“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?
‘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.