Google Home Is Leaving Elderly and Disabled Users Behind

I continue to be an enormous fan of Google Home — for example, please see my post “Why Google Home Will Change the World” — — from a bit over a year ago.

But as time goes on, it’s becoming obvious that a design decision by Google in the Home ecosystem is seriously disadvantaging large numbers of potential users — ironically, the very users who might otherwise most benefit from Home’s enormous capabilities.

You cannot install or routinely maintain Google Home units without a smartphone and the Google Home smartphone app. There are no practical desktop based and/or remotely accessible means for someone to even do this for you. A smartphone on the same local Wi-Fi network as the device is always required for these purposes.

This means that many elderly persons and individuals with physical or visual disabilities — exactly the people whose lives could be greatly enhanced by Home’s advanced voice query, response, and control capabilities — are up the creek unless they have someone available in their physical presence to set up the device and make any ongoing configuration changes. Additionally, all of the “get more info” links related to Google Home responses are also restricted to the smartphone Home app.

I can see how imposing these restrictions made things faster and easier for Google to bring Home to market. For example, by requiring a smartphone for initial Wi-Fi configuration of Home, they avoided building desktop interfaces for this purpose, and leveraged smartphones’ already configured Wi-Fi environments.

But that’s not a valid excuse. You might be surprised how many people routinely use the Internet but who do not have smartphones, or who have never used text messaging on conventional cell phones — or hell, who don’t even have cell phones at all!

Now, one could argue that perhaps this wouldn’t matter so much if we were talking about an app to find rave parties or the best surfing locations. But the voice control, query, and response capabilities of Home are otherwise perfectly suited to greatly improve the lives of the very categories of users who are shut out from Home, unless they have someone with a smartphone in their physical presence to get the devices going and perform ongoing routine configuration changes and other non-voice interactions. 

In fact, many persons have queried me with great excitement about Home, only to be terribly disappointed to learn that smartphones were required and that they were being left behind by Google, yet again.

I have in the past asked the question “Does Google Hate Old People” — — and I’m not going to rehash that discussion here.  Perhaps Google already has plans in the works to provide non-smartphone access for these key Home functionalities — if so I haven’t heard about them, but it’s clearly technically possible to do.

I find it distressing that this all seems to follow Google’s pattern of concentrating on their target demographics at the expense of large (and in many cases rapidly growing) categories of users who get left further and further behind as a result.

This is always sad — and unnecessary — but particularly so with Home, given that the voice-operated Home ecosystem would otherwise seem tailor-made to help these persons in so many ways. 

And at the risk of being repetitious, since I’ve been making the same statement quite a bit lately: Google is a great company. Google can do better than this.


Facebook’s Big, Bad Lie About Age Discrimination

Sometimes Facebook’s manipulative tendencies are kept fairly well below the radar. But in some cases, their twisted sensibilities are so blatant that even their own public explanations immediately ring incredibly hollow.

Such is the case with their response yesterday to a ProPublica report accusing their advertising systems of enabling explicit (and in the opinion of many experts, illegal) age discrimination by advertisers seeking employees.

This one is as obvious as Bozo’s bright red nose. Facebook permits advertisers to target employment ads to specific age groups. Facebook users who are not in the designated groups would typically have no way to know that the ads existed at all!

Facebook’s attempted explanation is pathetic:

“US law forbids discrimination in employment based on age, race, gender and other legally protected characteristics. That said, simply showing certain job ads to different age groups on services like Facebook or Google may not in itself be discriminatory — just as it can be OK to run employment ads in magazines and on TV shows targeted at younger or older people.”

The evil duplicity in this statement hits you right in the face. Sure, advertisers run ads on TV shows and in magazines that are oriented toward certain age groups. But there’s nothing stopping adults of other ages from reading those magazines or watching those shows if they choose to do so — and seeing those ads.

By contrast, in Facebook’s tightly controlled, identity-focused ecosystem, the odds are practically nil that you’ll even realize that particular ads exist if you don’t fall into the targeted range. The old saying holds: “You can’t know what you don’t know.”  Facebook’s comparison with traditional media is false and ridiculous. 

ProPublica notes that other large Web services, including Google and others, permit ad targeting by age.  But unlike Google — where many services can be used without logging in and pseudonyms can be easily created — Facebook is almost entirely a walled garden — logins and your true identity are required under their terms of service to do pretty much anything on their platform.

Given Facebook’s dominance in this context, it’s easy to see why their response to these ad discrimination complaints is being met with such ridicule. 

It’s clear that this kind of Facebook age-based ad targeting by advertisers is an attempt to avoid the negative publicity and legal ramifications of explicitly stating the ages of their desired applicants. They hope to accomplish the same results by preventing anyone of the “wrong” ages from even seeing the ads — and the excuses from these advertisers denying this charge are nothing but sour grapes at their schemes (empowered by Facebook) being called out publicly.

Preventing adult users of any age from seeing employment ads is unethical and just plain wrong. If it’s not illegal, it should be.

And that’s the truth.


A YouTube Prank and Dare Category That’s Vast, Disgusting, and Potentially Deadly

This evening, a reader of my blog post from earlier this year (“YouTube’s Dangerous and Sickening Cesspool of ‘Prank’ and ‘Dare’ Videos” –, asked if I knew about YouTube’s “laxative” prank and dare videos. Mercifully, I didn’t know about them. Unfortunately, now I do. And while it’s all too easy to plow the fields of toilet humor when it comes to topics like this, it’s really not at all a funny subject.

In fact, it can be deadly.

Some months back I had heard about a boy who — on a dare — ate 25 laxative brownies in one hour. The result was near total heart and kidney failure. He survived, but just barely.

What I didn’t realize until today is that this was far from an isolated incident, and that there is a stunningly vast corpus of YouTube videos explicitly encouraging such dares — and even worse, subjecting innocent victims to “pranks” along very much the same lines.

Once I began to look into this category, I was shocked by its sheer scope.  For example, a YouTube search for:

laxative prank

currently yields me 132,000 results. Of those, over 2,000 were uploaded in the last month, over 300 in the last week, and 10 just today!

As usual, it’s difficult to know what percentage of these are fakes and which are real. But this really matters not, because virtually all of them have the effect of encouraging impressionable viewers into duplicating their disgusting and dangerous feats.

Many of these YouTube videos are very professionally and slickly produced, and often are on YouTube channels with very high subscriber counts. It also appears common for these channels to specialize in producing a virtually endless array of other similar videos in an obvious effort to generate a continuing income stream — which of course is shared with Google itself.

Is there any possible ethical justification for these videos being hosted by Google, and in many cases also being directly monetized?

No, there is not.

And this is but the tip of the iceberg.

YouTube is saturated with an enormous range of similarly disgusting and often dangerous rot, and the fact that Google continues to host this material provides a key continuing incentive for ever larger quantities of such content to be produced, making Google directly culpable in its spread.

I spent enough time consulting internally with Google to realize that there are indeed many situations where making value judgments regarding YouTube content can be extremely difficult, to say the least.

But many of these prank and dare videos aren’t close calls at all — they are outright dangerous and yes, potentially deadly. And as we’ve seen they are typically extremely easy to find.

The longer that these categories are permitted to fester on YouTube, the greater the risks to Google of ham-fisted government regulatory actions that frankly are likely to do more harm than good.

Google can do so much better than this.


Perhaps the Best Feature Ever Comes to Chrome: Per Site Audio Muting!

UPDATE (January 25, 2018): This feature is now available in the standard, stable, non-beta version of Chrome!

– – –

Tired of sites that blare obnoxious audio at you from autoplay ads or other videos, often from background tabs, sometimes starting long after you’ve moved other tabs to the foreground? Aren’t these among the most disgustingly annoying of sites? Want to put them in their place at last?

Of course you do.

And as promised by Google some months ago, the new Chrome browser beta — I’m using “Version 64.0.3282.24 (Official Build) beta (64-bit)” on Ubuntu Linux — provides the means to achieve this laudable goal.

There are a number of ways to use this truly delightful new feature.

If you right click on the address bar padlock (or for unencrypted pages, usually an “i” icon), you may see a sound “enable/disable” link on the settings tab that appears, or you may need to click on “site settings” from that tab. In the former case, you can choose “allow” or “block” directly, in the latter case, you can do this from the “sound” entry on the full site settings page that appears.

There’s an easier way, too. Right click on the offensive site’s tab. You can choose “Mute site” or “Unmute site” from there. 

These mute selections are “sticky” — they will persist between invocations of the browser — exactly the behavior that we want.

You can also manually enter a list of sites to mute (and delete existing selections) at the internal address: 


And as a special bonus, considering enabling the longstanding “Tab audio muting UI control” experiment in Chrome on the page at the internal address:


This lets you mute or unmute a specific tab by clicking on the tab “speaker” icon, without changing the underlying site mute status — perfect if you want to hear the audio for a specific video at a site that you normally want to keep firmly gagged. 

I have long been agitating for a site mute feature in Chrome — my great thanks to the Chrome team for this excellent implementation!

In due course we can expect this new capability to find its way from Chrome beta to stable, but for now if you’re running the latest beta version, you should be able to starting enjoying this right now.

You’re going to love it.


Google Wisely Pauses Move to Impose Accessibility Restrictions

Last month, in “Google’s Extremely Shortsighted and Bizarre New Restrictions on Accessibility Services”  — — I was highly critical of Google’s move to restrict Android app accessibility services only to apps that were specifically helping disabled persons. 

Google’s actions were assumed to be aimed at preventing security problems that can result when these accessibility services are abused — but these services also implement critical functionalities to other well-behaved apps that cannot currently be provided to most Android users without the use of those services.

My summary statement in that post regarding this issue was:

“The determining factor shouldn’t be whether or not an app is using an accessibility service function within the specific definition of helping a particular class of users, but rather whether or not the app is behaving in an honest and trustworthy manner when it uses those functions.”

I’m pleased to report that Google is apparently now in the process of reevaluating their entire stance on this important matter. Developers have received a note from Google announcing that they are “pausing” their decision, and including this text:

“If you believe your app uses the Accessibility API for a responsible, innovative purpose that isn’t related to accessibility, please respond to this email and tell us more about how your app benefits users. This kind of feedback may be helpful to us as we complete our evaluation of accessibility services.”

Bingo. This is exactly the approach that Google should be taking to this situation, and I’m very glad to see that the negative public reactions to their earlier announcement have been taken to heart.

We’ll have to wait and see what Google’s final determinations are regarding this area, but my thanks to the Google teams involved for giving the feedback the serious consideration that it deserves.