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Posts Tagged ‘Susan Wojcicki’

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

November 15, 2018 Leave a comment

“[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.

 

The First Rule of Lawfare: Is Google’s Active Measures Campaign on Article 13 a Trial Run for Election Meddling by a US Non-State Actor?

October 28, 2018 Comments off

Well, I wake up in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain.
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane.
It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor.
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.

From Maggie’s Farm, written by Bob Dylan

Google on the Back Foot with the Copyright Directive

Google and Facebook recently suffered a lobbying debacle in Europe over the European Copyright Directive.  That legislation cuts back the European version of the what Americans call the DMCA safe harbor.  A triumph for artists, Google’s European loss was the worst lobbying defeat that Silicon Valley has been handed in a long time—at least since the SESTA legislation cut back another safe harbor in the U.S.  So it shouldn’t be surprising that YouTube’s CEO is trying to influence YouTubers to lobby on behalf of Big Tech—Google desperately needs some human shields, which is exactly what participating YouTubers would be.  Once again scrubbing the floor for the House of Google.

At its core, the Copyright Directive cuts back the ability of services like YouTube to profit from infringing activities on their platforms.   One would expect corporations profiting from that safe harbor to lobby against it, just like supporters lobbied for it.  But Google and Facebook went well beyond simply lobbying by attempting to sow discord and undermine democratic institutions.  

And they got caught—red handed.   They were caught conducting active measures such as spamming, bot farming and overt messaging campaigns calculated to undermine the legislative process in the European Parliament.  You can read about it in a number of leading European publications starting with investigations by both the Times of London and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

 

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Google’s Article 13 Lobbying Campaign from Volker Rieck

 

Most importantly Google supporters like the Pirate Party promised—or more accurately “threatened”—that “constituents” would show up to protest, and very few did.  So Google’s active measures campaign lacked a human face—the key component that brought it down.

German MEP Helga Truepel explained why the plenary vote on the Copyright Directive was so lopsided against Google at a press conference :  “…[It was] due to this message spamming campaign. I talked to some of my colleagues here [and they] are totally pissed off, cause in the streets there were a maximum 500-800 people last Sunday [at Pirate Party protests]… and we were only deleting emails for weeks now.”

Plan B and the First Rule of Lawfare

Fast forward to today: Google needs a Plan B.  Desperately.

Google’s problem today is the Members of the European Parliament (and some members of the UK Parliament) are wise to their jive after the plenary vote.  My bet is that story is not yet concluded as it merits a criminal investigation.  Because when a corporate covert influence operation is discovered and attribution is certain, it’s hard to put that genie back in the bottle (just like Internet piracy).

But while Google desperately needs a Plan B to retain its safe harbor, publicly acknowledging its influence operation is politically awkward, bread crumbs or no.  Like fight club, the first rule of lawfare is that it does not exist.

Google and Facebook are struggling to find that Plan B as the EU lawmaking process continues with the “Trilogue”, the next step to the Copyright Directive becoming national law in the European Union.  Google seeks another way to overwhelm the system by finding human shields to mingle with the bots.  And that’s where YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki comes in with her recent appeal to YouTubers to protest the Directive.

Ms. Wojcicki may want us to overlook that Google just got caught running active measures against a democratic institution to meddle in the legislative process on another continent.  But members of the European Parliament have not forgotten.  She may be able to pull the wool over YouTuber’s eyes, but it just makes her human shields look even more duped and her methods look especially more alarming—if not terrifying—in a post-Cambridge Analytica world.

Safe Harbors, Addiction and Human Shields

Don’t underestimate how important these safe harbors are to Google, Facebook and its fellow monopolists.  They were ready to be on the wrong side of child sex trafficking legislation to preserve their other safe harbor (Section 230 of the “Communications Decency Act”)—that surely strained Sheryl Sandberg’s performance as Wendy to Mark Zuckerberg’s “boy who wouldn’t grow up.”  These safe harbors are crucial to Google, Facebook and Twitter—because it protects them as they snort up the addictive content and reward (if not sell) views, likes, follows, and “engagement.”  

Remember—YouTube is not in the music business, or even in the content business at the end of the day.  Google and Facebook are in the addiction business.  

In particular the behavioral addiction business (see Irresistible by Dr. Adam Alter).  If you’re in the addiction business, safe harbors are very, very important.  Just ask the narcotraficantes.  And don’t forget—the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island investigated Google for violations of the Controlled Substances Act that resulted in a $500,000,000 fine and a non-prosecution agreement (not to mention a shareholder lawsuit).

Straight Outta Minitrue

But I suspect it is the embarrassing lack of human shields cited by MEP Helga Truepel that drove Ms. Wojcicki to issue a meandering tl;dr blog post trying to convince “YouTube creators” to fall in with the company line on the Copyright Directive. 

Ms. Wojcicki manages to get through her entire appeal without coming clean about the point of the Copyright Directive—YouTube profits from piracy through the safe harbor that the Directive would cut back, especially Article 13.  (There’s way more to the Directive than Article 13, but that’s another story.)

She would have YouTubers sign up to the “sky is falling” claims that “the unintended consequences of Article 13 will put [the highly profitable YouTube] ecosystem at risk”.  Why?  Because “[i]t would be too risky for platforms to host content from smaller original content creators, because the platforms would now be directly liable for that content.”  

That is quite a leap—how is it that “smaller” YouTubers would be such a big problem?  After all of YouTube’s “advertiser friendly” changes that severely hurt the earning power of many YouTubers, does Ms. Wojcicki really think that YouTubers—a pretty clever bunch on the whole it must be said—are so gullible that they will miss the irony?  

And then she says this: “We are committed to working with the industry to find a better way.  This language could be finalized by the end of the year [in the Trilogue], so it’s important to speak up now.”

Given the breadth of the coalition supporting the Copyright Directive and opposing Google and Facebook, it’s not immediately clear who is “the industry.”  I can tell you that if she includes the music industry in that reference, I can save her some time.  

Nobody in “the industry” trusts Google, YouTube, Facebook or Ms. Wojcicki.  [Although the beachhead that Google scored with the MMA may make life interesting for publishers and songwriters wishing to protest against the hand that feeds the mechanical licensing collective.]  

And, frankly, I’d be surprised if many YouTubers trust her either.  Based on the vote supporting the Copyright Directive, there’s a wide swath of MEPs that have severe misgivings about all these Silicon Valley companies trying to run roughshod over Europeans.  And then there’s the two and probably soon to be three competition prosecutions against Google by the European Commission.  That’s a thing.

Ms. Wojcicki hasn’t learned (and I predict won’t ever learn) a simple truth that every record company and music publisher knows—don’t jack with the talent.  YouTube jacks with the talent frequently, so it’s unclear how the talent is going to react to this latest request that they take time out of their day to help YouTube.

It’s not a good look and it will come back to bite.  YouTube has been profiting from the safe harbor for its entire existence and wouldn’t know how to make an honest buck if their lives depended.

Is Election Meddling Next on Google’s Agenda?

Before Ms. Wojcicki tries to rally YouTubers as human shields to support Google’s billions on her bot farm, she needs to get her own house in order.

And members of the European Parliament need to get a grip on these active measures campaigns before Google goes beyond “lobbying” on an issue vote and moves on to meddling in campaign outcomes in a few months when the European Parliament stands for election.

In a post-Cambridge Analytica world, we all know it’s a short step from undermining opposition on a particular issue to undermining the election of a particular candidate.  And Google is just as capable of meddling as any state actor if not more so.

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?

 

 

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