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Google Goes After Children as Lobbyists: What is to be done?

December 6, 2018 Comments off

Our friend and long-time artist rights advocate Karoline Kramer confirms what we’ve been seeing around the world–Google is trying to turn kids into lobbyists for their corporate interests in lobbying against safe harbor reform in Europe.  It was entirely predictable that YouTube’s efforts would come to the US in short order.

While it’s really difficult to understand how pre-teens could find the rebarbative Lyor Cohen to be an appealing influencer, the indiscriminate scare tactics may indicate an even deeper problem–inducing Internet addiction and then manipulating that addiction for profit.  Now where have we seen that business model before?

Andrew Orlowski confirms in the Register that it’s not just happening in the US–YouTube’s campaign drove one German teen to threaten suicide.  This is why nations protect children from all kinds of manipulation by unscrupulous adults who should know better.  It’s also another reminder of just how insidious Internet companies really are.  I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating:

Google, Facebook and their ilk are not in the media business or the music business–they are in the addiction business.  And with this manipulation campaign against children to profit Google and Facebook, these charlatans are starting to reveal themselves for all the world to see.

How do we know this?  Aside from Sean Parker (and other Facebook executives) telling us that Facebook intentionally set about to create massive addiction through manipulating levels of dopamine in the brain chemistry of users, there are an increasing level of studies that demonstrate the behavioral addictions created by social media in particular (see, for example, the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale, and also Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.)

YouTube appears to be manipulating trending topics to favor its seeded video messaging against Article 13 like this one.  To state the obvious, none of these manipulation videos are age-protected and YouTube is favoring its own content–exactly what Google is being fined by the European Commission billions of dollars for doing.

You have to ask–surely this children campaign violates some laws?  If we are going to permit Google and Facebook to operate their addiction-producing business, do we want to allow them to target children?  Imagine if an addictive drug company directed a public messaging campaign toward children to get their parents to vote against elected officials who wanted to regulate that company?   Would we not be shocked?

And given what Google and Facebook know about their users, would it come as a shock that they weren’t just targeting all kids, but were specifically targeting specific children because their parents were influencers or elected officials?  And before you scoff, how would we ever know?

Google and Facebook’s sleazy tactics and manipulation of children demonstrate yet again that they need to be regulated and that they think they have grown beyond the power of the nation state to regulate any of them.

What is to be done?  The answer is obvious.

 

 

 

YouTube Recruits Children to Lobby Against Article 13

December 3, 2018 Comments off

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No one should be surprised that Google and Facebook are now recruiting children for their lobbying campaign against copyright reform in Europe.  They’re using an old pimp’s scare tactic–get them addicted and then threaten to cut them off.  As former Facebook President Sean Parker said, “God only knows what [Facebook is] doing to our children’s brains.”  Actually, you don’t have to go as high as God–Google, YouTube and Facebook know exactly what they’re doing to our children’s brains.  (Kind of old news to MTP readers–see But Do Their Eyes Glow: The Children of the Lessig God and the Viking Pirate Kings from 2006.)

This has come up recently in two different ways in Europe through Google and Facebook’s lobbying campaign against the Directive on Copyright in the Single Digital Market, also known as “Article 13.” (“Article 13” refers to the section of the draft directive that gives Google, Facebook et al the most agita).  Article 13 would go a long way to closing Europe’s version of the highly profitable safe harbors for Google and Facebook.  Thus stopping the biggest income transfer in history, also known as the “value gap,” or as I call it, the alibi.

Pirate Party Member of the European Parliament Julia Reda has been a leading voice against Article 13 in the European Parliament, although she’s actually done a super job of self-destructing.  Her latest foot in mouth was a smug celebration of Google’s child lobbying techniques:

Julia Child Lobbying'

And then there’s the pop-up ads on YouTube that come up in that nagware prompt asking you to subscribe to YouTube premium (no matter how many times you decline)–the popup now has a prompt to “learn more” about Article 13:

youtube popup

Who do you think this is directed at, hmmm?   And then YouTube uses its seeding accounts on other social media to praise the lobbying campaign and create spin.  Sometimes the connection is with Twitter users like this person who actually appears to work at the Google Digital Garage in Manchester:

Emma Gray

And there you have it.  But this is really old news–who can forget Jimmy Wales’ admonition to the young plagiarists who copy their homework assignments directly from Wikipedia (ask any teacher, it’s true).  His warning of the Wikipedia blackout for the fake SOPA campaign was pretty clear (as reported in the Hollywood Reporter):

“Student warning,” Wales wrote. “Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday! #sopa”

This is not to overlook the “Young Pirates“, the Pirate Party’s own generational campaign that has some really unsavory historical overtones, although one has to believe those overtones are unintended.

But the worst of this is what appears to be a campaign targeting the children of MEPs.  According to European researchers, there were calls made to some of those children trying to convince them to convince their parents to vote against Article 13.

None of this should come as a surprise–YouTube has a long history of failing to protect children from a host of unsavory activities on YouTube.  A must read post by James Bridle tells us of the truly bizarre goings on at YouTube Kids.

I’ve also been aware for some time of the increasingly symbiotic relationship between younger children and YouTube. I see kids engrossed in screens all the time, in pushchairs and in restaurants, and there’s always a bit of a Luddite twinge there, but I am not a parent, and I’m not making parental judgments for or on anyone else. I’ve seen family members and friend’s children plugged into Peppa Pig and nursery rhyme videos, and it makes them happy and gives everyone a break, so OK.

But I don’t even have kids and right now I just want to burn the whole thing down.

Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatise, and abuse children, automatically and at scale, and it forces me to question my own beliefs about the internet, at every level. Much of what I am going to describe next has been covered elsewhere, although none of the mainstream coverage I’ve seen has really grasped the implications of what seems to be occurring.

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In a recent interview with Kara Swisher on Recode, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki got this question from the audience:

[My] nine year old [daughter], she uses YouTube essentially as her search engine.  Obviously the parent company Google is incredible at search and the search always comes up good even though there’s a lot of crappy web pages.  When it comes to YouTube she watches kids oriented videos and then the “recommended” list comes up, there’s some really disgusting stuff in there….It seems really bad, and my kid is well under 13, she’s not supposed to be able to see this stuff and she sees it all…

Senator Ben Nelson commented on content that Google allows to be “readily available and promoted by Google” like wine tasting tips, how to make sulphuric acid and toxic chlorine gas, and some of the YouTube videos that James Bridle discovered.  The answer?  Parents can notify Google of problems and Google will help parents restrict what their children can see.

Senator Nelson asks why should parents have to do any of this?  (Sort of like why should any artist have to monitor the Internet 24/7 to send DMCA notices?)  Imagine how he would feel if his children (or grandchildren) were contacted to lobby against him?

So on a certain level, not only is YouTube recruiting kids to lobby their parents, they are actually recruiting kids to lobby for YouTube on an issue that actually could address some of the problems that their parents may have with YouTube itself as parents.

Let’s be clear–this is all about the money.  Google and Facebook have produced the addiction in their users, adults and children alike, that they are now trying to exploit through scare tactics.  Because let’s face it–as Sean Parker tells us, these companies are not in the media business or the music business.

They are in the addiction business, make no mistake.

And now they are twisting that addiction for a corporate lobbying campaign with one purpose–enriching themselves through the greatest income transfer of all time and doing so at any cost.

The TAZ, Pirate Utopias and YouTube’s Obsession with Safe Harbors

November 15, 2018 Comments off

“[A]s you begin to act in harmony with nature the Law garottes & strangles you – so don’t play the blessed liberal middleclass martyr – accept the fact that you’re a criminal & be prepared to act like one.”

Hakim Bey from “T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism”

YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki is frantically wheeling around Europe this week in a despairing effort to establish a US-style safe harbor in Europe and undermine Article 13, the Copyright Directive for a Digital Single Market.

Let’s understand that the very concept of a safe harbor for YouTube has its roots deep in the pirate utopias of Internet culture–a fact that may get overlooked if you aren’t a student of the Silicon Valley groundwater.

The Value Gap really owes its origins to the anarchist Peter Lamborn Wilson who wrote the seminal text on pirate utopias under the nom de plume “Hakim Bey” entitled “The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism” (1991) or, as it is known perhaps affectionately in hacker circles, simply “TAZ.”  I for one am not quite sure what makes “poetic terrorism” different from unpoetic terrorism, utopian terrorism, anarchic terrorism, or just plain old terrorism, but it may explain why YouTube just can’t bring itself to block terrorist videos before they find an audience.

But the TAZ helps illuminate my own more truncated term for the Value Gap–the alibi. An alibi for a pirate utopia where the pirates run cults called Google and enrich themselves from the prizes they go a-raiding.

In the early days of online piracy there was a fascination with locating servers in some legal meta-dimension that would be outside of the reach of any law enforcement agency. Sealand, for example, captured the imagination of many proto-pirates, but Sealand is a little to clever to put themselves in a position requiring evacuation by the Royal Navy before the shelling begins.  So Sealand was ruled out.

Instead, Google–largely through YouTube–created its own pirate utopia through manipulation of the DMCA safe harbor, one of the worst bills ever passed by the U.S. Congress–and that’s saying something.  Google busily set about establishing legal precedents that would shore up the moat around their precious TAZ.  None of Google’s attacks on government should be surprising–anarchy is in their DNA.  As former Obama White House aide and Internet savant Susan Crawford tells us:

I was brought up and trained in the Internet Age by people who really believed that nation states were on the verge of crumbling…and we could geek around it.  We could avoid it.  These people were irrelevant.

And “these people” were stupid enough to give a safe harbor to protect the TAZ.  Because here’s the truth–the safe harbor that has made Google one of the richest companies in the world while they hoover up the world’s culture actually is the quintessential temporary autonomous zone.  It only exists in a changeable statute and the judicial interpretations of that statute, whether the DMCA or the Copyright Directive.  And like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, they’re not going to allow that disconnection without a fight.

But YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki will not be singing “A Bicycle Built for Two” as she flails about in the disconnect of YouTube.  Her basic argument is that “imposing copyright liability is destructive of value” for “open platforms” like YouTube.  “Open platforms” bear a striking resemblance to the TAZ, yes?  Ms. Wojcicki , of course, purveys a counterintuitive fantasy because unauthorized uses for which copyright liability accrues is what destroys the value of the infringed work.  What Ms. Wojcicki is harping about is how copyright infringement destroys value for YouTube and its multinational corporate parent, Google.  This is what happens when stock options invade a pirate utopia.

Not only has she got it wrong, but what she is actually whingeing about is the threat posed to her YouTube pirate utopia by the Copyright Directive and the united creative community.  And as HAL might say, the YouTube mission is too important for me to allow you artists to jeopardize it.

 

Thank You Senator @MarkWarner, but Senator @RonWyden is the Perfect Leader in the Fight Against Behavioral Addiction

August 13, 2018 Comments off

Senator Mark Warner has released (or leaked) a comprehensive plan to combat fake news and foreign manipulation of the American electorate through Silicon Valley.  Unfortunately, however appealing or appalling some of Senator Warner’s proposals are, it’s likely that he may just be expanding the game of whack-a-mole that Silicon Valley loves so much.  We’ve seen the whack-a-mole movie before and we know how it ends.  They won’t help, you spend money to fight them, and if you ever look like you might be winning, they outspend you on lobbying to create a new safe harbor.

Senator Wyden Can Help Solve the Fundamental Problem With Social Media

There is a more fundamental problem with Silicon Valley that the Congress is actually well-suited to address, probably needs no new laws, and if fixed would go a long way to addressing some of Senator Warner’s issues—the problem of addiction and how Silicon Valley profits from creating that behavioral addiction to smartphones, likes, views, retweets and other fakery that turns the science of addiction on its head.

And the really good news is that there is one currently serving U.S. Senator who is the perfect person to take on this issue, one Senator who has shown his chutzpah in the past, and one Senator who above all others is well suited to deal with the problem of behavior addiction for corporate profit—Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon.

It was Senator Wyden who created that classic exchange in 1994 between the heads of the Big Tobacco companies which you’ve probably seen where Senator Wyden got each of them to say that nicotine was not addictive, only to discover that these companies used biological and behavioral research to make their product as addictive as possible (see The Insider, a film about Big Tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand portrayed by Russell Crowe).  

The tobacco class actions resulted in a $3.4 billion payment over 25 years–in 1997 dollars.  We know how much Big Tech hates real class actions they don’t control, but face it–a comparable settlement today would be chump change for the most valuable companies in commercial history.

This is why Ron Wyden is the perfect Senator to reprise his role of champion of public health by holding Silicon Valley’s feet to the fire.  And let’s face it—there’s lots of material to work with in the business of social media that is founded on fakery, well beyond Senator Warner’s recommendations.

YouTube’s Fakery on Display Again

It’s not surprising that fake YouTube views are again in the news in what is becoming a series of exposes on the fakery in social media.  The latest deep dive into the skullduggery behind fake views is by Michael H. Keller in the New York Times and is recommended reading by Artist Rights Watch.

Everyone in the record business who has been paying attention has seen a version of this story play out many, many times for many, many years.  Remember the radio promotion exec who always seems to get the same adds at that same stations for a few weeks?  And when the plays stop, the exec says “the record is not reacting”?  Fake YouTube views are essentially the same scam—with two exceptions. The scale is vastly bigger at YouTube and no DJ has the motto “don’t be evil.”

Mr. Keller’s post ends with this provocative conclusion:

View-selling sites continue to advertise with apparent impunity. A post on the YouTube Creator Blog warning users against fake views has numerous comments linking to view-selling sites.

“The only way YouTube could eliminate this is if they removed the view counter altogether,” said Mr. Vassilev, the fake-view seller. “But that would defeat the purpose of YouTube.”

That’s an interesting proposition.  Why would removing the view counter defeat the purpose of YouTube?  Aren’t we told that artists can’t reach an audience without YouTube?  So isn’t the purpose of YouTube to reach an audience rather than produce public views information?  Granted, the person making that assertion is a fake view seller and not a YouTube representative, but a YouTube representative would likely never say such a thing even if they knew it to be true.  Why not?

Behavioral Addiction Additives 

One reason might be that the view counter, friend counters, the likes, the retweets, the various measurements that demonstrate the re-enforcement of acceptance by “friends”, are an important component of what makes YouTube addictive, just like tobacco companies added ammonia and other chemicals to tobacco to increase its addictive powers.  And the evidence is starting to come in suggesting that it is that addiction that is the real purpose of YouTube and other social media sites.

One source of that evidence is from Professor Adam Alter of the NYU Stern School of Business whose book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked describes in shocking detail just how devious sites like YouTube and Facebook are in delivering the dopamine fix to our brains, and worse yet to our children’s brains.  As Professor Alter told the New York Times:

Today, we’re checking our social media constantly, which disrupts work and everyday life. We’ve become obsessed with how many “likes” our Instagram photos are getting instead of where we are walking and whom we are talking to….

We are engineered in such a way that as long as an experience hits the right buttons, our brains will release the neurotransmitter dopamine. We’ll get a flood of dopamine that makes us feel wonderful in the short term, though in the long term you build a tolerance and want more.

And of course those buttons include YouTube subscriber and view counts, Facebook friends and likes and the various other feedback mechanisms that enforce a measurement of popularity.  So far, social media is good business as Spotify billionaire Sean Parker tells us:

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” 

“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” Parker said.

Of course, as one Silicon Valley entrepreneur who also survived the Dot Bomb Implosion once told me, there’s something really wrong about a world in which Sean Parker is a billionaire.

Do Fake Views Produce Fake News?

Here’s a couple thoughts about the fake view issue.  First, why doesn’t Google refund the sums spent on fake views?  Maybe not to the repeat user PR firms but at least to the individuals who were lured in by the promise of fake views who didn’t know any better?  Or would they prefer to put together one of their pre-packaged fake class actions that funnels money to their favorite shills in cy pres awards?

But going forward, what is so unusual about getting rid of view counters, friend counters, like counters, follower counters, and so on?  Twitter did something similar when they stopped the counter on Twitter linking buttons.  If YouTube is really such a great tool for consumer engagement, do we think fans are going to stop watching videos of the artists they love just because they don’t have a counter telling them what’s popular when there’s a better than 50/50 chance the counter is a fraud to begin with?

Let’s face it—one reason YouTube music videos are popular is because artists and labels drive traffic to YouTube.  That helps the view count as much as anything else.

Also, it’s not like there’s no ranking going on.  Google can rank YouTube videos in search with no problem.  Of course, they’re so good at ranking in the background that they are being fined for it by the European Commission. 

Senator Wyden, Where Art Thou?

While I appreciate Senator Warner’s effort, the real rock star in taking on Silicon Valley could be Senator Ron Wyden.  The addiction issue would be a perfect opportunity for his consumer protection legacy with tobacco addiction to enter the digital age.

Must Read by @jamesbridle: Something is wrong on the internet [With YouTube Kids]

November 7, 2017 Comments off
susan-wojcicki

Another YouTube fish story

The Values Gap redux:  Must read post by James Bridle on the truly bizarre goings on at YouTube Kids.

I’ve also been aware for some time of the increasingly symbiotic relationship between younger children and YouTube. I see kids engrossed in screens all the time, in pushchairs and in restaurants, and there’s always a bit of a Luddite twinge there, but I am not a parent, and I’m not making parental judgments for or on anyone else. I’ve seen family members and friend’s children plugged into Peppa Pig and nursery rhyme videos, and it makes them happy and gives everyone a break, so OK.

But I don’t even have kids and right now I just want to burn the whole thing down.

Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatise, and abuse children, automatically and at scale, and it forces me to question my own beliefs about the internet, at every level. Much of what I am going to describe next has been covered elsewhere, although none of the mainstream coverage I’ve seen has really grasped the implications of what seems to be occurring.

Read the post on Medium.

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The New York Times Exposes Google’s Values Gap

November 6, 2017 Comments off

Americans are freedom loving people, and nothing says freedom like getting away with it.

From Long, Long Time by Guy Forsyth

The good thing about the Internet is that it brought people together.  The bad thing about the Internet is that some of those people previously only met on Death Row.

The New York Times has caught YouTube up to their old tricks, none of which will come as a surprise to team MTP or anyone else in the music business.  We have fought Google (and Facebook, Twitter and essentially every business using user generated content) about what boils down to one basic problem:  Google doesn’t pay anything like sufficient attention to what is being uploaded onto their monopoly video platform.  Google monetizes that failure–looking the other way–and that failure creates easily foreseeable commercial harm.  We even have a name for it: the “Value Gap.”

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But this time, the Times has surfaced how Google’s cavalier “see no evil” attitude is harming children.  This psychological and developmental harm isn’t about the value gap, it’s more about the depraved greed that produces another kind of gap altogether–a values gap.  And of course Google is trying to cover it up.

It was a typical night in Staci Burns’s house outside Fort Wayne, Ind. She was cooking dinner while her 3-year-old son, Isaac, watched videos on the YouTube Kids app on an iPad. Suddenly he cried out, “Mommy, the monster scares me!”

When Ms. Burns walked over, Isaac was watching a video featuring crude renderings of the characters from “PAW Patrol,” a Nickelodeon show that is popular among preschoolers, screaming in a car. The vehicle hurtled into a light pole and burst into flames.

The 10-minute clip, “PAW Patrol Babies Pretend to Die Suicide by Annabelle Hypnotized,” was a nightmarish imitation of an animated series in which a boy and a pack of rescue dogs protect their community from troubles like runaway kittens and rock slides. In the video Isaac watched, some characters died and one walked off a roof after being hypnotized by a likeness of a doll possessed by a demon.

Realize that Google has been pushing itself as a solution for cord-cutters for a while.  If you watched the World Series, you will have seen the ubiquitous Google ads for YouTube TV from Google’s partnership with Major League Baseball.  You’ll find YouTube on your Internet TV, easily accessed on your family television screen.  In case you hadn’t noticed, Google wants inside your house.

Google also launched YouTube Kids as another way to get into your house and tried to make everyone believe that it was safe for your children.  I knew this charm offensive was utter and complete crap and a prime example of Google’s values gap, but then I’m supposedly jaded and cynical.  You know who is also jaded and cynical?

In 2015, Senator Ben Nelson (D-FL) highlighted the flaws in the YouTube Kids app–remember, this is not the web version of YouTube, this is an app expressly targeted at parents of children “five and under”–FIVE AND UNDER.  As Senator Nelson describes them: “toddlers”.

Team MTP will, of course, know where this is going–the values gap.  Because Google refuses to take any responsibility for assuring that improper materials–materials that violate Google’s own policies and terms of use–get into places the materials are not supposed to be, a substantial amount of shocking stuff gets into the YouTube Kids app.

It must be said that challenging Google’s ability to keep bad things off of their service was also at the heart of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s questions he asked of Google and for which Google and the Shills–EFF, Engine Advocacy, R Street–went into litigation overdrive.  They never did answer those questions.

The Times reports that a Google flack told them:

[W]hile YouTube Kids may highlight some content, like Halloween videos in October, “it isn’t a curated experience.” Instead, “parents are in the driver’s seat,” he said, pointing to the ability to block channels, set usage timers and disable search results.

Sound familiar?  Kind of like you are free to send Google a takedown notice–and rest assured, they will fight any lawsuits from parents with the Communications Decency Act Section 230 defense they are vigorously lobbying to protect by trying to defeat the SESTA bill that would try to stop online pimping.

Parents are also encouraged to report inappropriate videos, which someone at YouTube then manually reviews, he said. He noted that in the past 30 days, “less than .005 percent” of the millions of videos viewed in the app were removed for being inappropriate.

“We strive,” he added, “to make that fraction even lower.”

Ah yes.  Report the bad stuff.  That should sound familiar, too.  Is that before or after your kid’s brain is fried?  And notice one thing that the Times let slip by–the switch from hard numbers to percentages.  Google does this all the time when they don’t want to acknowledge the scale of the problem by attempting to trivialize criticism by saying that the problem is just a tiny fraction of their business and they are trying so hard to do the right thing.  But like Zeno’s Arrow Paradox, they don’t ever quite seem to eliminate the problem.

But it’s a very, very low percentage of the bad stuff–less than 1/2 percent of millions.  So let’s say “millions” means at least two million (although it’s probably more).  Doing the math, .005 of two million is 10,000.  Even if it were 100, are you willing to bet that your child, or your sister, brother or cousin will be in that 10,000?  Sounds like a lot.

Senator Lindsay Graham recently told the counsel for Facebook, Google and Twitter that their respective companies had “enriched America.”  And then he paused for a second–I was expecting him to say “and America enriched you.”  But he didn’t, although I swear he was thinking it.

The question is–will we let these people continue to profit themselves from exploiting children?  Will we permit them to profit from the values gap?

 

 

@davidclowery: Does Google Use Dominance in Search to Steer Traffic to “Unofficial” YouTube Videos? — The Trichordist — Artist Rights Watch

July 2, 2017 Comments off

Admittedly this is an unscientific sampling. But it sure seems like Google search (especially in ex-USA markets) seems to return top search results for UGC (User “Generated” Content) videos instead of official videos. Often no royalties are paid on these UGC videos, and in the cases where royalties are paid, they are paid at a […]

via @davidclowery: Does Google Use Dominance in Search to Steer Traffic to “Unofficial” YouTube Videos? — The Trichordist — Artist Rights Watch

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