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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

The Value Gap is Bigger Than You Thought: Member of EU Parliament Calls Out Google’s Data Harvesting

June 9, 2017 Comments off

According to MusicAlly, a Member of the European Parliament from Germany has called out Google’s non-display uses of music that are pure profit for Google.  Christian Ehler has his eye on the right ball:

“The American platforms have been very successful as it’s a liar’s poker that suggested an alliance between the consumer and their commercial interests. We have heard the notion that it is free and for consumers. This is a pretension as [YouTube is] not for free. [YouTube] gets access to you and you are bombarded with advertisements. We are living now in the time of the second level of revenues – this is the data the consumers are giving to these platforms […] Consumer data becomes more and more important and it’s not well understood that this is not for free […] We are selling our future. Creativity is the USP of Europe. They [the digital companies] accumulate money. Why is Netflix producing TV series? Why is YouTube creating YouTube stars? They do understand that their business is content, not distribution […] We are simply selling our economic future if we are going to lose this battle.”

I have been banging the table for years about Google’s non-display uses of music and the fans that we drive to their various platforms so MEP Ehler’s view is very welcome.  “Non-display uses” include data scraping but could mean virtually anything because Google cannot be trusted to disclose what they are really doing with any of their products because they have a long history of not telling the truth about their business practices.

Google’s business practices raises several important questions for artists that no one is asking.  The first question is do you want your music and your fans to be used in this way in the first place?

And since this is all a byproduct of what Mr. Ehler correctly describes being “bombarded with advertisements”, it is important to understand that even if you use YouTube’s tools to block YouTube from selling advertising against your work, Google’s exploitation against your fans doesn’t stop there.

Google routinely captures data from every conceivable contact with your fans and they do it surreptitiously, in relative secrecy in the background.  How they do it is not easy to discover, but a significant number of their techniques and implementing technology was disclosed in a recent class action brought against Google by consumers for privacy violations of Gmail.

As Jeff Gould wrote in a highly recommended article “The Natural History of Gmail Data Mining” Google’s plan is to be able to scrape as much information as possible in return for the “free” use of Gmail:

The most striking thing about the early Gmail patents is how exhaustive they were in attempting to anticipate every conceivable attribute of an email message that might one day be exploited for ad targeting purposes. In many cases it would be years before Google was actually able to make these ideas operational in Gmail. The first version of ad serving in Gmail exploited only concepts directly extracted from message texts and did little or no user profiling — this method would only be put into practice much later. Some attributes have still not been implemented today and perhaps never will be. For example, as far as I know, Google does not reach into your PC’s file system to examine other files residing in the same directory as the file you attach to a Gmail message, even though the patents explicitly describe this possibility.

Are you willing to bet that Google doesn’t scrape the same kind of behavioral data about your fans on YouTube?  And what is stopping Google from scraping the same data from children attracted to YouTube?

As Mr. Gould reports, the data mining is what makes the real money for Google:

When Gmail was finally released to the public in April 2004, its ad serving system used a sophisticated data mining algorithm known as PHIL, the subject of another Google patent filed by Georges Harik and a colleague. Already implemented the previous year in Google’s AdSense program that serves ads to web sites operated by third party publishers, PHIL stands for Probabilistic Hierarchical Inferential Learner. Despite the forbidding name, the basic idea is straightforward.

Words in documents such as emails [or lyrics] occur not randomly but in certain clusters. When allowed to crunch through a vast number of such documents, simple software algorithms can identify clusters that are more or less likely to occur and group them together as “concepts”. For example, PHIL can learn to distinguish the entirely different meanings of two concepts such as “ski resort” and “lender of last resort” without being tripped up by the fact that the term “resort” occurs in both.  [But Google can’t distinguish between “Fragile” and “Fragile (Live)” for address unknown NOIs].

In AdSense, PHIL matched concepts derived from sets of keywords provided by advertisers with concepts extracted from the web pages where publishers wanted Google to place ads. The idea was that the better the match, the more likely a visitor to the publisher’s site would be to click on the ad, which was the revenue generating event for Google.

MEP Ehler has put his finger right on one of the implied issues in the value gap and it’s a value that isn’t usually measured in these discussions.  The fact is the gap is so wide that it’s hard to know the value of the income transfer.

 

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Just Say No: Will Spotify Still Be Seeking Forgiveness During Its IPO?     

June 5, 2017 Comments off

[A version of this post appeared in last month’s MusicTechPolicy Monthly.]

While Spotify’s technocrats may be breathing a sigh of relief after the company’s most recent multimillion dollar settlement with songwriters, it is well to remember that the company is probably not anywhere close to out of the woods.  As others have learned the hard way, once you replace the rights of songwriters and artists with your own lust for IPO riches, the lawsuits can go on for a very long time indeed.  You would think that after nearly 20 years of massive infringement online, the obvious answer would suggest itself to the “get big fast” group:  Don’t use music you don’t have rights to use.

Yes, that’s right.  Just say no.

The typical reason given by interactive services about why their need to offer unlicensed music exceeds their desire to offer only licensed music is because of competitive pressure from YouTube.  Why do they feel this competitive pressure?  Because their investors tell them at every board meeting that they should feel it.  But let’s be clear–I doubt that Tim Cook gets Eddie Cue in a headlock over the issue over at the Infinite Loop.  If you agree, then that kind of narrows it down.

But entertain that idea for a moment, however ill founded.  Why is YouTube able to sustain this competitive position that supposedly makes otherwise licensed services soil themselves with fear of being undercut and overrun by YouTube?

That’s right–the “DMCA license”, or YouTube’s absurd use of the “safe harbors” granted to them under the U.S. Copyright Act which YouTube likes to think makes them bullet proof.  (Which is also what Cox Communications thought until they weren’t and is probably what Facebook thinks, too.)

So get that straight–some would say that The Golden Child (aka Spotify) is to be allowed to limp their way to the increasingly inexplicable goal of some kind of big financial reward (or “exit”) in an IPO of whatever stripe while we are all asked to look the other way and allow them the same shite arrangements that YouTube enforces through lobbying, litigation and unprecedented monopoly position (aka crony capitalism).

And you thought it was all about the “Value Gap”?  Apparently not.

We are being told that the licensing practices of interactive services should be allowed to look more like YouTube’s widely loathed safe harbor and YouTube tries to make us believe that they are really pro-artist.  We are asked to hold the proposition “A” and the proposition “not A” in our heads simultaneously.  It can be done, but it is rather uncomfortable and it is uncomfortable because in this case it is unnatural.  Not to mention, it is, of course, all bull.  Irving Azoff crystalizes the view no doubt held by everyone who has ever dealt with any of these people:

“The truth is that, despite having to compete with services like YouTube who hide behind outdated, safe harbor protections, legitimate services like Spotify and Apple Music are attracting more subscribers than ever,” he continued. “If YouTube had the same level of commitment, their subscription service would be more than a head fake—and they’d be working hard, like Spotify does, to convert users to the paid tier for unlimited music. Maybe Google should do a study on that.”

The difference is that Irving is actually looking out for the best interests of his clients and is not afraid to tell the truth.  The one clarification I have to his assessment is that Apple doesn’t seem particularly worried about their competitive position–it is Spotify that runs to the Nanny State at every turn and files mass “address unknown” NOIs all the livelong day.

And then, of course, the whole “Value Gap” concept is only half right–it should really be called the Pinto Gap, because it’s not just that Google decided to make money off the backs of artists and songwriters through a distorted loophole.  Google also made that choice to be a knowing mass infringer the same way Ford decided to knowingly sell consumers its Pinto model with an exploding gas tank.  It profited them to do so, just like it profits them to trade in terror recruiting videos.

So the Pinto Gap is not much of an excuse for either a competitor service, the DMCA safe harbor, or as a policy the industry should support.  (And that goes for Facebook, too.)

Spotify CO May 12

As it stands now, it would at least potentially be a big mistake to assume that Spotify has done sufficient ameliorative work to be prepared for the big bucks to roll in (for everyone except the songwriters and artists).  All that these songwriter settlements have done is allow songwriters the chance to earn a royalty from Spotify that starts two or maybe three or maybe four decimal places to the right, depending on the month and which of Spotify’s two main services are serving the song or recording.  This is not particularly exciting news for songwriters once the bloom is off the class action rose.

It’s entirely possible that a lawsuit could be brought by any songwriters who are not part of the latest class action or a private settlement.   That certainly would explain why Spotify showed a sudden interest in serving hundreds of thousands of notices on the Copyright Office using the “address unknown” NOI loophole.  The company has probably been advised this tactic would fend off future infringement lawsuits and allow Spotify to use songs under the compulsory license.  It might, but there is a telling section of the settlement document (at p.4) that echoes my own criticism of the mass NOIs (so naturally it caught my eye):

Spotify will invest time and resources to initiate and support an industry-wide
effort (to include representatives of composers, publishers, streaming services,
labels, and others) with the goal of obtaining and digitizing all U.S. Copyright
Office registration records for musical works registered before January 1, 1978,
 and making that information far more accessible to the Class. (my emphasis)

Why is that language intriguing?  Because it is likely there for a reason the language dances around–the public records of the Copyright Office are only searchable online for registrations or recordations after January 1, 1978 and are paper records before that date.  We have long believed that digital services are not going to search the paper records of pre-78 works but are going to file mass NOIs based on “address unknown” status on pre-78 works without actually checking to see if the address is in the Copyright Office records.  Why?  Because when you’re born digital you don’t stoop to looking through paper.  And because it is consistent with their “seek forgiveness not permission” approach that is proving so costly.  Even if they get sued faster than a three finger swipe.

That’s also not going to help them with any stream rips of live shows that have found their way into the extremely porous aggregators that distribute to these services or any other illegal distributions of sound recordings for which a compulsory license isn’t available in the first place.

In other words, if Spotify (or any other service) relies on the mass “address unknown” NOI loophole for pre-78 works without doing the proper research, they are potentially right back where they started–if not worse, because they potentially have misfiled their mass NOIs on a grand scale.  And you know who is good at looking into things done on a grand scale is a grand jury.

So it comes down to the same issue–if the service really is all that valuable, then wouldn’t the fastest way of identifying song owners be by refusing to post their songs until there’s a license in place?  Particularly if you don’t buy into the Pinto Gap excuse?  Isn’t the market much more likely to produce that information in an efficient way through the exercise of leverage and rules?  You know, like the Copyright Act?

 

Vevo Shows YouTube Advertisers How You Do It

March 30, 2017 Comments off

If you’ve been following the YouTube advertising debacle, you may have seen reports that YouTube is planning on offering discounts (aka refunds) to the advertising accounts it burned by showing ads on terror, hate and other videos in violation of Google’s promises (aka contracts) with those advertisers.  What kind of videos would those advertising discounts be on, you may ask?

“Premium content”.  Also known as the official music videos.

So why is YouTube having this problem?  Because they forgot the basic rule of advertising–context is everything.  You may be able to target a user based on the goals of your advertising client, but if the video against which your ad is published is simply awful, the context damages the brand.  You know, like brand sponsored piracy that was under such discussion with SOPA, aka the apotheosis of bullshit.

That’s why YouTube promised not to serve ads in those places in the first place.

What’s intriguing about the advertisers’ problems with context on YouTube is that there is one place on YouTube where accounts can get only premium videos.  That’s called Vevo (a joint venture of Sony, Universal, Warner, Abu Dhabi Media…and, oh, yes, Google).

Vevo’s Kevin McGurn (head of sales) posted a reminder about this to advertising accounts.  In a nutshell:

With over 350,000 pieces of content, Vevo makes up less than 0.5% of all videos on YouTube, yet according to data from comScore, 43% of YouTube’s monthly audience is watching Vevo content. With Vevo content, a brand can more effectively target where, when, and what it associates with in reaching an audience on YouTube.  Vevo’s content is not UGC, it’s premium, licensed, and professionally produced, with an enormous and unique global reach. In fact, when we looked at an average video buy on Vevo and YouTube, we saw less than 10% duplication across the audiences reached. 

The content is vetted through multiple layers of quality control to ensure the safest environment possible for advertisers including:

  • Automatic categorization if the word “explicit” is in the title or content tags.
  • Manual categorization if the content includes any of the following:

    • Vulgar language
    • Violence and disturbing imagery
    • Nudity and sexually suggestive content
    • Portrayal of harmful or dangerous activities 

What this categorization process does is give brands greater transparency into where and how their campaigns run, and the ability to customize how they target. With Vevo, a client’s advertising only runs on premium content, and can be targeted specifically to over 55,000 artists in our catalog. Our customers also have the option to exclude explicit content. Overall, we believe our clients are better served in the safer environment that Vevo offers on YouTube and other platforms. This approach allows them to maximize reach and minimize risk as they tap into the enormous audience consuming music videos online.

Or as Charlie Daniels might say, that’s how you do it, son.

@tpoletti: Google’s YouTube ad controversy should scare investors

March 29, 2017 Comments off

When is an “ad credit” actually a refund? As Chris wrote on MusicTech.Solutions, Google advertisers should be entitled to refunds stretching back years for Google’s failure to live up to its promises to protect advertisers from their ads appearing in terror videos.

via @tpoletti: Google’s YouTube ad controversy should scare investors — Artist Rights Watch

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