal. That’s because the freedom of speech is guaranteed in the same way for any news organization.
Still, because the First Amendment protects Facebook, it gets to operate under few external constraints as it helps determine what shows up in users’ streams. Or as Glenn Greenwald, a founding editor of The Intercept, put it on Twitter, “Aside from fueling right-wing persecution, this is a key reminder of dangers of Silicon Valley controlling content.”
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