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The Dangers of Tech Firms’ Safe Harbor: CEO Daily

Good morning.

Over the weekend, I caught up with a piece published last week by Bloomberg Businessweek provocatively titled, “The 26 Words That Got Us Into This Mess.” The words in question are part of section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which allows Internet service providers to escape responsibility for the junk published on their platforms. Back then, the tech companies were the little guys—Facebook and Google didn’t even exist—and the law was supposed to provide a “safe harbor” that would allow Internet startups to flourish.

Today, of course, those startups have become Big Tech, and those words have shielded the companies from liability for now numerous well-known atrocities. The latest is the notorious website 8chan, which was the venue of choice for the venom spewed by the El Paso terrorist. Cloudfare, which hosted 8chan, belatedly terminated the service. Belatedly is a word that seems to apply to virtually every tech effort to ban hate speech, false content, etc. You can thank Section 230 for that.

The Businessweek piece, which you can read here, provides the history of Section 230, and is a case study in how the most well-intentioned legislation can go wrong. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that it was a mistake. Time for a change. The giant tech companies have become our leading sources of information and need to be held to a higher standard.

News below.

Alan Murray
[email protected]


Cathay Pacific

Protests are getting more fractious in Hong Kong, with police yesterday using tear gas and non-lethal ammunition to flush protestors out of train stations. Now Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific, which already had to cancel hundreds of flights during a general strike, has suspended a pilot for taking part in the protests. This comes following pressure from the Chinese aviation regulator to vet Cathay’s crew for dissenting activities; the airline’s stock dropped 4% as a result. CNBC

Trade War

Goldman Sachs no longer believes there will be a U.S.-China trade deal before the 2020 presidential election, and expects tariffs targeting the remainder of Chinese exports to the U.S. to go into effect. The bank said recession risks are increasing as a result. Reuters

China Crypto

The People’s Bank of China says it will soon release its own cryptocurrency, designed to replace cash in circulation rather than generate credit. The move comes amid pressure from outside players such as Facebook with its central-bank-bothering Libra cryptocurrency. Bloomberg

Authentic BlackRock

BlackRock is buying a controlling stake in Authentic Brands, the company that owns the brand rights to Marilyn Monroe and that also recently bought former Fortune stablemate Sports Illustrated. The $870 million deal demonstrates the asset manager’s entry into the private equity game—several months ago it raised $2.75 billion for its first PE fund. Financial Times


Luxembourg Change

Luxembourg’s finance industry is resurging, with Brexit providing a boost—some companies are choosing the tiny duchy as their new EU base, with London set to leave the bloc. Luxembourg may have once had a reputation for secrecy, but the LuxLeaks scandal revealed which companies were receiving juicy tax breaks there, and now it’s trying to present itself as a transparent financial center. Fortune

Child Labor

Many of Amazon’s Alexa devices have been made by Chinese schoolchildren who were illegally required by contractor Foxconn to work nights and overtime, according to reports. Foxconn says it was fixing the situation, and Amazon said it was “urgently investigating these allegations.” Guardian

Huawei TV

Huawei has launched its first product that uses its new, proprietary operating system, HongmengOS or HarmonyOS. Its use of the new operating system was necessary given the uncertainty over blacklisted Huawei’s continuing ability to use Google’s Android OS, but the new product in question isn’t a phone, it’s a smart TV. The idea is to use HarmonyOS across all sorts of devices. CNBC

Trump Conspiracies

Democratic presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker have slammed President Trump for propagating a conspiracy theory that pegs the death of accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein on the Clintons. O’Rourke said Trump’s retweet of a conservative comedian’s theory was designed to deflect attention from last weekend’s mass shootings. Reuters

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer. Find previous editions here, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters here.