Prosecute Burger King for Their Illegal Google Home Attacks in Their Ads

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Someone — or more likely a bunch of someones — at Burger King and their advertising agency need to be arrested, tried, and spend some time in shackles and prison cells. They’ve likely been violating state and federal cybercrime laws with their obnoxious ad campaign purposely designed to trigger Google Home devices without the permission of those devices’ owners.

Not only has Burger King admitted that this was their purpose, they’ve been gloating about changing their ads to avoid blocks that Google reportedly put in place to try protect Google Home device owners from being subjected to Burger King’s criminal intrusions.

For example, the federal CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) broadly prohibits anyone from accessing a computer without authorization. There’s no doubt that Google Home and its associated Google-based systems are computers, and I know that I didn’t give Burger King permission to access and use my Google Home or my associated Google account. Nor did millions of other users. And it’s obvious that Google didn’t give that permission either. Yet the morons at Burger King and their affiliated advertising asses — in their search for social “buzz” regarding their nauseating fast food products — felt no compunction about literally hijacking the Google Home systems of potentially millions of people, interrupting other activities, and ideally (that is, ideally from their sick standpoint) interfering with people’s home environments on a massive scale.

This isn’t a case of a stray “Hey Google” triggering the devices. This was a targeted, specific attack on users, which Burger King then modified to bypass changes that Google apparently put in place when word of those ads circulated earlier.

Burger King has instantly become the “poster child” for mass, criminal abuse of these devices.  And with their lack of consideration for the sanctity of people’s homes, we might assume that they’re already making jokes about trying to find ways to bill burgers to your credit card without your permission as well. For other dark forces watching these events, this idea could be far more than a joke.

While there are some humorous aspects to this situation — like the anti-Burger King changes made on Wikipedia in response to news of these upcoming ads — the overall situation really isn’t funny at all.

In fact, it was a direct and voluntary violation of law. It was accessing and using computers without permission. Whether or not anyone associated with this illicit stunt actually gets prosecuted is a different matter, but I urge the appropriate authorities to seriously explore this possibility, both for the action itself and relating to the precedent it created for future attacks.

And of course, don’t buy anything from those jerks at Burger King. Ever.

–Lauren–

You Can Make the New Google+ Work Better — If You’re Borg!

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Recently, in Google+ and the Notifications Meltdown, I noted the abysmal user experience represented by the new Google+ unified desktop notifications panel — especially for users like me with many G+ followers and high numbers of notifications.

Since then, one observer mentioned to me that opening and closing the notifications panel seemed to load more notifications. I had noticed this myself earlier, but the technique appeared to be unreliable with erratic results, and with large numbers of notifications still being “orphaned” on the useless standalone G+ notifications page.

After a bunch more time wasted on digging into this, I now seem to have a methodology that will (for now at least … maybe) reliably permit users to see all G+ notifications on the desktop notifications panel, in a manner that permits interacting with them that is much less hassle than the standalone notifications page permits.

There’s just one catch. You pretty much have to be Borg-like in your precision to make this work. You can just call me “One of One” for the remainder of this post.

Keeping in mind that this is a “How-to” guide, not a “What the hell is going on?” guide, let’s begin your assimilation.

The new notifications panel will typically display up to around 10 G+ notification “tiles” when it’s opened by clicking on the red G+ notification circle. If you interact in any way with any specific tile, G+ now usually considers it as “read” and you frequently can’t see it again unless you go to the even more painful standalone notifications page.

Here’s my full recommended procedure. Wander from this path at your own risk.

Open the panel on your desktop by clicking the red circle with the notifications count inside. Click on the bottom-most tile. That notification will open. Interact with it as you might desire — add comments, delete spam, etc.

Now, assuming that there’s more than one notification, click the up-arrow at the top of the panel to proceed upward to the next notification. You can also go back downward with the down-arrow, but do NOT at this time touch the left-arrow at the top of the panel — you do not want to return to those tiles yet.

Continue clicking upward through the notifications using that up-arrow — the notifications will open as you proceed. This can be done quite quickly if you don’t need to add comments of your own or otherwise manage the thread — e.g., you can plow rapidly through +1 notifications.

When you reach the last (that is, the top) notification on the current panel, the up-arrow will no longer be available to click.

NOW you can use the left arrow at the top of the panel to return to the notification tiles view. When you’re back on that view, be sure that you under NO circumstances click the “X” on any of those tiles, and do NOT click on the “hamburger” icon (three horizontal lines) that removes all of the tiles. If you interact with either of those icons, whether at this stage or before working your way up through the notifications, you stand a high probability of creating “orphan” notifications that will collect forever on the standalone notifications page rather than ever being presented by the panel!

So now you’re sitting on the tile view. Click on an empty area of the G+ window OUTSIDE the panel. The panel should close.

Assuming that there are more notifications pending, click again on the red circle. The panel will reopen, and if you’ve been a good Borg you’ll see the panel repopulate with a new batch of notifications.

This exact process can be repeated (again, for the time being at least) until all of your notifications have been dealt with. If you’ve done this all precisely right, you’ll likely end up with zero unread notifications on the standalone notifications page.

That’s all there is to it! A user interface technique that any well-trained Borg can master in no time at all! But at least it’s making my G+ notifications management relatively manageable again.

Yep, resistance IS futile.

–Lauren–

Collecting Examples of YouTube Hate Speech Videos and Channels

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I am collecting examples of hate speech videos on YouTube, and of YouTube channels that contain hate speech. Please use the form at:

https://vortex.com/yt-speech

to report examples of specific YouTube hate speech videos and/or the specific YouTube channels that have uploaded those videos. For YouTube channels that are predominantly filled with hate speech videos, the channel URL alone will suffice (rather than individual video URLs) and is of particular interest.

For the purposes of this study, “hate speech” is defined to be materials that a reasonable observer would feel are in violation of Google’s YouTube Community Standards Terms of Use here:

https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801939

For now, please only report materials that are in English, and that can be accessed publicly. All inputs on this form may be released publicly after verification as part of this project, with the exception of your (optional) name and email address, which will be kept private and will not released or used for any purposes beyond this study.

Thank you for participating in this study to better understand the nature and scope of hate speech on YouTube.

–Lauren–

“Google Needs an Ombudsman” Posts from 2009 — Still Relevant Today

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Originally posted February 27 and 28, 2009:
Google’s “Failure to Communicate” vs. User Support
and
Google Ombudsman (Part II)

Greetings. There’s been a lot of buzz around the Net recently about Google Gmail outages, and this has brought back to the surface a longstanding concern about the public’s ability (or lack thereof) to communicate effectively with Google itself about problems and issues with Google services.

I’ll note right here that Google usually does provide a high level of customer support for users of their paid services. And I would assert that there’s nothing wrong with Google providing differing support levels to paying customers vs. users of their many free services.

But without a doubt, far and away, the biggest Google-related issue that people bring to me is a perceived inability to effectively communicate with Google when they have problems with free Google services — which people do now depend on in many ways, of course. These problems can range from minor to quite serious, sometimes with significant ongoing impacts, and the usual complaint is that they get no response from submissions to reporting forms or e-mailed concerns.

On numerous occasions, when people bring particular Google problems to my attention, I have passed along (when I deemed it appropriate) some of these specific problems to my own contacts at Google, and they’ve always been dealt with promptly from that point forward. But this procedure can’t help everyone with such Google-related issues, of course.

I have long advocated (both privately to Google and publicly) that Google establish some sort of public Ombudsman (likely a relatively small team) devoted specifically to help interface with the public regarding user problems — a role that requires a skillful combination of technical ability, public relations, and “triage” skills. Most large firms that interact continually with the public have teams of this sort in one form or another, often under the label “Ombudsman” (or sometimes “Office of the President”).

The unofficial response I’ve gotten from Google regarding this concept has been an expression of understanding but a definite concern about how such an effort would scale given Google’s user base.

I would never claim that doing this properly is a trivial task — far from it. But given both the horizontal and vertical scope of Google services, and the extent to which vast numbers of persons now depend on these services in their everyday personal and business lives, I would again urge Google to consider moving forward along these lines.

–Lauren–

 – – –

Greetings. In Google’s “Failure to Communicate” vs. User Support, I renewed my long-standing call for an Ombudsman “team” or equivalent communications mechanism for Google.

Subsequent reactions suggest that some readers may not be fully familiar with the Ombudsman concept, at least in the way that I use the term.

An Ombudsman is not the same thing as “customer support” per se. I am not advocating a vast new Google customer service apparatus for users of their free services. Ombudsmen (Ombudswomen? Let’s skip the politically correct linguistics for now …) aren’t who you go to when search results are slow or you can’t log in to Gmail for two hours. These sorts of generally purely technical issues are the vast majority of the time suitable for handling within the normal context of existing online reporting forms and the like. (I inadvertently may have caused some confusion on this point by introducing my previous piece with a mention of Gmail problems — but that was only meant in the sense that those problems triggered broader discussions, not a specific example of an issue appropriate for escalation to an Ombudsman.)

But there’s a whole different class of largely non-technical (or more accurately, mixed-modality) issues where Google users appear to routinely feel frustrated and impotent to deal with what they feel are very disturbing situations.

Many of these relate to perceived defamations, demeaning falsehoods, systemic attacks, and other similar concerns that some persons feel are present in various Google service data (search results, Google Groups postings, Google-hosted blog postings, YouTube, and so on).

By the time some of these people write to me, they’re apparently in tears over the situations, wondering if they should spend their paltry savings on lawyers, and generally very distraught. Their biggest immediate complaints? They don’t know who to contact at Google, or their attempts at contact via online forms and e-mail have yielded nothing but automatic replies (if that).

And herein resides the crux of the matter. I am a very public advocate of open information, and a strong opponent of censorship. I won’t litter this posting with all of the relevant links. I have however expressed concerns about the tendency of false information to reside forever in search results without mechanisms for counterbalancing arguments to be seen. In 2007 I discussed this in Search Engine Dispute Notifications: Request For Comments and subsequent postings. This is an exceedingly complex topic, with no simple solutions.

In general, my experience has been that many or most of the concerns that people bring forth in these regards are, all aspects of the situation considered fairly, not necessarily suitable for the kinds of relief that the persons involved are seeking. That is, the level of harm claimed often seems insufficient, vs. free speech and the associated rights of other parties.

However, there are dramatic, and not terribly infrequent exceptions that appear significantly egregious and serious. And when these folks can’t get a substantive reply from Google (and can’t afford a lawyer to go after the parties who actually have posted or otherwise control the information that Google is indexing or hosting) these aggrieved persons tend to be up you-know-what creek.

If you have a DMCA concern, Google will normally react to it promptly. But when the DMCA is not involved, trying to get a real response from Google about the sorts of potentially serious concerns discussed above — unless you have contacts that most people don’t have — can often seem impossible.

Google generally takes the position — a position that I basically support — that since they don’t create most content, the responsibility for the content is with the actual creator, the hosting Web sites, and so on. But Google makes their living by providing global access to those materials, and cannot be reasonably viewed as being wholly separated from associated impacts and concerns.

At the very least, even if requests for deletions, alterations, or other relief are unconvincing or rejected for any number of quite valid reasons, the persons who bring forth these concerns should not be effectively ignored. They deserve to at least get a substantive response, some sort of hearing, more than a form-letter automated reply about why their particular plea is being rejected. This principle remains true irrespective of the ultimate merits or disposition of the particular case.

And this is where the role of a Google Ombudsman could be so important — not only in terms of appropriately responding to these sorts of cases, but also to help head off the possibility of blowback via draconian regulatory or legislative actions that might cut deeply into Google’s (and their competitors) business models — a nightmare scenario that I for one don’t want to see occur.

But I do fear that unless Google moves assertively toward providing better communications channels with their users for significant issues — beyond form responses and postings in the official Google blogs, there are forces that would just love to see Google seriously damaged who will find ways to leverage these sorts of issues toward that end — evidence of this sort of positioning by some well-heeled Google haters is already visible.

Ombudsmen are all about communication. For any large firm that is constantly dealing with the public, especially one operating on the scope of Google, it’s almost impossible to have too much communication when it comes to important problems and related issues. On the other hand, too little communications, or the sense that concerned persons are being ignored, can be a penny-wise but pound-foolish course with negative consequences that could have been — even if not easily avoided– at least avoided with a degree of serious effort.

–Lauren–

The YouTube Racists Fight Back!

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Somewhat earlier today I received one of those “Hey Lauren, you gotta look at this on YouTube!” emails. Prior to my recently writing What Google Needs to Do About Hate Speech, such a message was as likely to point at a particularly cute cat video or a lost episode of some 60s television series as anything else. Since that posting, however, these alerts are far more likely to direct me toward much more controversial materials.

Such was the case today. Because the YouTube racists, antisemites, and their various assorted lowlife minions are at war. They’re at war with YouTube, they’re at war with the Wall Street Journal. They’re ranting and raving and chalking up view counts on their YouTube live streams and uploads today that ordinary YouTube users would be thankful to accumulate over a number of years.

After spending some time this afternoon lifting up rotting logs to peer at the maggots infesting the seamy side of YouTube where these folks reside, here’s what’s apparently going on, as best as I can understand it right now.

The sordid gang of misfits and losers who create and support the worst of YouTube content — everybody from vile PewDiePie supporters to hardcore Nazis, are angry. They’re angry that anyone would dare to threaten the YouTube monetization streams that help support their continuing rivers of hate speech. Any moves by Google or outside entities that appear to disrupt their income stream, they characterize as efforts to “destroy the YouTube platform.”

Today’s ongoing tirade appears to have been triggered by claims that the Wall Street Journal “faked” the juxtaposition of specific major brand ads with racist videos, as part of the ongoing controversies regarding YouTube advertiser controls. It seems that the creators of these videos are claiming that the videos in question were not being monetized during the period under discussion, or otherwise couldn’t have appeared in the manner claimed by the WSJ.

This gets into a maze of twisty little passages very quickly, because when you start digging down into these ranting videos today, you quickly see how they are intertwined with gamer subcultures, right-wing “fake news” claims, pro-Trump propagandists, and other dark cults — as if the outright racism and antisemitism weren’t enough.

And this is where the true irony breaks through like a flashing neon sign. These sickos aren’t at all apologetic for their hate speech videos on YouTube, they’re simply upset when Google isn’t helping to fund them.

I’ve been very clear about this. I strongly feel that these videos should not be on YouTube at all, whether monetized or not.

For example, one of the videos being discussed today in this context involves the song “Alabama Nig—.” If you fill in the dashes and search for the result on YouTube, you’ll get many thousands of hits, all of them racist, none of which should be on YouTube in the first place.

Which all suggests that the arguments about major company ads on YouTube hate speech videos, and more broadly the issues of YouTube hate speech monetization, are indeed really just digging around the edges of the problem.

Hate speech has no place on YouTube. Period. Google’s Terms of Service for YouTube explicitly forbid racial, religious, and other forms of this garbage.

The sooner that Google seriously enforces their own YouTube terms, the sooner that we can start cleaning out this hateful rot. We’ve permitted this disease to grow for years on the Internet thanks to our “anything goes” attitude, contributing to a horrific rise in hate throughout our country, reaching all the way to the current occupant of the Oval Office and his cronies.

This must be the beginning of the end for hate speech on Youtube.

–Lauren–