The Brazilian government accused Google this Tuesday of “misleading and abusive advertising” against a bill to combat online misinformation, and ordered the American tech giant to stay out of the debate or display its positions as publicity.
The dispute came as lawmakers in Brazil’s lower house were preparing to vote on a so-called “fake news”, called the bill of “censorship” by its detractors, which aims to get tech companies to regulate misinformation, hate speech, and violent content on their platforms.
Brazil’s National Consumer Protection Office ordered Google, which criticized the project, to label as “advertising” messages on its site warning that the legislation could “make your Internet worse” and “increase confusion about what is true or false in Brazil”.
The office gave the company two hours to balance that with “counterpropaganda” or face a fine of one million reais (US$200,000) per hour.
Brazil’s Justice Minister Flávio Dino accused Google of “manipulate” search results to display content opposed to the bill more prominently, something the company denied.
“No one should be manipulating the freedom of expression of Brazilians”, Dino said at a press conference, accusing Google of abusing its platform to promote its position.
At the same conference, consumer protection secretary Wadih Damous announced a series of measures against what he called “misleading and abusive advertising” of Google.
Google’s home page in Brazil had featured a prominent message against the bill, with a link to a blog post by the company’s director of public policy, Marcelo Lacerda.
The link to the blog was removed from Google’s Brazilian home page later on Tuesday. A Google spokeswoman told AFP it was scheduled to expire anyway, saying the decision was unrelated to government measures.
The bill, which has already passed the Senate, was introduced three years ago, the fruit of efforts to deal with the onslaught of misinformation online.
It gained notoriety recently, after supporters of far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro invaded the headquarters of the three powers in Brasilia on January 8, allegedly incited by disinformation from networks that their candidate had lost the 2022 elections to the leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva fraudulently.
Bolsonaro attacked the bill on Monday in an interview with the conservative news site Revista Oeste, calling it “the beginning of the end of our freedom.”
Supreme Court orders questioning of platform bosses
The Supreme Court of Brazil ordered this Tuesday that the Police interrogate within five days “the presidents or equivalent” from Google, Meta and Spotify, on suspicion of promoting a campaign against a bill that seeks to combat disinformation on the Internet.
The decision was made by Judge Alexandre de Moraes, who also determined that these platforms comprehensively withdraw “all announcements, texts and information” promoted from Google with criticism of the so-called “Fake News PL (Bill)”.
For the magistrate, the actions of these platforms can constitute, in theory, “abuse of economic power” and, eventually, have contributed “to the disinformation practiced by digital militias on social networks”, a matter that the Supreme Court has been investigating for a few years.
The ruling adds to the precautionary measures previously announced by the Brazilian government against Google, which it accused of promoting an “abusive and deceptive campaign” against the text being debated by Parliament and that seeks to tighten control of social networks.
The controversy arose from an article that Google posted in the Brazilian version of its search engine, entitled “The ‘fake news’ PL (bill) may increase confusion about what is true or false in Brazil.”
The publication, signed by the director of Government Relations and Public Policies of Google Brazil, Marcelo Lacerda, exposes a series of objections against the aforementioned bill, which the Chamber of Deputies intends to vote on this week.
De Moraes also demanded that Google, Spotify and Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, explain “the methods and algorithms to promote and induce the search” on their platforms of the term “PL of Censorship”, as critics have baptized the aforementioned bill.
Likewise, it called on these companies to report “the real and concrete measures”, by sending protocols and documents that prove it, which they adopt to “prevent, mitigate and withdraw illegal practices in the scope of their services and in the fight to the disinformation of content generated by third parties”.
Within this framework, De Moraes wants the heads of Google, Meta and Spotify to testify before the Federal Police to explain the reasons that supposedly led them to promote critical content against the bill under debate and that the technology giants reject.
The initiative has been in Parliament since 2020 and provides for measures to tighten control of social networks and expand the list of content that must be removed before a court ruling, as well as establishes sanctions for companies that do not comply with these rules.
With information from AFP and EFE
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