Friday, June 22, 2012

Tim Wu: Computers Don't Inherit Their Programmers' Free Speech Rights. But Why Shouldn't They?

Tl;dr In an earlier post, I argued that it is important to recognize that search results should be treated more like editorial content than as mere assertions of fact. Titan of Internet Law, Prof. Tim Wu of Columbia Law, frames the argument differently, and though I think we fundamentally agree, it is worth clarifying why I find his characterization somewhat troublesome. Summary: It is more important to subject automated speech to First Amendment analysis, even if weakened as the result of considerations due to its commercial and automated nature, than to categorically exempt it from procedural constitutional protection. 

Edit/Update: Techdirt has weighed in, and it is gratifying to see that a lot of the same arguments I made below are made by Mr. Masnick and the scholars he references.

Well, I'm stepping right into the line of fire on this one. Prof. Wu is pretty brilliant, I often agree with him, I find him deeply insightful, and, basically, for me to disagree with him is kind of like an ant pulling on Superman's cape. That aside, I do disagree with Prof. Wu's position on this issue, and I think that some law actually backs up my point. For the purposes of this post, I'll call the speech in question -- results of search engines, automated ranking algorithms, stock ratings, etc. -- automated speech.

To summarize Prof. Wu's argument, it appears to be something like the following:
• 1. Automated computer output, by default, should not receive full First Amendment Protection;
• 2. It doesn't make sense to say that automated output should 'inherit' the constitutional rights of the authors of the automated processes;
• 3. It would be troublesome to see First Amendment defenses to Anti-trust arguments.

So I'll make three points in response.

1. Analysis of 'automated speech' should begin with a determination as to whether it qualifies for speech. IT should not assume that such speech fails to qualify as speech by default. Established law demonstrates that many types of automated speech qualify for copyright protection, and it is very confusing to assert that something that is the subject matter of copyright should not be treated as speech.

• First off, Google's ranking database should qualify as a compilation, as defined by 17 USC 103(a). This alone should merit copyright protection.
• Second, in both CCC Information Services, Inc. v. Maclean Hunter Market Reports, Inc. 44 F.3rd 61 (2nd Cir. 1994) and CDN Inc. v. Kapes, 197 F.3d 1256 (9th Cir. 1999) it is clear that compilations which are based on the expert judgment of facts -- in the former case, predictions of car prices, in the latter, coin prices -- are sufficiently creative to merit copyright protection.
• In my opinion, Google is therefore not only the subject of copyright protection as it is a compilation, but, based upon the above case law, it is also creative, as it is the result of expert judgment. Both the above cases are silent on the issue of whether judgment can be the result of an algorithmic process, and, in my eyes, it is irrelevant. (If anyone has any contradictory authority, please send along!)

This leads us to a confusing position, wherein Prof. Wu is arguing that things that qualify for copyright protection should not be treated as speech by default -- I think his assertion is that they need to be 'justified' as speech. I am arguing the inverse, that the default rule should be an assumption that automated speech is speech, and then the burden would be on the challenging party to prove otherwise.

I could be wrong on this, but, from what I understand, while there are many actions that count as "speech" that are outside of copyright, there are no copyright rights that are outside of the realm of speech. The subject matter of copyright, for reference is defined as:
(a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:
(1) literary works;
(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;
(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;
(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
(7) sound recordings; and
(8) architectural works.
(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.
I just cannot conceive of a hypothetical situation wherein it would be the case that something that is copyrightable is not speech, but I may well be wrong. Either way, it makes me deeply uncomfortable to think that there could be a situation wherein a copyrighted work is categorically not speech -- perhaps I can come up with a really elaborate architectural example, but it would necessarily rest on the total separation of the form of an architectural work from any artistic, cultural or social commentary whatsoever. That is deeply unsettling.

2. The assertion that the output of automated processes designed by humans, exercising their first amendment rights, should not receive the same procedural analysis as outputs of those humans themselves, seems to be an arbitrary distinction. 

I'd argue that Wu's reasoning:
Defenders of Google’s position have argued that since humans programmed the computers that are “speaking,” the computers have speech rights as if by digital inheritance. But the fact that a programmer has the First Amendment right to program pretty much anything he likes doesn’t mean his creation is thereby endowed with his constitutional rights. Doctor Frankenstein’s monster could walk and talk, but that didn’t qualify him to vote in the doctor’s place.
Is conclusory. It doesn't state why this should be, just that it is. Personally, I just do not see why the act of a human applying each set of transformations to a set of input data magically imbues it with 'speech-hood,' as opposed to a computer performing this process by proxy. It is perfectly reasonable to me, for instance, that the creativity necessary to reach the bar of speech is met in the creation of a ranking algorithm and the selection process for its data inputs. Let's put this another way: a regulation covering algorithms that produce publicly viewable results is directly a regulation on the freedom of speech of the programmers that programmed the algorithm, and, additionally, such a regulation is unlikely to produce predictable results, much less results desired by legislators or consumers. I simply cannot see a way around the free speech analysis as a result.

It appears to me that Prof. Wu is basically asserting that when you have an intermediary process between human thought and output, you break the status of speech-hood. This doesn't sit well with me, as we rely on increasingly on technology to express speech, and, importantly, art.

For instance, I use photoshop a lot, and it produces a tremendous variety of effects that I would in no way be able to create with my own hands -- yet my photoshopped images receive full First Amendment protection, despite the fact I have used a variety of totally automated effects and algorithmically based filters in their execution. The same applies for audio editing software and video editing software.

I think Prof. Wu is held up on the semantic nature of text, but I think, increasingly, as NLP becomes more sophisticated, this line will be increasingly hard to draw. I currently have, in the "Services" menu of my Application menu on my Mac, a choice called "Summarize." It uses an algorithm to create synopses of text I have highlighted. Should this automated summary not receive protection as speech? What about the contrapositive? It will not be long before I can feed shorthand notes into MSWord and it will produce full english text, or at least a close enough approximation that it would fool an 8th grader. Should this not receive protection either? A colleague of mine has pointed out that he feels Prof. Wu is hung-up on this because automated drafting of this kind is currently rudimentary, but it will increase in sophistication rapidly over the coming years. I agree.

The point is, I think that the distinction Prof. Wu is insisting on is artificial, and doesn't accurately map to real world use or user expectation.

3. Google has not asserted a First Amendment defense against anti-trust violations, but that is due to the reasons that there are no good anti-trust claims and other defenses are available.
To Google’s credit, while it has claimed First Amendment rights for its search results, it has never formally asserted that it has the constitutional right to ignore privacy or antitrust laws.
I won't reproduce the whole argument here, I'll just refer again to my previous blogpost. Suffice it to say, and, again, I'm not an expert in this topic, but I feel the anti-trust arguments against Google are pretty thin.

Conclusion
To give computers the rights intended for humans is to elevate our machines above ourselves. ...
And that’s where theory hits reality. Consider that Google has attracted attention from both antitrust and consumer protection officials after accusations that it has used its dominance in search to hinder competitors and in some instances has not made clear the line between advertisement and results. Consider that the “decisions” made by Facebook’s computers may involve widely sharing your private information; or that the recommendations made by online markets like Amazon could one day serve as a means for disadvantaging competing publishers. Ordinarily, such practices could violate laws meant to protect consumers. But if we call computerized decisions “speech,” the judiciary must consider these laws as potential censorship, making the First Amendment, for these companies, a formidable anti-regulatory tool.

That top comment is the one that gets me: it's nonsense and it is fear-mongery. As Prof. Wu himself stated many times, a point I agree with, a point that is one of the foundational pillars of my argument, is that the analysis must start with First Amendment considerations, but may well, and probably should, wind up determining that automated speech has less protection than core speech because of the precise reasons that Prof. Wu has cited. No one is saying that automated speech should have the same status as core speech, and absolutely no one is saying that machines should have more rights than humans. All I am saying is that the analysis needs to start at the same place, where Prof. Wu seems to be suggested it can be circumvented altogether.

The issue that I believe Prof. Wu is getting at is that if we assume that automated speech is, in fact, speech, it makes it harder to regulate. So? It should be hard to regulate, and as Prof. Wu has himself asserted, because automated speech is often commercial in nature, and compounded with the fact that it is, in fact, automated, it is entitled to less First Amendment protection than core, political speech by a human. I am okay with this. 

Additionally,  I can see virtually no benefit from making it easier to regulate automated speech: legal attempts to regulate code are often ham-fisted, sometimes disastrous, and, at best, extraordinarily difficult to craft well, especially at the hands of a luddite legislature. For instance, I can see no reason to assume that lawmakers telling Google how to mess with its ranking system would in any way benefit consumers -- Google's smartest competitors have failed to come up with a system as effective as Google. Why should we assume a bunch of lawyers on Capitol Hill have anything meaningful to say about their algorithm?

If legislators want to regulate automated speech, the proposed regulations should have to face the rigor of First Amendment analysis rather than circumvent such analysis by default simply because there is an automated intermediary between the author and the content. If it turns out that automated speech deserves less protection than other types of speech, this should be decision based on First Amendment analysis, not based on skipping the analysis completely.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Charles Carreon: Plot Thickens as Internet Collectively Realizes He Has a Pretty Serious Disciplinary History

Tl;dr Lawyer Charles Carreon, representing himself pro se against theOatmeal's Matt Inman, the American Cancer Society and National Wildlife Foundation (good luck with that), apparently has a pretty serious history of being censured by the courts for misconduct. I therefore nominate him Jack Thompson 2.0.

According to Wikipedia:
In October 2005, Carreon was suspended by the Oregon State Bar for 60 days for the unlawful practice of law and failing to deposit or maintain client funds in trust.[11] In September 2006, Carreon was also suspended for two years by the State Bar of California, stayed, and placed on two years of probation with an actual 60-day suspension for violating his duty to maintain client funds in trust, and for practicing without a license in Canada.[12]
Please note that these are not trifling matters. It is drilled into your head constantly in law school that mishandling client funds is just about the worst thing a lawyer can do, short of lying to a tribunal or straight up committing felonies. It is understandable that one could mess up... but twice, for the same charge? This is less excusable, particularly in the added presence of a censure for practicing without a license in not one, but two jurisdictions. I think the top comments on reddit pretty accurately summarize the situation:
callipygian1 144 points 1 hour ago
as a retired lawyer, i know we have many assh*les in our profession, but damn few wikipedia-grade assh*les.

BaconCat 30 points 50 minutes ago
I propose a new classing system for assh*les, with wikipedia-grade assh*les being the top tier.

At this point, it is safe to say that the internet has officially labeled Charles Carreon a "Wikipedia Grade Assh*le." Can this somehow make it into his Wikipedia entry?

What do Spoilers Spoil? The Fun.

Tl;dr Stanley Fish, consistent with his character, has a rant castigating the phenomenon of 'spoiler alerts' - it is simultaneously condescending, clueless and socially inept. Spoiler alerts are not about messing up the experience of seeing a movie or reading a book, they are about social grace and communal experience.
To summarize his argument, Stanley Fish has simultaneously asserted that:
1. Actually alerting readers/viewers to spoilers is beneath his dignity;
2. People who get upset at a lack of spoiler alerts are actually incorrect, whether they know it or not, because some spurious 'science' that he cites says that they actually like having plots spoiled;
3. Any work that can be 'spoiled' is trash.
I disagree.

I harbor a rather strong dislike for Stanley Fish's NYTimes column. First off, he is a professor of law who did not go to law school, and, usually, when I read his columns about law, I find that this fact shows. Additionally, I find his opinions regarding education to be consistently condescending, and ranging from cluelessly elitist to pridefully elitist.

Edit/Update: Mr. Fish's recent post about hate speech is actually rather well measured. I don't agree with all of it, but it is thoughtful and even-handed, and a worthwhile read. Please note I'm not saying Mr. Fish isn't a talented writer, or that his opinions universally lack merit: he often has very insightful stuff to say. However, I often find his tone very to be dismissive, and his approach to education, I believe, is a very good example of a mindset common amongst administrators and educators that contributed directly to the current crisis of higher education in my generation. The crisis is manifest both in terms of unemployment among my generation -- and though this is obviously due in large part to the greater economic situation of the country, it is also due to a lack of practical, applied education and useful skillsets -- and massive debt -- as it appears that Fish holds education in such a privileged position that cost of education is not a factor that is even up for consideration: if you get accepted, you go, end of story. These two positions, taken in tandem, are guaranteed to produce a large swath of debt ridden students with no practical skills, and I think he insists that, somehow, this is okay or 'worth it' due to the intrinsic value of liberal arts education. That is why I call him both condescending and clueless -- not because I think he is personally a jerk (though I call him one for comedic effect), but, because I feel he is callous to the crisis afflicting my generation. Oh, also, I say mean things because they are funny. Typically, however, I only do this in my writing for pleasure: my professional work product is dry and technical, and this blog is my sanity-vent. Back to the regularly scheduled blog.... End edit.

His latest column (and I admit I'm late in penning this response) is no exception. I'll summarize his argument: some recent studies indicate that viewer/reader suspense is heightened if one knows the spoilers of the plot in question. Personally, the way these studies are explained makes me question their validity. For instance:
Scholars have come up with three ways of either de-paradoxing the paradox [ed note: the paradox in question is the heightened sense of suspense despite knowing the spoilers] or denying it. Robert J. Yanal argues that repeaters mis-describe their own emotions; they might feel apprehension or fear in relation to a foreknown event, but they mistakenly report it as suspense: “apprehensiveness is not suspense, though the two often occur together” (“The Paradox of Suspense,” British Journal of Aesthetics, 1996). In short, there is no paradox of suspense.
Consistent with this, the gravamen of Fish's argument is basically that if someone thinks they enjoy spoilers, they are wrong, and science proves it.

Charming.

I don't particularly want to engage with the merits of that argument. Like I said, I think the 'science' above, is questionable. What I want to engage with, however, is the following, brilliantly detailed by his first and last paragraphs:
Over 10 percent of the comments on my “Hunger Games” column brought up the question of spoiler alerts. “Haven’t you heard of a spoiler alert?”, one exasperated reader asked. Another reader, Jim, reported that he was “trying rapidly to withdraw my forward of the article to my wife who’s in the midst of the 2nd book.” He didn’t want his wife’s experience spoiled as it would be, he assumed, if she knew how things turned out. ...

In either case, the spoiler doesn’t amount to much and alerting readers to it is not a high obligation. If “The Hunger Games” is so shallow that it can be spoiled by a plot revelation, the alert doesn’t save much. If “The Hunger Games” is a serious accomplishment, no plot revelation can spoil it.
I think it is safe to say that Mr. Fish is someone that you would simply not want over to dinner, unless you were serving dinner on top of him, because he has the social understanding of a table. I'll explain. [ed note: needlessly harsh, but I think it's funny, so it stays in.]

The allure of 'spoilers' is not only the adrenaline rush of the discovery, which, despite Mr. Fish's insistence otherwise, is a valid sensation, but, importantly the joy and thrill of a 'spoiler' is the shared experience of discovery. It is not an accident that people go out to movies in groups, or that the shared experience of television is what drives ratings, or that talks "at the water cooler" are strong indicia of cultural phenomena. In other words, spoilers are not simply a personal issue, they are about the interpersonal relationships formed around mutually experienced dramatic events. I can only assume Mr. Fish has never seen a movie, play or television show with his family or friends. Either that or they have left in disgust as he explained that there is no Island, Bruce Willis is dead and actually, the Planet of the Apes is Earth. [ed note: terrible movies chosen intentionally.]

Additionally, with regard to the second paragraph, quoted above, Fish is really being a hypocrite. He constantly exhorts people to read and enjoy the liberal arts for their own sake, yet he is implicitly denigrating a series of books that have actually persuaded millions of Americans to read. To put it another way: it is not a sound strategy, when trying to convince people that reading is a worthwhile and noble past-time, to simultaneously assert that books that excite millions of people -- the books driven by spoilers, like Da Vinci Code, everything written by Michael Crichton, half of everything written by Stephen King, the list goes on -- are shallow. I can only assume, that, again, consistent with his character, Fish wishes people were reading books that he personally approves of.

Please be assured, next time Mr. Fish opens his mouth, I'll be there to stick my foot it in.

Monday, June 18, 2012

How to Fail at Internet Lawyering: Charles Carreon v. The Oatmeal / The Internet / Common Sense

Tl;dr Internet Lawyer Charles Carreon is making a really big fool out of himself, after he sued TheOatmeal.com on really spurious grounds, and is now suing the charities that TheOatmeal.com made donations to as a response to the original lawsuit. The situation is totally pathetic, and Carreon is really actively destroying any goodwill he may have had with the netizens of the world.

The fine folks at Techdirt have done an excellent job of reporting on this story. Spoiler: if you are going to advertise yourself at being an internet lawyer, it doesn't help to be clueless at the internet.
If you've been away from the internet for the past week, this story started as an online dispute between Matthew Inman, creator of the webcomic The Oatmeal, and a site called Funnyjunk, which lets users post content to the site. About a year ago, Inman wrote a blog post complaining about Funnyjunk's reposting of his webcomics. As we've noted a few times, Inman's statements about Funnyjunk were overly aggressive -- and did mention "stealing" of his own work. He seemed to ignore that it was users who uploaded the content. However, while we disagree with Inman's original characterization of Funnyjunk and how it operates, it certainly did not reach the level of "defamation." Also, we appreciate that Inman chose not to sue, but rather to make use of the court of public opinion. In response, Funnyjunk lashed out, incorrectly stated that The Oatmeal wanted to sue him (when Inman very clearly stated he had no intention to sue) and also asked a bunch of Funnyjunk users to contact Inman.

Everything seemed to die down, until about a week ago, when lawyer Charles Carreon, representing Funnyjunk, sent a letter to Inman, threatening to sue Inman for the initial blog post, claiming that it was defamation and a Lanham Act (trademark) violation for false advertising. Neither claim makes much sense, and Inman responded with both an excellent letter from (occasional Techdirt contributor) Venkat Balasubramani, and Inman's now famous annotated letter, leading to an IndieGoGo campaign to raise $20,000 (the amount Carreon/Funnyjunk demanded from Inman) for two charities: The National Wildlife Federation & the American Cancer Society.

Following that, Carreon told MSNBC he intended to shut down the fundraisers, and then bizarrely accused Inman of "instigating security attacks" against his website. Finally, on Friday he told Forbes that he wasn't backing down and that there had to be "something" in the California code that he could sue Inman over.

Apparently he's found something. As reported by both Ken at Popehat and Kevin at Lowering the Bar, Courthouse News has a notice saying that Carreon has filed a lawsuit in the federal district of Northern California. And, as mentioned above, he doesn't just sue Inman, but also IndieGoGo and the two charities. Yes, the two charities. I'll repeat that again: Charles Carreon appears to be suing two of the most well known charities because Matthew Inman asked people to donate to them.

It gets better. Read on here. Please, click that link and send some traffic Techdirt's way. And if you don't read them regularly, you should. Update: Also, the response from TheOatmeal's Lawyer is really, really good.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The .gif is 25 Years Old, So Let's All Make Sure to Pronounce it Right: JIF

Tl;dr It's pronounced 'jif' not 'gif' -- end of story. So the gif is 25 years old as of June 15th, 2012.

Let's all take a moment to recognize the correct way to pronounce 'gif', right from the horse's mouth:
It's pronounced like "jif". Period. The end. That's final. End of story.

You disagree? Hey, I'm just quoting the inventors of the format. Here's the evidence:

CompuServe used to distribute a graphics display program called CompuShow. In the documentation for version 8.33 in the FAQ section, it states:

The GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), pronounced "JIF", was designed by CompuServe and the official specification released in June of 1987.

There, straight from the inventors of the format.

Convinced yet?
Also, on a personal note: gif, I love you.


Soundtrack.


Enjoy, and, .gif, happy birthday.

Is It Just Me, or is the iTunes Store Throttling its Bandwidth?

Tl;dr I may be entirely wrong, but it appears iTunes store may be throttling bandwidth. Anyone know the full story on this?

Here are two images demonstrating my current concern:




To summarize: despite having decent bandwidth, a 47.4 megabyte mp3 takes 15 minutes to download. However, my math indicates that, with that bandwidth, it should take me just under two minutes to download a file of that size.

((47.4*8)/3.72)/60=1.7

That is one minute forty two seconds. Accordingly, it seems that iTunes is operating at about 11.5% efficiency, or throttling to the tune of nearly 90%.

How's my math?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

WSJ Very Sincerely Doesn't Understand Bandwidth Or Monitor Resolution

Tl;dr The WSJ performs some truly sloppy reporting when it states that the new MacBook Pro, with Retina display, will bring corporate networks to a halt, as they require more bandwidth.

The Wall Street Journal, today, had this to say:
CIOs with loose bring-your-own-device policies might find their corporate networks clogged should employees bring the just-announced Macbook Pro computers to work. Introduced at Apple’s developer conference Monday, the new Macbook Pro is fitted with a Retina display, whose resolution of 2880-by-1800 pixels packed into a 15.4-inch screen is the crispest screen for a computer yet, clearer than Apple’s newest iPad.

But it may also wreak havoc on CIOs’ networks and connectivity budgets — better quality displays require more network bandwidth, which allows users to increase data consumption. Consider that experts told CIO Journal earlier this year that the new iPad, which includes a Retina display of 2048-by-1536 resolution with 3.1 million pixels, would slow enterprise networks to a crawl and increase data costs from carriers. Now imagine how a Macbook with 5.1 million pixels — two million more than the new iPad — will increase data traffic in office networks.
Notice the bolded text. The technical term for this statement is "poppycock."

While it is true that if websites start to offer higher resolution images for consumption on retina displays, this may increase bandwidth demands, the simple act of hooking up a large monitor to your network has precisely zero impact on your bandwidth requirement. None, nadda, {Ø}. If you increase monitor resolution, but the website you are viewing does not serve larger images, the website simply appears smaller on your monitor, or you decrease your monitor resolution to compensate. Increasing your monitor resolution does not magically 'add pixels' to the images you download from the internet.

The above assertion by the WSJ is so flagrantly incorrect that even bothering to explaining why it is wrong is deeply frustrating. One may as well assert, as one redditor put it:
More pixels = more bandwidth It's similar to why my Ipod weighs a ton after I fill it with music.

One may argue that, as more websites seek to offer rich media experiences that are native to the retina display, bandwidth consumption will increase... but again, this has nothing to do with the settings on your local machine (one can argue that websites may auto-detect such settings, but then just instruct your employees to lower their monitor resolution /thread). In fact, at work, I have two 21" wide screen displays, both at 1920x1080, for a total of 4,915,200 pixels. Which is basically the same as the above Macbook. Nearly everyone at my office has this same configuration, and our network is utterly unaffected by this.

No matter what resolution I set my local computer to function on, the internet still serves up the same connection. You can test this, right now: go to your system preferences, and mess around with your display resolution. Then go here: www.speedtest.net. Spoiler: resolution changes nothing. Okay, I've kicked this horse enough.

Suffice it to say, this is just pathetic reporting on the part of WSJ and hopefully will get a retraction and/or correction. It's absurd nonsense.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Passwords in Wallets? Maybe Not So Much...

Bruce Schneier wrote, a few years back, that a good idea for password safety is to write down your passwords and put them in your wallet. I brought this up at work and a coworker immediately pointed out that this would be disastrous if you ever lost your wallet: every form of identification, giving away, among other things, where your bank accounts are, are now in the same location with passwords to those same accounts.

So I have to say, after thinking this through, I don't agree with Mr. Schneier on this one. I wonder if he has also changed his opinion on the matter?

KPCB Internet Trends: Ad Dollars Shifting from Print to Online

Tl;dr Ad dollars aren't evaporating, they are just following eyeballs from off-line to on-line.

Mary Meeker's 2012 "Internet Trends" presentation also serves as the basis for this post -- there may be a few more to come. It really is a great presentation, and worth going through. Anyhoo...

I've talked in some recent posts comparing the value of eyeballs on traditional media to new media.

Below are a few screenshots from Ms. Meeker's presentation, that I think further support my overall point (or, maybe, I actually support hers? Kind of hard for the completely obscure anonymous netizen to claim support from a titan of online industry...)




I think these graphs pretty strongly show that the money is not disappearing, it is just being redistributed. Money is moving from off-line to on-line, and a lot of organizations (read: newspapers, television, radio, movies) are worried that they will not be able to make enough money, or any money, online. I simply do not think the numbers support this proposition, above.

I still argue that online ads, when properly done, can be more valuable than offline ads, because they can actually be targeted to consumers. Of course, I also say this as someone who very rarely clicks on online ads. But then again, I also never really paid attention to TV ads, so I don't think I'm the target consumer. In any event, online advertising provides many more meaningful ways to actually connect with users than offline advertising ever did, and, as it evolves, traditional media outlets will be able to take increasing advantage of this phenomenon. So the money isn't going away, it's just moving around.

KPCB "Internet Trends" Presentation Shows Netizens Happy with Search; EU Commission Still Threating Google with Antitrust Violations Over Its Search Methodology

Tl;dr Netizens appear to be satisfied with the quality and usefulness of search results, yet the EU Commission still insists that Google may need to change search results out of anticompetitive fears. This likely means businesses that are upset about their poor rankings, but this is a morally poor basis (though, perhaps, a legally valid one, time shall tell) for an antitrust action.

Over at Techdirt, Masnick has made several good points about the poor arguments put forth by EU Commission in their current antitrust investigations into Google.
There's been plenty of buzz about the EU Commission basically admitting that it's going to go after Google on antitrust grounds if Google doesn't change certain practices. However, as we've seen with past claims of antitrust issues with Google, when you begin to unpack the complaints, they don't seem to hold up to much scrutiny. There is no argument that Google is a big player, and could be abusive -- but there is little, if any, evidence of actual abuse. And, most of all, there seems to be no evidence that Google's actions harm consumers.
However, Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker's 2012 "Internet Trends" presentation has pretty persuasive data against this position. Specifically, the screenshots below, which show that internet users overwhelmingly trust the results of search engines, find them unbiased, and, importantly, that they are becoming more relevant and useful over time:




So, in other words, it is simultaneously very hard to argue that there is harm to consumers as a result of Google's search returns, especially given that the above stats are for search engines overall. Therefore, either (a) there is enough competition in the field that non-Google search engines give users what they want without being dominated by Google (i.e., no consumer harm because of Google's actions), (b) Google itself is providing results netizens find trustworthy and increasingly useful (same) or (c) a combination of both (duh).

Unfortunately, as Wikipedia points out, Anti-trust does not have its basis in consumer protection:
Efficiency-oriented economists reject the goal of competition and instead argue that antitrust legislation should be changed to primarily benefit consumers. No Congress or administration has supported this position. These economists largely ignore the political issues that motivated the laws in the first place.
Fundamentally, I totally disagree with this point of view. Antitrust should be about consumer protection. I honestly cannot think of a circumstance where considerations purely of business competition, that do not in any way wind up impacting consumer protection, should be the basis for trust-busting. The only potential hypothetical that comes to mind is a big player ruthlessly squeezing tiny competitors out of a market by undercutting prices... but I don't see why:

1. This is necessarily a bad thing, as I honestly do not see the problem with a business undercutting its competitor and bearing losses a competitor cannot for a period of time as a way to establish market dominance;

2. If there is a concern here, it is because entrenched player will then pump up the price after the competition goes out of business. This is a problem for consumers, and the combination of those two things is definitely problematic in my point of view.

Anyway, in a post that will shortly follow, I'll examine this issue from the perspective of American Copyright law covering databases. Suffice it to say, I simply don't think that Google rankings count as facts, nor are they presented as facts, but are actually purely creative opinions. As a result, I do not see why Google's search activities should properly fall under any sort of unfair competition law: what Google is doing is publishing speech that consists of its opinions on the search worthiness of links. Fundamentally, then, I think free speech concerns simply trump the business concerns in question.