Google Reportedly Plans New Protections for YouTube Kids — Let’s Get Them Right!


Reports are circulating that Google plans to implement some important new protections for their YouTube Kids offering, in particular providing a means for parents to ensure that their children only see videos that have been human-curated and/or are from appropriately trusted YouTube channels.

The goal would be to avoid children being exposed to the kinds of sick garbage that currently still manages to seep into YouTube Kids recommendation engine suggested videos.

I have been calling for exactly this kind of approach for YouTube Kids, and I applaud such efforts by the YouTube team.

However, if some details of these reports are accurate, there are a couple of important provisos that I must mention.

First, the “curated/trusted” YouTube Kids video mode will supposedly be an opt-in feature — needing to be explicitly enabled (e.g., by parents).

By default, children would reportedly continue to see the algorithmic recommendations complete with the creepy contamination.

Since we’re dealing with kids viewing videos, not adults, this new human-curated mode should absolutely be the default, which could optionally be disabled by parents if they really wanted their children to see the full algorithmic flow.

The calculus when determining appropriate defaults is entirely different for children, and depending on busy parents to pay attention to these kinds of settings is problematic at best, so this is a situation where the most ethical and responsible action on Google’s part would be for the “safest” settings to prevail as defaults.

Secondly, it’s crucial in the long run that the same YouTube Kids features and content options are ultimately available not only as mobile apps but on ordinary browser platforms as well.  Most children don’t limit their video viewing only to phones!

All that said, if Google is indeed moving ahead toward human-curated and approved YouTube Kids video suggestions, this is a notably positive step, and would be an important acknowledgment by Google that in some cases, algorithms alone are insufficient to adequately deal with our complex online content ecosystems.

–Lauren–

How YouTube’s Ad Restrictions Have Gone Very Wrong


In the wake of the horrific shooting attack at YouTube headquarters, global attention has been drawn to Google’s content and monetization policies for YT, since the shooter apparently had a number of public grievances against YT in these regards (“Tragically, the YouTube Shooting Attack Is Not a Complete Surprise” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/04/04/tragically-the-youtube-shooting-attack-is-not-a-complete-surprise).

Part of what makes this all confusing is that Google’s recent series of YT policy changes — popularly called “Adpocalypse” — has included a number of different elements, some of which appear to have been much more appropriate than others.

The result is that many YT users who’ve been playing by the rules have been unfairly tossed into the dumpster along with the real abusers.

For example, I support Google’s moves to crack down (via demonetization and/or removal) on YT videos/channels that contain hate speech or other content that is clearly in violation of YT Terms of Service or Community Standards. In fact, I feel that Google has not gone far enough in some respects to deal with specific categories of violating, potentially dangerous content (“On YouTube, What Potentially Deadly Challenge Will Be Next?” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/04/02/on-youtube-what-potentially-deadly-challenge-will-be-next). I’ve also proposed techniques to help quickly detect truly abusive content (“Solving YouTube’s Abusive Content Problems — via Crowdsourcing” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/03/11/solving-youtubes-abusive-content-problems-via-crowdsourcing).

But along the way, Google made the misguided decision to drastically curtail which YT users could run ads to monetize their videos, essentially slapping “the little guys” in their faces. These users’ ads never brought in much money by Google standards, but every dollar counts to ordinary folks like you and me!

Why did Google do this? I suspect that they felt this to be a convenient time to shed the large number of small uploaders who didn’t bring in much revenue to Google. And conveniently, Google could argue (largely disingenuously, I believe)  that this was actually part of their broader anti-abuse efforts as well.

One can understand why Google would prefer not to bother evaluating small YT channels for terms compliance. But the reality is that the worst abusers often have among the largest YT followings — sometimes with millions of subscribers and/or large numbers of video views. 

By virtue of these very non-Googley and significantly draconian monetization restrictions applied to small, completely non-abusing YT channels and users, vast numbers of innocents are being condemned as if they were guilty. 

–Lauren–

Tragically, the YouTube Shooting Attack Is Not a Complete Surprise

I didn’t get much sleep last night. For many years I’ve feared the kind of attack that occurred at YouTube headquarters yesterday. Employees severely injured — the shooter dead by her own hand.

I’ve spent time looking over the attacker’s online materials — her website and available videos.

What’s immediately clear is that she had smoldering grievances against Google’s YouTube, that exploded yesterday in a rampage of innocent blood and her own self-destruction. Her father apparently knew that she “hated YouTube” — and had warned police that she might be headed there.

Google will no doubt bolster its physical security in the wake of this tragedy, but of course that merely pushes the zone of risk out to the perimeters of their secure areas.

Haunting me regarding the shooter’s online statements is that one way or another, I’ve seen or heard so much similar to them, so many times before.

For many years, Google and YouTube users have come to me in desperation when they felt that their problems or grievances were being ignored by Google. If you’ve been reading my posts for any significant length of time, you’ve seen me discussing these matters on numerous occasions.

The common thread in the stories that I hear from these users — usually by email, sometimes by phone — are feelings of frustration, of desperation, of an inability to communicate with Google — to get what they consider to be at least a “fair shake” from the firm when they have Google-related problems.

I’ve not infrequently pondered the possibility that one day, an upset, desperate Google user would become violent, potentially with deadly results especially given the flood of easily available firearms in this country.

YouTube related issues have typically been a big chunk of these user concerns brought to me, as have been Google account access issues generally. I’ve tried to help these users when I could, e.g., please see: “The Google Account  ‘Please Help Me!’ Flood” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/09/12/the-google-account-please-help-me-flood – and many other posts.

For well over a decade (most recently late last month) — both publicly and directly to Google — I’ve repeatedly urged the creation of Google “ombudsman” or similar roles, to provide more empowered escalation and internal policy analysis paths, and to help provide an “escape valve” for better dealing with the more serious user issues that arise. Just a couple of my related posts include:

“Why Big Tech Needs Big Ethics — Right Now!” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/03/24/why-big-tech-needs-big-ethics-right-now

“Google Needs an Ombudsman” Posts from 2009 — Still Relevant Today” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/04/03/google-needs-an-ombudsman-posts-from-2009-still-relevant-today

Google has always rejected such calls for ombudsmen or similar roles. Google has said that ombudsmen might have too much power (this definitely need not be the case — these roles can be defined in a wide variety of ways). Google has insisted that ombudsman concepts couldn’t scale adequately to their ecosystem (yet other firms with very large numbers of customers have managed to employ these concepts successfully for many decades).

The reality is that Google — filled to the brim with some of the smartest and most capable people on the planet — COULD make this work if they were willing to devote sufficient time and resources to structuring such roles appropriately.

Google’s communications with their users — along with related support and policy issues — have always collectively been Google’s Achilles’ heel.

While one would be reasonable to assume that the number of aggrieved Google users inclined to physically attack Google and Googlers is extremely limited, the fact remains that desperate people driven over the edge can be expected to sometimes take desperate actions. This is not by any means to excuse such horrific actions — but these are the facts.

Google and its services have become integral parts of people’s lives — in some cases more so than even their own families.

Google turns 20 this year. It’s time for Google to truly take responsibility for these issues and to grow up.

–Lauren–

On YouTube, What Potentially Deadly Challenge Will Be Next?


Sometimes I just can’t figure out Google. A great company. Great people. But on some issues they’re just so incredibly, even dangerously “tone deaf” to serious risks that persist on their platforms.

You’ve probably already gotten tired of my discussions regarding the dangerous prank-dare-challenge videos on YouTube, e.g. “A YouTube Prank and Dare Category That’s Vast, Disgusting, and Potentially Deadly” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/12/17/youtube-prank-dare-vast-disgusting-potentially-deadly — and related posts.

So as if the dangerous “laxative prank” and Tide Pods Challenge and an array of other nightmarish YouTube-based efforts to achieve social media fame weren’t bad enough, we now are seeing a resurgence of the even more potentially disastrous “condom snorting” videos. If you haven’t heard of this one before, you probably shouldn’t investigate the topic shortly after eating.

The usual monsters of the Internet are already proclaiming this to be much ado about nothing, pointing out that it’s not a new phenomenon, even though it has suddenly achieved viral visibility again thanks mainly to YouTube. The usual sick statements like “let natural selection take its course” and “Darwin Award at work!” are also spewing from these child-hating trolls. 

I wonder how many impressionable youths seduced into sickness or even death by these categories of videos would be viewed as too many by these sick minds?  Five? Five hundred? 

NO! One is too many!

Because by and large, these videos shouldn’t exist on YouTube at all. 

But the trolls are right about one thing — many of these videos have been on YouTube for quite some time, gradually accumulating large numbers of views along the way. And when they suddenly “pop” and go viral, they’re like landmines that have finally exploded.

These videos clearly and absolutely violate Google’s YouTube Terms of Service by demonstrating unquestionably dangerous acts.

And they’re usually trivial to find via simple YouTube searches — often in vast quantities using obvious keywords.  Since I can find them — since kids can find them — Google could certainly find them, if it really wanted to.

Google has made significant strides toward demonetizing or eliminating various forms of hate speech from YouTube. But for some reason, they seem to continue dragging their collective feet in the category of dangerous challenge, dare, and prank videos.

Google can fix this. Google MUST fix this. There simply aren’t valid excuses for this continuing, dangerous pestilence that is contaminating YouTube — one of my favorite sites on the Net — and in the process providing governments around the planet with more excuses to push knee-jerk censorship that will harm us all.

C’mon Google, please get your ass in gear, and get that crap off of YouTube. 

No more excuses. Enough is enough.

–Lauren–

EU to Domain Owners in the UK: Drop Dead!


If there were ever any remaining questions about the cruel pettiness of European Union bureaucrats and politicians — as if their use of extortionist tactics against firms like Google, and the implementation of horrific global censorship regimes like “Right To Be Forgotten” weren’t enough — the latest chapter in EU infamy should eliminate any lingering doubts.

The European Commission has now issued an edict that the over 300 thousand UK-based businesses and other UK owners of dot-EU (.eu) domain names will be kicked off of their domains — and in many cases have their websites and businesses wrecked as a result — due to Brexit.

One might readily acknowledge that the UK’s pursuit of Brexit was a historically daft and self-destructive idea, but it took the EU to treat UK businesses caught in the middle as if they were victims from one of the torture-porn “SAW” movies. The more blood and pain the merrier, right gents?

The EU pronouncement is loaded with legalistic mumbo-jumbo, but is being widely interpreted as not only saying that UK entities can’t register or even renew existing dot-EU domains after about a year from now, but that perhaps even existing registrations might be terminated as of that date as well — apparently with no right of appeal.

There’s talk that there might be a small chance of negotiations to avert some of this. But the mere fact that the EC would issue such a statement — completely at odds with the way that domain transition issues have been routinely handled on the Internet for decades — gives us vast insight into the cosmic train wreck represented by increased European Union influence over Internet policies and operations.

Just when you begin to think that the EU can’t come up with an even worse way of wrecking the Net, they fool us once again with ever more awful new lows.

Congratulations!

–Lauren–