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Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos, in many ways embody those capitalistic values that have made ours the strongest economy in the world. Bezos, as owner and publisher of the Washington Post, has kept that paper among the most prominent in the world. In Colorado, we have thousands of good paying jobs at Amazon facilities. And as consumers we benefit from the efficiency of their product delivery service.
Yet, while we've come to praise Amazon and Bezos we also need to be honest about a darker side.
Killing Free Speech, a provocative and thought-provoking two-part documentary has been censored and is not available on Amazon. Killing Free Speech is not the first work by Danish-American documentary producer Michael Hansen that has incurred the wrath of Amazon. A previous work on mass migration and militant Islam in Europe was similarly given the boot.
And it is not just voices from the right that have been subjected to censorship. Left wing radical Michael Moore's Planet of the Humans was dropped for an extended period from YouTube over a spurious copyright beef. Citizen K, a withering portrait of Vladimir Putin and the post-Soviet Kleptocracy, was also pulled from Amazon. Censorship of views that are not popular with tech giants is growing and we need to address the issue honestly and openly.
Censorship is just plain wrong. And no, these are not merely private actors exercising business decisions. These are companies who operate on publicly regulated airwaves, on cable systems that are similarly regulated and operate businesses that always have their hand out for more and more governmental subsidies.
It invites the question of what must Amazon be afraid of? Why are they so thin skinned?
Thomas Jefferson wrote that "Our Liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost." Today the platforms for delivering political views are different than at the time our nation was founded, but this basic and immutable concept still remains true.
Even if you are totally apolitical you should still be very concerned by Amazon's behavior.
It is widely reported that popular and innovative streaming services such as Peacock, HBO Max and AT&T TV are not available to consumers on Amazon's Firestick and FireTV, which are industry-leading.
Yet favored companies like Hulu, Disney and Netflix are readily available on those Amazon devices.
Most suspect this disparity is due to data sharing arrangements that only favor Amazon but cost consumers the right to access whatever services they want. Consumers should be free to choose, and they should also know what personal data is being shared with who and for what reasons. For example, when my son and I watch The Lion King on Disney+, we aren't also signing up to let others know it's time for a new order of diapers and wipes.
Moreover, during this time of pandemic, many Coloradans are doing their part by staying at home. Students are taking their lessons at home using a variety of content options. With the growing importance of video streaming services, it is essential that access be fully transparent and open.
On July 27, Bezos and the CEOs of Apple, Alphabet and Facebook appeared before the House Judiciary Committee, where Coloradan Reps. Ken Buck and Joe Neguse each asked tough and pointed questions. But one hearing is not enough. They need more follow up - to include bringing other senior officials from those companies before the committee.
Buck, as a former Assistant United States Attorney and a District Attorney, along with Neguse, former executive director of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, are uniquely qualified to address these issues and posed fair but tough and challenging questions. Former Prosecutor Buck, in particular, asked probing questions of Bezos concerning highly unethical Amazon practices. More of the same needs to happen to hold these giants of the tech world accountable.
It is interesting that all four of these tech giants advocated for so-called "Net Neutrality" regulations on the internet; and yet they currently violate some of the most essential net-neutrality principles. For example, Google and Apple both engage in "paid prioritization," while Amazon blocks competing streaming services. These companies are calling for net neutrality rules on every other internet user and yet they violate those rules themselves.
The tech giants don't just manipulate their platforms to exclude commercial competitors; they exclude ideological ones as well. Much of the focus in this regard has been on Facebook, Twitter and Google - but Amazon, the world's dominant online retailer, has also, to use Google's terminology, "shifted towards censorship." The tech giant is a digital book-burner, censoring books it considers to be too politically controversial, including criticism of Islamist extremism.
Congress, and in particular Representatives Buck and Neguse, should continue to probe into the anti-competitive behavior of Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple. There should be more hearings where these CEOs and leaders are forced to answer questions on the record. In Colorado we have many high-tech companies and want to attract more - by standing up to the 'Big Four' they will be standing alongside the job creators in the fast-growing Colorado Tech Sector. Many of my newest constituents moved to Colorado Springs for jobs in the tech sector - a trend I want to foster and grow.
Congress needs to enact legislation to protect the concept of an open internet that applies to all parts of the internet ecosystem -- including the Big Tech companies.
This is not a partisan question by any means - tough questions were posed by both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. There is lots of talk of bipartisanship - maybe this is one area where we can actually make it happen.
Dave Williams serves in Colorado's state House of Representatives.
Tags: Opinion, Op-Eds
Original Author: Dave Williams
Original Location: Keep up the pressure against Big Tech censorship