Apple, Meta and Google part of lawsuit

Ninth Circuit to rule on tech giants' immunity claim in illegal gambling app lawsuits

Reading time 1:40 min

A critical legal battle is unfolding in the Ninth Circuit as a panel prepares to weigh in on whether industry giants Apple, Meta (formerly Facebook), and Google can claim immunity from lawsuits concerning alleged illegal gambling apps on their platforms.

Plaintiffs in three lawsuits contest a federal judge's finding the three tech giants enjoy immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act except when the platforms have processed what the judge called "unlawful transactions for unlawful gambling," reported Courthouse News Service.

U.S. District Judge Edward Davila, while acknowledging the immunity granted to the tech giants, has asked the Ninth Circuit to review his findings, effectively pausing the case pending their decision. The plaintiffs are appealing, arguing that the platforms aren't entitled to Section 230 immunity in this context.

During oral arguments in San Francisco, attorneys representing the tech giants stood firm in their support of Judge Davila's decision to seek an interlocutory appeal. They asserted that the platforms' publication of content like virtual gaming chips does not constitute unlawful behavior.

Fred Reilly, representing Google, cited legal precedent that shows platforms have broad discretion in regulating the content they publish. He argued that the companies are platforms, not content creators, and merely facilitate third-party content. 

The companies say the apps hosted on their platforms are not off-platform products, which makes the case different from other litigation dealing with transactions taking place outside of social network platforms in for which the platforms could be held liable, further reports Courthouse News Service.

Attorney Todd Logan, representing the plaintiffs, presented a counterargument, pointing out that the Ninth Circuit has previously ruled that merely citing third-party content isn't sufficient for immunity

"The question is whether we have pleaded ourselves out of court by setting out a case that necessarily seeks to hold these defendants liable for publishing third-party content," Logan said, as per the cited source.

"I haven't heard any reason why we can transform what is fundamentally gaming activity, that is brokering transactions for gambling, into something that a publisher does. The question here really is, is gambling publishing? The answer's no."

The panel, consisting of U.S. Circuit Judges Richard Paez and Jennifer Sung and U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater, engaged both sides with probing questions during the hearing. While they didn't indicate a timeline for their ruling, they posed challenging queries suggesting a thorough examination of the case.

Mark Perry, representing Apple, argued against the practicality of the plaintiffs' request to regulate unlawful gambling activity on the social platforms. He highlighted the potential burden of monitoring transactions across multiple platforms serving billions of users.

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