Google’s New “YouTube TV” Is a Gift to Donald Trump

As if it wasn’t bad enough that so many high-ranking Google search results were hijacked by criminals monetizing false news stories toward getting Donald Trump elected, it appears that (for the moment at least), Google’s new “YouTube TV” offering is a gift package for serial lying sociopath Donald Trump and his vile supporters.

YouTube Live is Google’s newly announced attempt to push cable “cord cutting” — that is, encouraging people to drop their conventional cable or satellite TV subscriptions, and switch to viewing Internet-delivered streams.

The YouTube Live offering seems fairly conventional at first glance and Google has tossed in useful stuff like multiple users and free time-shifting/DVR capabilities.

But a glaring omission from their channel lineup makes YouTube Live a massive prize package for Donald Trump and his fascist agenda — FOX “News” is included in the lineup, but CNN is nowhere to be found. Go ahead, try and find it. I sure can’t.

It appears that Google is hoping that viewers will accept MSNBC as a substitute for CNN — but that’s ridiculous in the extreme. Not including CNN is giving FOX “News” an enormous boost, and those right-wing News Corp. bastards have already done enough damage to this country without Google giving FOX and Trump this additional big wet kiss squarely on their rotting lips.

No doubt Google will say that they couldn’t reach a licensing agreement with CNN/Time Warner and golly gee we hope to add them onto the lineup soon.

To hell with that. How long will it be before FOX and Trump are ranting claims that Google chose FOX “News” because Google doesn’t trust CNN? Launching this service including FOX “News” but not including CNN is the height of irresponsibility, especially in today’s political environment.

Shame on you Google. Shame on you.

–Lauren–

Meet the Guys: The Jerks of Computer Science

Originally posted July 16, 2013.

A perennial question in Computer Science has nothing directly to do with code or algorithms, and everything to do with people. To wit: Why don’t more women choose CS as a career path?

As a guy who has spent his entire professional career in CS and related policy arenas, this skewing has been obvious to me pretty much since day one.

It’s not restricted to educational institutions and the workplace, it’s also on display at trade shows, technical conferences, and even on social networking sites of all stripes.

And despite the efforts of major firms to draw more women into this field with some relatively limited successes, the overall problem still persists.

All sorts of theories have been postulated for why women tend to avoid CS and the related computer technology fields, ranging from “different nurturing patterns” to inept school guidance counselors.

But I suspect there’s an even more basic reason, that women tend to detect quickly and decisively.

The men of computer science and the computer industry are misogynous jerks.

Not all of them of course. Likely not even the majority.

But enough to thoroughly poison the well.

This goes far beyond guys crudely hitting on women at conferences, or the continuing presence of humiliating “booth babes” at trade shows.

The depth to which this pervades has been especially on painful display on the Web over the last couple of days, relating to a very important operating system technical discussion list.

Since I don’t want this to be about individuals, we’ll call the person at the focus of this list by the label “Q” — after the supercilious, intelligent, arrogant, omnipotent character from the “Star Trek” universe. Not evil per se — in fact capable of great constructive work — but most folks who come in contact with him are unwilling to risk the wrath of such a powerful entity. Indeed, an interesting character this Q.

Back here in what we assume is the real world, the current controversy was triggered when a female member of that technical discussion list publicly criticized “Q” and what we’ll politely call his “boorish” statements on the list — causing at least one observer to note that it was the first time they’d seen anyone stand up to Q that way in 20 years. This woman — by the way — is the formal representative to the list in question from an extremely important and major firm whose technology is at the heart of most personal computers in use today.

The particular examples she cited were by no means the most illustrative available — aficionados of the list in question realize she was showing admirable diplomatic tact.

But while reactions to her statements in the associated list thread itself can certainly be described as interesting, many of the reactions that have appeared externally in social media can only be described as vomit inducing.

I can’t even repeat many of them here, but just a sampling I’ve seen and/or directly received:

– “Nobody told her she had to work with Linux, get off the list!”
– “What is she, a slave? She doesn’t have to be there!”
– “Q is a god! He’s done so much good he can say or do anything else he wants, he can walk across your burned corpses!”
– “People should be able to say anything they want any way they want. If you can’t take it, go somewhere else.”
– “Bring her over to my house and I’ll show her what bad behavior is really about!”
– “Somebody is always going to be offended by everything, so there’s no point to even trying to be polite.”
– “She’s just having PMS and snapped!”
– “Hey, it’s not so bad on the list, it’s just good ol’ boys playing South Park! We don’t want political correctness here. Tell her to go – – – – herself, or ask me over and I’ll do it for her!”

And a wide variety of other specifically crude, sexist, and toilet humor remarks of all sorts, plus much worse.

It was getting so bad that I had to shut down comments on two discussion threads last night before going to bed to avoid their turning into rancid cesspools in my absence — and I wasn’t the only one who had to take that action.

One might argue that all this isn’t unique to computer science and the broader computer industry, and you’d be correct. This kind of “boys will be boys” sexism pervades our culture and in fact has driven many women into refusing to even identify as female in social media or discussion lists at all.

But the “it’s not really important, and everybody’s doing it anyway!” excuse is utterly bogus.

While we may not be able to change these attitudes in the culture at large, we can at least take steps to clean up our own house, to try bring a basic level of civility to our own work in these regards.

But first we need to admit that the status quo is indeed unacceptable, and many in our community’s “good ol’ boys club” are currently refusing even to go that far.

The technical and policy issues we’re dealing with are far too crucial to permit them to be distorted by juvenile, sexist, and loutish behavior that discourages maximum practicable inclusion and participation.

And rather than acting as tacit examples of bullying that help feed even worse abuses, leaders in our technical community should be taking the responsibility to be examples in public — if not of exemplary behavior — at least of basic politeness.

If people want to be jerks in their private lives, that’s up to them. But keep your bad behavior and sexist crap out of our work.

And that goes for you, me, Q, and everyone else as well.

–Lauren–

Please Tell Me Your Google Experiences For “Google 2017” Report

Executive Summary: Please tell me your Google Experiences for my upcoming “Google 2017″ report, via email to:

google@vortex.com

I believe that it’s obvious to pretty much everyone that we’ve now entered a new era of major Internet-related companies directly and indirectly impacting political processes and other aspects of our lives in ways that — frankly, to say the least — were not widely anticipated by most observers. So understanding where things stand these days with these firms is paramount, in terms of their own operations, and their impacts on their users and the world in general.

For many years the most common category of questions and comments that I receive relate one way or another to Google (while I have consulted to Google in the past, I am not currently doing so). So I’ve now begun work on what I’m tentatively calling “Google 2017” — a report (or “white paper” if you prefer) discussing the perceived overall state of Google (and its parent corporation Alphabet, Inc.) in relation to the sorts of issues that I noted above and other relevant related topics.

As part of this effort, I’d very much appreciate your emailing me your own noteworthy experiences with Google (and Alphabet). Good — bad — exemplary — abysmal — confused — resolved — pending — fantastic — or otherwise rising to the level that you feel could usefully contribute to a better understanding of Google and Alphabet overall.

Whether involving specific Google services (including everything from Search to Gmail to YouTube and beyond), accounts, privacy, security, interactions, legal or copyright issues — essentially anything positive, negative, or neutral that you are free to impart to me, that you believe might be of interest.

I would like to keep this report focused on relatively recent experiences and observations, so events that took place years ago that aren’t any longer particularly relevant are frankly of lesser use to me right now.

Your identity will be considered confidential, and any information that you send to me will also be considered confidential in the details — unless you specifically indicate otherwise. That is, I will use your information toward the effort’s reported aggregate analysis, and any of your specific examples or other data that you provide — that I might include in the report as illustrative examples — will be carefully anonymized, unless you give me permission to do otherwise. If you don’t want me to use your examples at all even anonymized, please let me know and that will be respected of course.

Please send anything meeting the criteria above that you feel comfortable sharing with me to:

google@vortex.com

I’ll keep you informed of my progress. Thanks very much!

Be seeing you.

–Lauren–

Don’t (For Now) Use Google’s New “Perspective” Comment Filtering Tool

I must be brief today, so I’ll keep this relatively short and get into details in another post. Google has announced (with considerable fanfare) public access to their new “Perspective” comment filtering system API, which uses Google’s machine learning/AI system to determine which comments on a site shouldn’t be displayed due to perceived high spam/toxicity scores. It’s a fascinating effort. And if you run a website that supports comments, I urge you not to put this Google service into production, at least for now.

The bottom line is that I view Google’s spam detection systems as currently too prone to false positives — thereby enabling a form of algorithm-driven “censorship” (for lack of a better word in this specific context) — especially by “lazy” sites that might accept Google’s determinations of comment scoring as gospel.

In fact, Google’s track record in this context remains problematic.

You can see this even from the examples that Google provides, where it’s obvious that any given human might easily disagree with Google’s machine-driven comment ranking decisions.

And as someone who deals with significant numbers of comments filtered by Google every day — I have nearly 400K followers on Google+ — I can tell you with considerable confidence that the problem isn’t “spam” comments that are being missed, it’s completely legitimate non-spam, nontoxic comments that are inappropriately marked as spam and hidden by Google.

Every day, I plow through lots of these (Google makes them relatively difficult to find and see), so that I can “resurface” completely reasonable comments from good people who have been marked as toxic spammers by Google spam detection false positives.

This is a bad situation, and widespread use of “Perspective” at this stage of its development would likely spread this problem around the world.

For in fact, much worse than letting a spam or toxic comment through, is the AI-based muzzling of a comment and commenter who was completely innocent and falsely condemned by the machine, where a human would not have done so.

“Vanishing” of innocent, legit comments through overaggressive algorithms can lead to misunderstandings, confusion, and a general lack of trust in AI systems — and this kind of trust failure can be dangerous for users and the industry, since AI’s potential for greatness toward improving our world is indeed very real.

I’ll have more to say about this later, but for now, while you should of course feel free to experiment with the Google Perspective API, I urge you not to deploy it to any running production systems at this time.

Be seeing you.

–Lauren–

Does Google Hate Old People?

Originally posted February 11, 2016. Reposted today after a weekend of struggling to support a variety of older and not-so-old users via Chrome Remote Desktop.

– – –

No. Google doesn’t hate old people. I know Google well enough to be pretty damned sure about that.

Is Google “indifferent” to old people? Does Google simply not appreciate, or somehow devalue, the needs of older users?

Those are much tougher calls.

I’ve written a lot in the past about accessibility and user interfaces. And today I’m feeling pretty frustrated about these topics. So if some sort of noxious green fluid starts to bubble out from your screen, I apologize in advance.

What is old, anyway? Or we can use the currently more popular term “elderly” if you prefer — six of one and half a dozen of another, really.

There are a bunch of references to “not wanting to get old” in the lyrics of famous rock stars who are now themselves of rather advanced ages. And we hear all the time that “50 is the new 30” or “70 is the new 50” or … whatever.

The bottom line is that we either age or die.

And the popular view of “elderly” people sitting around staring at the walls — and so rather easily ignored — is increasingly a false one. More and more we find active users of computers and Internet services well into their 80s and 90s. In email and social media, many of them are clearly far more intelligent and coherent than large swaths of users a third their age.

That’s not to say these older users don’t have issues to deal with that younger persons don’t. Vision and motor skill problems are common. So is the specter of memory loss (that actually begins by the time we reach age 20, then increases from that point onward for most of us).

Yet an irony is that computers and Internet services can serve as aids in all these areas. I’ve written in the past of mobile phones being saviors as we age, for example by providing an instantly available form of extended memory.

But we also are forced to acknowledge that most Internet services still only serve older persons’ needs seemingly begrudgingly, failing to fully comprehend how changing demographics are pushing an ever larger proportion of their total users into that category — both here in the U.S. and in many other countries.

So it’s painful to see Google dropping the ball in some of these areas (and to be clear, while I have the most experience with the Google aspects of these problems, these are actually industry-wide issues, by no means restricted to Google).

This is difficult to put succinctly. Over time these concerns have intertwined and combined in ways increasingly cumbersome to tease apart with precision. But if you’ve every tried to provide computer/Internet technical support to an older friend or relative, you’ll probably recognize this picture pretty quickly.

I’m no spring chicken myself. But I remotely provide tech support to a number of persons significantly older — some in their 80s, and more than one well into their 90s.

And while I bitch about poor font contrast and wasted screen real estate, the technical problems of those older users are typically of a far more complex nature.

They have even more trouble with those fonts. They have motor skill issues making the use of common user interfaces difficult or in some cases impossible. Desktop interfaces that seem to be an afterthought of popular “mobile first” interface designs can be especially cumbersome for them. They can forget their passwords and be unable to follow recovery procedures successfully, often creating enormous frustration and even more complications when they try to solve the problems by themselves. The level of technical lingo thrown at them in many such instances — that services seem to assume everyone just knows — only frustrates them more. And so on.

But access to the Net is absolutely crucial for so many of these older users. It’s not just accessing financial and utility sites that pretty much everyone now depends upon, it’s staying active and in touch with friends and relatives and others, especially if they’re not physically nearby and their own mobility is limited.

Keeping that connectivity going for these users can involve a number of compromises that we can all agree are not keeping with ideal or “pure” security practices, but are realistic necessities in some cases nonetheless.

So it’s often a fact of life that elderly users will use their “trusted support” person as the custodian of their recovery and two-factor addresses, and of their primary login credentials as well.

And to those readers who scream, “No! You must never, ever share your login credentials with anyone!” — I wish you luck supporting a 93-year-old user across the country without those credentials. Perhaps you’re a god with such skills. I’m not.

Because I’ve written about this kind of stuff so frequently, you may by now be suspecting that a particular incident has fired me off today.

You’d be correct. I’ve been arguing publicly with a Google program manager and some others on a Chrome bug thread, regarding the lack of persistent connection capability for Chromebooks and Chromeboxes in the otherwise excellent Chrome Remote Desktop system — a feature that the Windows version of CRD has long possessed.

Painfully, from my perspective the conversation has rapidly degenerated into my arguing against the notion that “it’s better to flush some users down the toilet than violate principles of security purity.”

I prefer to assume that the arrogance suggested by the “security purity” view is one based on ignorance and lack of experience with users in need, rather than any inherent hatred of the elderly.

In fact, getting back to the title of this posting, I’m sure hatred isn’t in play.

But of course whether it’s hatred or ignorance — or something else entirely — doesn’t help these users.

The Chrome OS situation is particularly ironic for me, since these are older users whom I specifically urged to move to Chrome when their Windows systems were failing, while assuring them that Chrome would be a more convenient and stable experience for them.

Unfortunately, these apparently intentional limitations in the Chrome version of CRD — vis-a-vis the Windows version — have been a source of unending frustration for these users, as they often struggle to find, enable, and execute the Chrome version manually every time they need help from me, and then are understandably upset that they have to sit there and refresh the connection manually every 10 minutes to keep it going. They keep asking me why I told them to leave Windows and why I can’t fix these access problems that are so confusing to them. It’s personally embarrassing to me.

Here’s arguably the saddest part of all. If I were the average user who didn’t have a clue of how Google’s internal culture works and of what great people Googlers are, it would be easy to just mumble something like, “What do you expect? All those big companies are the same, they just don’t care.”

But that isn’t the Google I know, and so it’s even more frustrating to me to see these unnecessary problems continuing to persist and fester in the Google ecosystem, when I know for a certainty that Google has the capability and resources to do so much better in these areas.

And that’s the truth.

–Lauren–