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. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 28 Apr 2021 @ 5:11am

    Section 230 Protects Anti-Semites as well!

    I hope Koby sees this post and notices that Apple and Google are not liable for Telegram, and in turn, Telegram is not liable for the anti-Semitic speech its users post. This is as clear-cut an example as to how §230 protects free speech on the internet and not just big web sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

    Will Koby learn? Tune in to techdirt.com to find out!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2021 @ 6:39am

    Wait until he finds out that people can be racist over telephone or text messages.
    Maybe he can get a special tablet instead that can't install any apps, or make or receive phone calls or texts. I think it's called a "Etch-a-sketch"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2021 @ 6:47am

    I guess the human capacity for stupid is a never ending frontier. We will never be able to explore all of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2021 @ 7:00am

    Apple just need to add and addendum to Google's reply... yeah, what they said.

    Or Apple could just shorten it to "Ditto"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 28 Apr 2021 @ 7:10am

    How does a charity that makes less than 50K a year, so they don't have to file IRS docs so CharityNavigator can't review them manage to get lots of ears on capitol hill listening to them?

    Also one wonders why former Ambassadors get to keep their titles.
    I mean I get POTUS keeping a title but like why do all of the little people get to keep using them?

    Their webpage snerk talks about how they want to form oversight boards that can punish private companies for not living up to the standards they want to enforce on the world.

    Also the ever amorphous dark/deep web fear mongering that we should punish the back ends that provide them service to stop the bad bad bad things we just know are there.

    And because we know I am a bad person....
    He isn't going to earn a sticky gold star, he can wear on his lapel, for filing this misguided idiotic lawsuit.
    (yeah yeah yeah going to hell, heard it before)

    To put this in really clear terms even the screamers can understand...
    This lawsuit is like someone suing a steel company, because they heard that one time someone got drunk & did doughnuts in yards with their car and they are terrified it will happen to them... Oh and their own car is now worth less because idiots can do stupid things with their cars.

    Because of this they are owed all the monies.

    Of course this lawsuit exists just so they can cry more about 230 making it so the evil in the world can happen because we can't force private companies to checks notes hack a 3rd company & make sure those users never say anything offensive.

    Given the state of the debate on 230, this will be a talking point repeated on Capitol Hill about why we should gut 230.

    lightbulb moment

    What if we tell them that Covid is protecting 230 so if they want to wipe it out they should really push vaccinations. Their dumb enough to believe it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 28 Apr 2021 @ 7:17am

    Re:

    stares in pained immortal

    Promise?
    I for the life of me can not explain how the human race has survived this long, but it just keeps going and going....

    The problem is you don't think you can find all of the stupid, be me... on season 300,000 (give or take) of the "Hold my beer show" where they keep doing the same damn things over and over pretending they never happened before & there was no way to see it might end poorly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    PaulT (profile), 28 Apr 2021 @ 8:07am

    Re: Section 230 Protects Anti-Semites as well!

    "Will Koby learn?"

    Never. His entire schtick is complaining that he has friends banned from certain platforms for their own actions. Pointing out that they were free to ignore calls to ban them, but the larger number of non-KKK folk wanted them gone is not going to placate him.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2021 @ 8:12am

    But but..SOMEONE must be liable for the fact that the Ambassador's iPhone 4 AND his generic Android 3 phone aren't worth the $900 he paid for them back in 2009.....

    Explain THAT away Google!

    Also how come his 25year old sofa isn't worth the $1500 he paid for it back in 1995? eh? eh?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2021 @ 8:13am

    Re:

    He's an ambassador because he has a fatal addiction to Ferrero Rocher chocolates?

    And they're really spoiling him.....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Koby (profile), 28 Apr 2021 @ 8:37am

    Re: Section 230 Protects Anti-Semites as well!

    Correct, section 230 applies in this case because noone is being prevented from speaking. If anything, it is the plaintiff that is trying to suppress speech.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 28 Apr 2021 @ 8:48am

    section 230 applies in this case because noone is being prevented from speaking

    Section 230 applies in this case because neither Google nor Apple are liable for third-party speech on a third-party app that neither company created and neither company maintains. People “being prevented from speaking” has nothing to do with 230, even (and especially) in cases where a person is “prevented from speaking” on property they don’t own by the actual owner of that property. Go back and read my comment quoting the words of Justice Kavanaugh at length; maybe you’ll learn something.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Norahc (profile), 28 Apr 2021 @ 8:59am

    Anybody that files a lawsuit like this should be banned from owning any tech more advanced that pen and paper.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2021 @ 9:36am

    Re:

    And given an injunction preventing them from suing pen and paper manufacturers for for what other people call them using those tools.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Berto, 28 Apr 2021 @ 9:44am

    If your goal is to shutdown social media, making it illegal for their algorithms to troll users would be quicker.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2021 @ 10:45am

    *If* Google somehow loses this case, can I sue Google for devaluing my phone by removing Telegram from the play store?

    I've never used it and have no plans to do so, but if Google removes it, that's one less app I can run on my phone. Surely, the reduction of available apps makes my phone less appealing (and less valuable) to own, right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    PaulT (profile), 28 Apr 2021 @ 10:58am

    Re:

    "People “being prevented from speaking” has nothing to do with 230"

    Koby is yet to provide an example of someone being prevented from speaking, even though he constantly claims section 230 is allowing such things. All he's ever provided is examples of people being told they can't use one specific company's personal property to amplify their speech. Which does not prevent them speaking elsewhere, as evidenced by the constant stream of right-wing toddlers whining about being "silenced" in ways that people who don't frequent their echo chambers can still hear loud and clear.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    PaulT (profile), 28 Apr 2021 @ 11:00am

    Re:

    "If Google somehow loses this case, can I sue Google for devaluing my phone by removing Telegram from the play store?"

    Doubtful. You might have some sort of case against Apple, but you can sideload any app you want on Android, and I don't think that "Google made it slightly less convenient for me to install something" is a prosecutable offence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. 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."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2021 @ 11:10am

    Re: Re:

    There you go again, assuming that all judges are tech-savvy and endowed with at least a modicum of common sense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2021 @ 11:22am

    If the existence of apps you don't like on stores "devalued" phones, no smartphone ever built would be worth shit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Whoever, 28 Apr 2021 @ 11:30am

    "Ambassador"?

    Google should have replied to "former ambassador ..".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 28 Apr 2021 @ 11:47am

    Re: Re: Section 230 Protects Anti-Semites as well!

    Incorrect. Ginsburg is trying to unlawfully conteol Google/Apple's speech, which is the one thing section 230 prevents.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 28 Apr 2021 @ 11:48am

    Re: Section 230 Protects Anti-Semites as well!

    And Koby's lying proves your hopes shall remain unfulfilled another day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 28 Apr 2021 @ 12:18pm

    Re: Re: Re: Section 230 Protects Anti-Semites as well!

    Ginsberg*

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2021 @ 12:31pm

    Re:

    Sounds like you think differently...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 28 Apr 2021 @ 1:05pm

    That's sure to help things...

    If he wants to claim that he's been harmed because people use apps on the smartphones to say mean things about jews filing a clearly bogus lawsuit is probably not going to reduce that problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2021 @ 2:07pm

    The guy has just been spending too much time in the "everything is racist" filter bubble. That must be how he heard Telegram exists and some racists are talking racist things on it, too, if he's never even used it himself. I've seen plenty enough contrived guilt by association chains on social media, from people fishing for excuses to justify hating someone or something, that I'm not at all surprised some of them believe the same bullshit would fly before a court of law.

    But the lawyer really should know better, especially if he's been filing the same kind of nonsense cases repeatedly. I suppose he could be scamming his clients, intentionally racking billable hours on lawsuits he knows are unwinnable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 28 Apr 2021 @ 4:08pm

    Re: Re: Section 230 Protects Anti-Semites as well!

    Darnit. But I can dream, can't I?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 28 Apr 2021 @ 5:22pm

    Re: Re: Re: Section 230 Protects Anti-Semites as well!

    Dream about ham(or whatever your flavor of choice is) sandwiches instead, you're much more likely to get one of those.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 4:07am

    Re:

    Perhaps if he sought medical treatment to deal with his chronic flatulence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 5:52am

    Re:

    "The guy has just been spending too much time in the "everything is racist" filter bubble."

    To be fair, almost everything is racist, even if not by malicious intent. Facial recognition tech can't spot the difference between Prince and Janet Jackson about half the time because normal off-the-shelf cameras can't figure out the difference between a shadow, a contrast, and dark skin.

    That's not by malice, it's just because the people using that shit are buying cheap cameras. But the fact that it's used and hits a certain demographic harder than another is still racist.

    Courtesy of 400 years worth of oppression black people get a far worse break by far just by being born in the US. Even when no current malice exists, the end result is unequal treatment from the get-go.

    ...and then we have the jews, for whom it took a world war dissolving much of the existing european structure to not get treated like second-class undesirables. Current malice certainly exists everywhere today, but at least they get the benefit of having managed to carve out their own niche in a hostile world, unlike many other minorities.

    This doesn't make Ginsberg less of a douchebag moron in this particular case but you'll have to blame that on him being inept and stupid, not on whatever "filter bubble" has been trying to tell him mostly true things if "racism is everywhere" is the message he's been hearing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Annonymouse, 29 Apr 2021 @ 8:32am

    Re:

    As one fictional Ambassador put it

    Arrogance and stupidity in one package.
    How efficient of you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 2:09pm

    Re: Re:

    There is a big difference between "racism is everywhere" and "everything is racist."

    There is no question there are lots of racists in the world. But people on Twitter will spin absolutely anything they can into something racist. Like your example. No, crappy facial recognition tech is not racist just because dark skin looks dark on camera. It's not on purpose, its physics. The tech fails because it sucks, not because the developers hate black people.

    Whether Ginsberg in this case came up with the idea himself or heard it from someone else is just idle speculation. But there are a lot of douchebag morons on the internet who would share that kind of train of thought.

    IMO there is too much real racism in the world already, there is no need to manufacture more just to have something to complain about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 8:25am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "No, crappy facial recognition tech is not racist just because dark skin looks dark on camera. It's not on purpose, its physics. The tech fails because it sucks, not because the developers hate black people."

    Read what I wrote again, please. You obviously missed some of it.
    Racism means that a bias is given, based on race. It doesn't matter that no malice was intended when the end result is, for instance, that facial recognition tech produces more errors when it comes to black people. That it isn't on purpose doesn't change the biased result.
    When the camera fails to recognize a black person and identifies him/her as Bakshar al-baghdadi, baby-eating terrorist - that's racism, even if no one ever intended to have that camera regularly misidentify a black person to the vast detriment of that person.

    When a person assigns bias based on race, that person is a racist.

    When a mechanism or function produces a biased result based on race that mechanism or function is also racist. Because there is a bias. And despite that bias, this mechanism or function is deployed.
    The opinion or lack of such by any people involved in creating that mechanism or function is irrelevant. That the mechanism and function is in use, despite of this, is not.

    We could argue that we should call this...systemic bias instead, but it certainly becomes bona fide racism when these systems are implemented and rolled out everywhere despite the fact that they severely disadvantage a large minority of the population.

    So yeah, racism is everywhere and at least in the US you can indeed argue that everything is racist. The camera example is at least less offensive than what black people experience trying to get a loan or mortgage, buy a house, rent an apartment, drive a car without being pulled over and shot, get a job, win a case in a court of law, or, hell, just Being Brown in Public.

    If The Talk your parents take you aside for when you grow up is about "How not to get murdered by the police" rather than about the "birds and bees" then you can safely assume that where you live, everything is racist unless specifically proven otherwise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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