Google Says Pretty Much Everything Shields It From Being Sued Over Things Telegram Users Said

from the google-to-judge:-your-honor-what-even-is-this dept

An ambassador who last worked as a US ambassador more than two decades ago recently sued Apple and Google for… well, let's go to the tape. Apparently, it's somehow these two companies' fault that Telegram users make anti-Semitic comments and otherwise make "Ambassador Marc Ginsberg" (as the plaintiff refers to himself in his complaints) feel unsafe.

Ginsberg owns two phones -- one of each variety. That's why he's suing both Apple and Google. There's no indication Ginsberg has ever downloaded or used Telegram. Nor is there any indication he's even seen firsthand any of the content he's suing about. But in both lawsuits, he claims the mere existence of Telegram in app stores has personally harmed him and somehow devalued both of the phones he uses.

These lawsuits make no sense. And that's why Ginsberg has retained the representation of Keith Altman, last seen chucking lawsuit after lawsuit into federal courts claiming Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are directly responsible for real-life terrorist attacks. So far, the firms last associated with Altman and his particularly stupid brand of litigation have yet to secure a win at any level of the federal court system.

Google was last to be sued but the first to respond. And it raises the expected defenses, including the "the plaintiff has chosen the wrong defendant." (h/t John Roddy)

Google's motion to dismiss [PDF] starts with a few facts that make it pretty much unnecessary for anyone -- including the presiding judge -- to read any further. Here's the opener:

Plaintiffs Ambassador Marc Ginsberg and the organization he founded, the Coalition for a Safer Web, assert that several of Telegram’s 500 million third-party users have used Telegram to send messages that contain hateful rhetoric or promote extremism. Neither Telegram nor any of its users are parties to this case, and Plaintiffs have apparently not made any effort to pursue claims against them.

Instead, Plaintiffs have sued Google. They seek to hold Google liable for the content of messages exchanged through Telegram’s platform based on Google’s role as the operator of Google Play, an online platform where users can access a wide variety of digital content and download applications, including Telegram. Plaintiffs do not allege that Google played any role in creating, operating, or moderating content on Telegram, or that it contributed to the objectionable content disseminated by Telegram’s users. Plaintiffs nevertheless assert that Google should have removed the Telegram app from Google Play, and that it violated California’s Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) and negligently inflicted emotional distress on Plaintiffs by failing to do so. While Plaintiffs’ goals of combating anti-Semitism and hate speech are important, they have chosen the wrong target for their campaign.

Even if Ginsberg had been slightly less moronic in his litigation, he still wouldn't have been likely to succeed. Telegram's main defense would be the same as Google's: Section 230 immunity applies. It would apply to Telegram if it was being sued for content generated by its users. And it doubly applies to Google, which is another step removed, since its only connection to Telegram is the fact that the app can be downloaded from Google's app store.

There's a recent case directly on point dealing with Section 230 immunity and app store moderation. That's the one Google quotes:

This Court recently applied Section 230 to bar a similar set of claims arising from Google’s alleged failure to remove third-party apps from Google Play. Coffee, 2021 WL 49338, at *6. The plaintiffs there alleged that Google violated state consumer protection laws by allowing certain video game apps to be published. The Court dismissed the claims as a matter of law, explaining that, because plaintiffs “[sought] an order requiring Google to screen apps offered through its Google Play store and exclude those containing [certain content],” they were demanding that Google engage in “conduct that [was] squarely within the role of a publisher.” Id. So too here: “Google cannot be held liable for merely allowing []developers to provide apps to users through the Google Play store, as ‘providing third parties with neutral tools to create web content is considered to be squarely within the protections of § 230.’”

But even if those two assertions are ignored, the case contains another massive failure. To seek redress, you must have an actionable injury. There's nothing here that indicates the Ambassador has suffered anything more than being subjected to bad legal advice.

Even setting aside immunity under Section 230, Plaintiffs still fail to state a claim. First, Plaintiffs lack standing to sue under the UCL. A UCL claim requires economic injury, specifically “lost money or property,” resulting from the alleged misconduct. Kwikset Corp. v. Super. Ct., 51 Cal. 4th 310, 325-26 (2011). But Plaintiffs have alleged no such injury. Instead, they contend that Ginsberg’s phone supposedly declined in value because Google kept Telegram on Google Play. This theory makes no sense. Ginsberg does not even allege that he downloaded Telegram from Google Play or used the app on his device. He certainly offers no plausible explanation of how his phone could have lost value merely because the Telegram app remained available in Google Play for other people to download and use.

This suit should be tossed immediately. I'm sure the one against Apple will be met with the same defenses and the same early exit for the other target of Ginsberg's garbage litigation. It may suck to find out app users are saying bigoted things about Jews, but there's no legal action to be had here. Even if the former ambassador was able to discover the identities of those saying these things, a lot of it would be protected speech and very little of it would actually create a cause of action worth pursuing in court. The world can be a shitty place. Lobbing stupid sue-balls at the biggest targets you can find doesn't make it any better.

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Filed Under: frivolous lawsuits, keith altman, liability, marc ginsberg
Companies: apple, google, telegram


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2021 @ 11:06am

    This lawsuit is just as reasonable as...

    "Your honor, the defendant, a die press manufacturer, provided a machine to a tool manufacturer who used it to make pry-bars, one of which was bought by the thief who used it while burglarizing my client's home. As he didn't ensure that his customer didn't sell his wares to a retailer who sold to criminals, he should be found solely liable for all my clients losses, plus pain and suffering."


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