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FCC Chairman says he will to ‘clarify’ tech legal shield, Section 230

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Chairman Ajit Pai, Chanirman of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington.

Aaron P. Bernstein | Reuters

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Thursday he plans to move forward with rulemaking to “clarify” the scope of Section 230, an important legal shield for tech companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter.

Section 230 protects tech platforms from being held liable from their users’ posts. It also allows them to moderate content in good faith without repercussions. The law was passed in the early days of the internet in the 1990s as part of the Communications Decency Act, but lawmakers across the political spectrum have since called for it to be revised as the tech companies have grown to massive scale and influence.

Politicians disagree about how that should be done. Democrats want to preserve protections that allow platforms to remove harmful and harassing content. But Republicans want to root out alleged anti-conservative bias by limiting the scope of those protections.

In a statement, Pai said the decision came after the FCC’s general counsel determined the agency has the legal authority to interpret the statute. The Department of Commerce petitioned the FCC to “clarify ambiguities in section 230” after President Donald Trump issued an executive order in May. The order directed the FCC to set new rules on platforms’ protections under Section 230 and came after Twitter added fact-check labels to Trump’s tweets for the first time.

It’s not clear how the FCC would seek to clarify Section 230, but it would almost certainly narrow its scope.

Tech companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter invoke Section 230 widely in court to dismiss frivolous lawsuits, often with success. If their protection under the law is limited, it could force them to rethink their business models entirely. Depending on how the rules are worded, some platforms might take a more hands-off approach to moderation avoid liability, which could reduce user satisfaction and engagement. Others might take more responsibility to curate and screen content, like a news publisher would, which would increase their costs of doing business.

In his statement, Pai referenced a recent filing by conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, where he wrote it “behooves” the court to determine the “correct interpretation” of Section 230. Thomas wrote that “many courts have construed the law broadly to confer sweeping immunity on some of the largest companies in the world,” and added that there’s reason to reconsider.

“Social media companies have a First Amendment right to free speech,” Pai said in the statement. “But they do not have a First Amendment right to a special immunity denied to other media outlets, such as newspapers and broadcasters.”

WATCH: How the internet is regulated


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Samsung Q3 2020 earnings, forecasts weak demand amid competition

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A South Korean flag, left, and Samsung Electronics flag fly outside the company’s headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, on July 5, 2019.

Jean Chung | Bloomberg | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Samsung Electronics on Thursday said it expects a decline in profit in the three months that will end on Dec. 31 due to weak memory chip demand and intense competition in the smartphone and consumer electronics.

The world’s top smartphone maker announced a 59% year-on-year jump in operating profit to 12.35 trillion Korean won (about $10.89 billion) for the July-September quarter, which was in line with earlier guidance. Samsung said it was partly due to a boost in demand for smartphones and consumer electronics — sale of smartphones, including new flagship models like the Galaxy Note20, saw a near 50% jump in sales.

Samsung shares fell 1.19% in early trade, tracking the overall decline in the South Korean market where the Kospi index was down 1.27%.

“Looking ahead, Samsung Electronics expects profit to decline in the fourth quarter amid weakening memory chip demand from server customers and intensifying competition in mobile phones and consumer electronics,” the company said in a statement.

Low prices for memory chips used by servers in data centers are likely to weigh on the main profit-making semiconductor business in the last three months of 2020. Demand for chips used in smartphones, personal computers and graphics processing units, used for gaming consoles and PCs, is predicted to rise, Samsung said.

The mobile business will potentially see smartphone sales decline, according to the South Korean tech giant. But the displays unit, which counts Apple as a customer, is set to see a significant rise in mobile panel sales from the third quarter due to new smartphone launches.

For next year, Samsung predicted a recovery in overall global demand but said uncertainties will remain over the coronavirus pandemic.


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Good years for Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, other giants

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Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Tesla shed $270 billion

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Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Tesla shed $270 billion