Google And The Bail Bonds: When Virtue-Signaling Goes Horribly Wrong

..or, in the alternative, go ahead and BE evil, but make sure you’re pretending to be progressive while you’re doing it.

“With great power comes great responsibility not to be reckless and stupid.”

Google recently announced this policy change. See if you can spot what is wrong with it: I shouted, “What???” pretty much through the second paragraph.

At Google, we take seriously our responsibility to help create and sustain an advertising ecosystem that works for everyone. Our ads are meant to connect users with relevant businesses, products and services, and we have strict policies to keep misleading or harmful ads off of our platforms—in fact, we removed 3.2 billion bad ads last year alone. Today, we’re announcing a new policy to prohibit ads that promote bail bond services from our platforms. Studies show that for-profit bail bond providers make most of their revenue from communities of color and low income neighborhoods when they are at their most vulnerable, including through opaque financing offers that can keep people in debt for months or years. We made this decision based on our commitment to protect our users from deceptive or harmful products, but the issue of bail bond reform has drawn support from a wide range of groups and organizations who have shared their work and perspectives with us, including the Essie Justice Group, Koch Industries, Color of Change and many civil and human rights organizations who have worked on the reform of our criminal justice system for many years. According to Gina Clayton, executive director of the Essie Justice Group, “This is the largest step any corporation has taken on behalf of the millions of women who have loved ones in jails across this country. Google’s new policy is a call to action for all those in the private sector who profit off of mass incarceration. It is time to say ‘no more.’” Enforcement of this policy will begin in July 2018. This policy change is part of our ongoing efforts to protect users on our platforms.

Maybe this isn’t as stupid as it appears. Maybe Google is trying to protect its users by ensuring that potential predators accused of crime rot in jail while they are awaiting for trial because they don’t have access to bail.  Now that would be sinister and cruel, but not idiotic. Maybe? Perhaps?

No, this is just idiotic.

Prof. Alex Tabarrok, the Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics at the Mercatus Center and a professor of economics at George Mason University, explains:

Bail bonds are a legal service. Indeed, they are a necessary service for the legal system to function. It’s not surprising that bail bonds are used in communities of color and low income neighborhoods because it is in those neighborhoods that people most need to raise bail. We need not debate whether that is due to greater rates of crime or greater discrimination or both. Whatever the cause, preventing advertising doesn’t reduce the need to pay bail it simply makes it harder to find a lender. Restrictions on advertising in the bail industry, as elsewhere, are also likely to reduce competition and raise prices. Both of these effects mean that more people will find themselves in jail for longer.

And may I add, with respect, “Duh.” You don’t begin reforming the bail system by making it harder for people who need bail to get it….that is, you don’t do that unless you have a cranial vacuum.  Moreover, Prof. Tabbarrak has the same message based on his experience with bail bond companies as I did when I had criminal defendants as clients—and when I have had to help family members and friend deal with the bail system:

As with any industry, there are bad players in the bail bond industry but in my experience the large majority of providers go well beyond lending money to providing much needed services to help people navigate the complex, confusing and intimidating legal system. Sociologist Joshua Page worked as a bail agent:

“In the course of my research, I learned that agents routinely offer various forms of assistance for low-income customers, primarily poor people of color. It’s very difficult for those with limited resources to get information, much less support, from overburdened jails, courts, or related institutions. Lacking attentive private attorneys, therefore, desperate defendants and their friends and families turn to bail companies to help them understand and navigate the opaque, confusing legal processes.

…In fact, even when people have gone through it before, the pretrial process can be murky and intimidating….[A]long with walking clients through the legal process, agents explain the differences between public and private attorneys and the relative merits of each. Discussions regularly turn to the defendant’s case: Is the alleged victim pressing charges? Will the case move forward if he or she does not? When is the next court date? If convicted, what’s the likely punishment? Any chance the charges will get dropped?

…In a classic 1975 study, sociologist Forrest Dill argued:

‘One of the key functions performed by attorneys in the criminal process is to direct the passage of cases through the procedural and bureaucratic mazes of the court system. For unrepresented defendants, however, the bondsman may perform the crucial institutional task of helping to negotiate court routines.’

“Dill’s observation still rings true: bail agents and administrative staff (at least in Rocksville) act as legal guides for defendants who do not have private attorneys—and at times they provide this help to defendants with inattentive hired counsel. They provide information about court dates and locations, check the status of warrants, contact court staff on defendants’ behalf (especially when the accused have missed court or are at risk of doing so), and, at times, drive defendants to their court dates. These activities help clients show up for court, thereby protecting the company’s investments.

Oh, never mind. Google’s Silicon Tower execs, who have never dealt with the bail system at all, had been convinced by its Leftist prophets insistence that “mass incarceration” is a racist plot, and thus think similarly ignorant patrons will applaud their grandstanding. In truth, the competition among bail-bondsmen works to address the  racism in the system. More from the Professor:

Ian Ayres and Joel Waldfogel also found that the bail bond system can (modestly) ameliorate judicial racial bias. Ayres and Waldfogel found that in New Haven in the 1990s black and Hispanic males were assigned bail amounts that were systematically higher than equally-risky whites. The bail bondpersons, however, offered lower prices to minorities–meaning equal net prices for people of equal risk–exactly what one would expect from a competitive industry.

Well, what you would expect if you had the capacity for independent thought, which Google’s progressive zombies apparently do not. Concludes Tabarrok:

In addition to being wrongheaded, Google’s decision is disturbing because it is so obviously a political decision. Google has banned legal services like bail bonding and payday lending from advertising on Google in order to curry favor with groups who have an ideological aversion to payday lending and the bail system.

That’s right, exactly. This new policy hurts the people it pretends to help, but Google doesn’t care. It’s catering to the political delusions of people who will never need to get bail as long as they live.

18 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Marketing and Advertising, Research and Scholarship, The Internet

18 responses to “Google And The Bail Bonds: When Virtue-Signaling Goes Horribly Wrong

  1. Great post! I wish I could add something substantive, but I’ve got nothing at this time.

  2. JP

    It maybe more telling about how Google views capitalism as an almost monopoly than a competitive business.

  3. Isaac

    Haven’t you heard? There’s a “school to prison pipeline” where teachers disciplining kids for bad behavior causes those kids to…go to prison later. Or something. Look, the details are murky but the point is that there is SURELY a mass-conspiracy of oppression going on, encompassing every institution you can possibly hope to blame for your problems, and no one is beyond suspicion.

    (Did you know that the people who build prisons, the companies that employ prison guards, and the suppliers of prison food ALL get PAID for their services? That’s right, they make PROFIT from the incarceration of people of color. This is unconscionable. Google should crack down on them next. America can only be safe when gigantic, monolithic corporations protect us from ourselves.)

    • Rich in CT

      The issue with commercially contracted prisons is the rather undeniable perverse incentive against them reliably rehabilitating prisoners. These company requires prisoners, or they do not make money. Capitalism, relies on constantly pursuing opportunities for growth; it cannot work in an industry with a fiduciary responsibility for reducing crime.

      Prisons are an inherent burden on the state. They exist solely because the burden of crime is more intolerable. Only the state has a reliable economic and social interest in keeping persons out of prison. If the state invests in social services that reduce criminality, the state’s cost of operating prisons goes down. The state’s two chiefs interests are aligned.

      If a private company invests in social services that results in fewer prisoners, the company looses money. Private industry is incentivized to reduce staff to meet the exact needs of the organization. Private prisons maximize profit by minimizing expenses, which means only bare bones services mandated by the operating contract.

      The state uses private prisons so that the market, rather than taxpayers, absorbs the risk of building and shuttering prisons. However, in order for private prisons to ethical, they have to make rational economic sense. This could only be achieved by the state guaranteeing a minimum level profitability, which shifts the risk back to the state, and makes the prospect of private prisons providing substantial economic and social progress dubious at best.

      I am not going to argue that private prisons actively sabotage their residents, but it is an undeniable conflict that providing maximum services minimizes their profitability. The success of a prison, public or private, rest solely on the willingness to absorb the social cost. It is the state alone, not the market, that has an duty of care for prisoners and convicts.

  4. Greg

    In New York, Google’s concern about exploitation and overcharging is particularly misplaced. Here, the fees for bail bonds are fixed by law. It is illegal to charge more or less than that rate, so the bond companies compete largely on the basis of their reputation for service.

  5. I’ve read elsewhere that the likely real motivation concerns Google’s algorithms for routing ads to people. If they let the bail bonding ads into their system, then the ads will start seeking out people who are like the people who are looking for the ads, and more or less every black American is suddenly confronted with ads for bail bonding services.

    • So what, though? Who takes offense at what ads they see on Google?

      • Glenn Logan

        These days, who, particularly on the left, doesn’t take offense at… well, nearly everything they see?

        • ”These days, who, particularly on the left, doesn’t take offense at… well, nearly everything they see?”

          Do tell!

          John Kass suggests why.

          A young woman wore a pretty Chinese dress for prom. She didn’t think she needed permission.

          “The way things are in this country now, in this nation of diverse people bumping up against each other, it’s obvious that rigid rules are being enforced by the political left. They don’t control the White House or Congress; the left has occupied the Ministry of Culture and rules from there. (bolds mine)

          ”If you make the wrong move, if you dare be seen as appropriating sandwiches from another culture, you may be subject to intense hate and withering social media outrage.”

          http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/kass/ct-met-cultural-appropriation-kass-0506-story.html

    • Then Google’s algorithms are racially profiling…?

    • Isaac

      Maybe Google just prefers advertisers who cater to a higher-income demographic, and this is a business move dressed up in show-virtue.

    • Then their algorithms are skewed. They should be routing these ads to low and middle income people regardless of race or ethnicity.

      I’ve had relatives do business with bail bondsmen and they definitely would have not gotten out of jail otherwise. The bondsmen I’ve seen personally did not strike me as predators.

  6. Paul Compton

    Google and it’s boss are worth billions.

    If they feel so strongly about this issue, the good, progressive, woke thing for them to do would be to set up a bail bond business that charged very low or no interest, especially serving those disadvantaged communities.

    Wouldn’t it??

  7. This new policy hurts the people it pretends to help, but Google doesn’t care. It’s catering to the political delusions of people who will never need to get bail as long as they live.

    This is a feature, not a bug, of every liberal/progressive policy I have encountered my entire life. However, we are to judge progressives by their intent, not the outcome of their lunacy, so we have that going for us.

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