Power

Oracle pushed Section 230 reform to spite Amazon and Google. Then came its deal with TikTok.

Will the company's views on the law change if its TikTok proposal goes through?

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison

With Oracle's new proposed deal with TikTok, Section 230 proponents are enjoying the irony and hoping that they've won a new ally in their fight just as Congress looks again at paring back the law.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Oracle doesn't need Section 230 for any of its core services, but it knows that its rivals Google and Amazon do. So for years, the company has been working behind the scenes in Washington to gin up excitement around reforming the law and carving away at the protections it offers.

With its new proposed deal with TikTok, that Machiavellian plot changes overnight. Section 230 proponents are enjoying the irony and hoping that they've won a new ally in their fight just as Congress looks again at paring back the law.

"One of the things that I'm optimistic about is now that [Oracle] has potentially real skin in the game with respect to social media and online consumer-facing services, they will not only appreciate the necessity of Section 230, they'll become a strong defender of it," said Carl Szabo, the vice president and general counsel of tech trade group NetChoice, which counts TikTok as a member.

But Ken Glueck, Oracle's firebrand top lobbyist, tempered those expectations and played down Oracle's yearslong work on the issue. "Not sure 'agitating against Section 230' is an accurate description," Glueck said in an email to Protocol. "But, sure, we do believe 230 needs to be changed, and we've said that."

"That all said, this isn't something we work on day to day," Glueck added.

The frenzy around Section 230 has elevated importance right now as the Senate gets closer to taking up the controversial EARN IT Act, a bill intended to combat online child sexual exploitation by slimming down Section 230 protections for tech platforms. People involved in the talks around the EARN IT Act told Protocol that Oracle has been largely silent on the bill, and its lobbying records do not show any lobbying on the legislation so far.

"What is the EARN IT Act?" Glueck asked in the email.

But the EARN IT Act is the most serious threat to Section 230 since FOSTA-SESTA, a similar online sex trafficking law that was signed into law in 2017 to the chagrin of many online platforms. And Oracle played a vital role during the fight around FOSTA-SESTA as one of the only major tech companies supporting the legislation.

In September 2017, the authors of FOSTA-SESTA touted "support from tech giant Oracle for the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act" in a press release including Oracle's official letter in support of the law.

"Frankly, we are stunned you must even have this debate," Glueck wrote in the letter, which is a thinly veiled shot at Google, Amazon and Facebook. "Your legislation does not, as suggested by the bill's opponents, usher the end of the internet. If enacted, it will establish some measure of accountability for those that cynically sell advertising but are unprepared to help curtail sex trafficking."

Rick Lane, a former lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce and 21st Century Fox who has played a central role in advocating for Section 230 reform on Capitol Hill, said Oracle's voice, as well as IBM's, played an outsized role in pushing FOSTA-SESTA through to the finish line.

"I think as a major technology company, [Oracle's] voice was very important because it showed that there are tech companies that share the goals that we had, which was modifying [Section 230] to ensure for the safety and protection of the online users," Lane said.

Ultimately, FOSTA-SESTA passed following an intensive negotiating process with the top tech giants. But there are still bruises over Oracle's involvement.

One tech industry source who was involved in the FOSTA-SESTA negotiations said Oracle has been the prime example of "a company that doesn't rely on Section 230 for any business line, but they viewed it as something that would harm their competitors."

Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University Law School and co-director of the High Tech Law Institute, put it more bluntly: "To the extent that Google values Section 230, Oracle opposes it; it's pretty much like a schoolyard-taunting type of game," he said.

Oracle's fight against Section 230 didn't end with FOSTA-SESTA. Oracle has lobbied directly to pull Section 230-like language out of trade agreements. And the company has funded a number of dark money groups that explicitly target Section 230, including the Google Transparency Report and, more recently, the Internet Accountability Project, a conservative group that advocates against the power of Big Tech. Oracle gave between $25,000 and $99,999 last year to the initiative, according to its own political activity report.

Oracle is IAP's only known funder, although the group says it receives money from multiple sources. Rachel Bovard, senior adviser for IAP and a longtime Capitol Hill aide, told Protocol that she'll continue advocating for Section 230 reform no matter what, but declined to comment on whether Oracle will change its position and what that could mean for IAP.

There are still many outstanding questions around how Oracle's partnership with TikTok is going to work, including the amount of responsibility that the cloud-computing giant will have for the app. And critics have pointed out that Oracle has deep ties to the Trump administration, throwing into question whether the entire deal has been tainted by politicized favoritism.

But TikTok is facing yet another significant obstacle as the Section 230 debate intensifies, and insiders will be watching to see whether Oracle goes to bat for its new asset or continues to crusade against its rivals.

"As Oracle moves into the realm of content moderation, removing election interference or hate speech, they will quickly appreciate that it is Section 230 that allows them to keep TikTok as the kind of platform that its users have come to expect," said Szabo.

With Andrew Bosworth, Facebook just appointed a metaverse CTO

The AR/VR executive isn't just putting a focus on Facebook's hardware efforts, but on a future without the big blue app.

Andrew Bosworth has led Facebook's hardware efforts. As the company's CTO, he's expected to put a major focus on the metaverse.

Photo: Christian Charisius/Getty Images

Facebook is getting ready for the metaverse: The company's decision to replace outgoing CTO Mike "Schrep" Schroepfer with hardware SVP Andrew "Boz" Bosworth is not only a signal that the company is committed to AR and VR for years to come; it also shows that Facebook execs see the metaverse as a foundational technology, with the potential to eventually replace current cash cows like the company's core "big blue" Facebook app.

Bosworth has been with Facebook since 2006 and is among Mark Zuckerberg's closest allies, but he's arguably gotten the most attention for leading the company's AR/VR and consumer hardware efforts.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.


Keep Reading Show less
Nasdaq
A technology company reimagining global capital markets and economies.
Protocol | Fintech

Here’s everything going wrong at Binance

Binance trades far more crypto than rivals like Coinbase and FTX. Its regulatory challenges and legal issues in the U.S., EU and China loom just as large.

Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao is overseeing a global crypto empire with global problems.

Photo: Akio Kon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Binance, the largest global crypto exchange, has been hit by a raft of regulatory challenges worldwide that only seem to increase.

It's the biggest example of what worries regulators in crypto: unfettered investor access to a range of digital tokens finance officials have never heard of, without the traditional investor protections of regulated markets.

Keep Reading Show less
Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at tgeron@protocol.com or tgeron@protonmail.com.

Protocol | Policy

Facebook’s scandals have obliterated any goodwill left in Congress

Lawmakers were supposed to wade into questions about Big Data's effect on competition. Instead, their vitriol at Facebook was unending.

Image: Alexander Shatov/Unsplash

In the wake of last week's damning series of reports about Facebook, senators at a hearing that was initially supposed to be about competition instead unleashed their ire on the firm, comparing it to Big Tobacco, suggesting it lied to Congress and all but accusing the social network of profiting off teens' anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

The bipartisan parade of fury on a politically salient issue lasted hours on Tuesday. Senators focused particularly on a Wall Street Journal report about the company's careful research into the corrosive effect of Instagram on young users' mental health. But the show, coming during a hearing that was supposed to examine the impact of Big Data on competition, was also the latest evidence that Congress' periodic fits of anger at tech companies and the way Facebook obsessively deflects can create a loop that gets in the way of what Washington actually wants to do.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

How tech is inventing better ways to read the internet

The market for read-later apps is heating up again, and the apps are much smarter this time.

The reading experience of the internet sucks. But some startups are trying to fix it.

Illustration: cihanterlan/Getty Images and Protocol

The internet, as a reading experience, is mostly terrible. The heavy pages riddled with ads and trackers, the unexpected pop-ups, the bespoke designs that in too many places end up broken. Over the years, many have tried to fix this problem — Google with AMP, Facebook with Instant Articles — and none have succeeded. It can often feel like things just keep getting worse.

Ben Springwater certainly felt like things were getting worse. In 2016, he was working at Nextdoor, lamenting with one of his colleagues, Rob Mackenzie, that reading on the internet was so complicated. The reading experience was part of the problem, but so was the internet's unlimited supply of stuff. "It completely boggles the mind that so much of this stuff is really excellent, this life-changing stuff we could read," Springwater said. But there's only so much time in the day. "So we have filters: We go to Twitter, we check the headlines or what comes into our inbox. But those decisions for most of us are really suboptimal, relative to the potential of what we could be reading."

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Latest Stories