Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has made an interesting request for Google and its service YouTube. Pruitt, concerned over the presence of illegal content in videos posted to YouTube, has requested that Google provide a number of videos the service removed over the last few years due to violations of YouTube’s terms of service as well as an accounting of how much money YouTube has made due to those videos.
In their letter, the attorneys general expressed particular concerns about Google’s practice of advertising with videos produced by “foreign pharmacies that promote the sale of prescription drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet and others without a prescription.”
Videos promoting the sale of counterfeit goods and those that provide step-by-step instructions for making fake ID cards and passports are also of concern to Pruitt and Bruning, according to the letter.
Additionally, Pruitt would like to see more work done to remove the monetization of such videos. However, even by Pruitt’s own admission, this would be difficult.
“We understand that YouTube is an open platform and that not all content can or should be policed,” Pruitt and Bruning wrote in the letter. “Nevertheless, the fact that Google actively seeks to profit from the posting of these types of videos on YouTube — a website known to be particularly popular among children and teens — is very troubling.”
What I find really disappointing with this request is the fact that we have had this conversation many many times. Primarily this conversation has centered on copyrighted content being uploaded to YouTube, but it remains the same for the illegal content Pruitt claims is uploaded. There just isn’t any feasible way for YouTube to proactively monitor the content uploaded to the service.
“The enormous scale of YouTube — more than 100 hours of video content is uploaded to the site every minute — means that there will always exist some very small percentage of videos which violate YouTube’s policies and manage to evade YouTube’s systems,” Barea wrote.
That is a lot of content to have to go through. In order to find what is illegal or infringing is nearly impossible for any business. But this is also setting aside another issue with Pruitt’s request, the fact that some of this illegal content may not be illegal in other jurisdictions.
Pruitt makes several references to “illegal pharmacies” having videos on YouTube. While that might sound nefarious on the surface, the details matter. Recently, Google was fined by the Federal Government for hosting advertising for such illegal pharmacies. What were these “illegal pharmacies”? Canadian pharmacies. That’s right, pharmacies based in Canada. And why were they “illegal”? Because Canada does not respect US patents on medicine. So these “illegal pharmacies” that Pruitt would like to block could be little more than perfectly legal Canadian pharmacies.
But what does all this have to do with us? It shows how little Scott Pruitt understands the internet and specifically the world-wide nature of it. While content might be illegal in one jurisdiction, it might not be illegal in others. If he does not understand the nature of YouTube, can we really expect him to understand the nature of other connected services such as games. If he is going after Google for the actions of its users, what would he do if people started complaining about gaming services? Would we really be able to trust him to realize that a service cannot be held liable for the actions of its users?
After all, that is the fundamental aspect of most US laws currently governing the internet. The sites themselves are not responsible for the actions of their users. This is an important aspect that should not be removed. It would hurt many services such as YouTube as well as many game developers that allow for user to user interaction and user generated content. If we were to strip out the protections from liability in law, we would make running such services so expensive and unfeasible that they would shut down.