IAB Backs Google In Fight Over Terrorist Videos

The Interactive Advertising Bureau joined with other business groups to urge the Supreme Court to rule that Google is immune from lawsuits for allegedly recommending terrorist videos.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Thursday, the ad organization argues that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- which protects web companies from liability for content created by users -- would be meaningless unless it also protected web companies' ability to organize that material.

The IAB and others -- including NetChoice and The Computer & Communications Industry Association -- say web companies have always made decisions about how to present material to users, and that targeted recommendations are an outgrowth of earlier forms of presentation.

“Although organization methods like reverse chronology were previously the norm, more advanced methods, including methods that account for users’ preferences, ensure that users see the content that is most relevant to them,” the groups write.

They are weighing in on a battle between the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, who was killed in a November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, and Google.

The legal fight has drawn widespread interest, and more than three dozen separate friend-of-the-court briefs siding with Google had been filed with the Supreme Court by Thursday afternoon.

Gonzalez's family argues that Google should be liable on the theory that it helped ISIS spread terrorist propaganda by recommending its YouTube videos to other users.

A trial judge dismissed the lawsuit, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision, ruling that Google was protected by Section 230 -- a 1996 law that immunizes web sites from lawsuits over material created by third parties.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the Gonzalez family's appeal, along with a second case concerning online terrorist-related content.

Lawyers for the Gonzalez argue that YouTube recommendations came from the company, not the ISIS members who posted the videos, and should therefore be treated as YouTube's speech.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau, NetChoice and others urge the Supreme Court to reject that argument.

“Displaying and organizing content that is responsive to users’ input and relevant to their interests does not transform third-party content into digital-service operators’ content,” they argue.

Section 230 authors Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and former Representative Chris Cox (R-California) also weighed in on Google's side.

“Recommending systems that rely on such algorithms are the direct descendants of the early content curation efforts that Congress had in mind when enacting Section 230,” Wyden and Cox write in a separate friend-of-the-court brief. “And because Section 230 is agnostic as to the underlying technology used by the online platform, a platform is eligible for immunity under Section 230 for its targeted recommendations to the same extent as any other content presentation or moderation activities.”

Others backing Google include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, digital rights groups, technologists and other companies --including Microsoft, Reddit, Craigslist and Pinterest.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on February 21.

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