In 2017, PragerU filed suit against Google and YouTube over the company's content policies. The educational organization made the same claims that many content creators have made over the past few years - that YouTube's policies are inconsistent and applied more often against publishers that disagree with the company's political stance. While a private organization generally has the ability to determine what happens attached to its name, PragerU argued that YouTube's position in the industry made it more like a public space. Because of that position, the company's content policies are tantamount to censorship.
Unfortunately for PragerU, the lawsuit was dismissed this week by a panel of three judges for a US appeals court. This was an upholding of a lower court's ruling. The judges wrote,
PragerU's claim that YouTube censored PragerU's speech faces a formidable threshold hurdle: YouTube is a private entity. The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government-not a private party-from abridging speech.
The judges pointed to a Surpreme Court case which was similar and ended similarly. According to that ruling,
merely hosting speech by others is not a traditional, exclusive public function and does not alone transform private entities into state actors subject to First Amendment constraints.
If the rule were otherwise, all private property owners and private lessees who open their property for speech would be subject to First Amendment constraints and would lose the ability to exercise what they deem to be appropriate editorial discretion within that open forum.
PragerU had argued that it wasn't the company's hosting of speech that made them subject to scrutiny, but the fact that the site claimed itself to be a public forum for free speech in front of Congress. By making that claim, they opened themselves up to legal scrutiny for infringing on the free speech of content creators. While the argument didn't ultimately work in the courts, it did bring the issue into the light. The organization is hoping that more people will look into what YouTube is up to with its content policies.
The past few years have seen the transition of much of the internet from transferring data over HTTP to HTTPS. While the distinction seems small, the end behavior has been huge. ISP and internet relays can no longer see the data being transferred between you and the websites you visit, so long as they are using HTTPS. While the data itself is encrypted, the requests are not. That means that these same organizations have the ability to see the sites and pages you visit, if not the data, because the DNS lookups themselves are not encrypted. That is until now.
Cloudflare offers an encrypted DNS lookup service using the DNS over HTTPS, or DoH, protocol. This service protects even your browsing history from the prying eyes of the ISPs and relays, as well as anyone snooping on your wireless connections. Firefox has offered an integration with the DoH protocol for a while now but is stepping up that relationship. This week, the company announced that, in the coming weeks, it would be turning this behavior on for all US users by default. In the announcement, the company said,
Today, we know that unencrypted DNS is not only vulnerable to spying but is being exploited, and so we are helping the Internet to make the shift to more secure alternatives. We do this by performing DNS lookups in an encrypted HTTPS connection. This helps hide your browsing history from attackers on the network, (and) helps prevent data collection by third parties on the network that ties your computer to websites you visit.
Mozilla, who makes Firefox, has said that they are open to adding additional encrypted DNS providers with time, so long as they conform to the company's requirements. They have also said that they are not turning the setting on by default outside of the US. However, if you want to use the feature, you can turn it on in the settings.
Hopefully, we will see more browsers, particularly Chrome and the new Edge, will implement this feature. Both companies have it in their pipelines, though neither has announced timelines for public release.
Harmonix has long been a top name in music and rhythm games. With console titles like Rock Band, and tabletop titles like DropMix, they have continued to innovate in the space. This innovation has come during a time when most thought that the rhythm genre had returned to a small, niche market. But, with DropMix, the company proved that there was still a wider interest in music titles. But, with custom hardware needed and perishable components, the reach of the game was still limited. With the newest title Fuser, they may have found a happy medium.
Rather than requiring a special gameboard and NFC-powered playing cards, Fuser has taken a more traditional rhythm game approach. The game is played on a console or PC using entirely digital assets. Like with its predecessor, the songs are broken into the musical components of keyboard, percussion, guitar, and vocals. Those components can be combined in various ways to create a custom mix.
In addition to Freestyle mode, Fuser also includes proper challenge modes, such as Drop a Beat, and Crowd Requests. These modes seem to be similar to the modes offered by DropMix, but with a music festival theme. If the game is anywhere near as much fun as DropMix, this will be a winner.
The most interesting aspect of the game is that Harmonix truly believes that rhythm games are not dead and are about to see a second life. To prove this theory, they have enlisted the help of yet another company. While DropMix was built in partnership with NXP, Fuser is a partnership with developer NCSOFT. This is following the partnership with Twitch on Twitch Sings, a live-streamed karaoke title.
Our team and the team at DDRLover are certainly excited about the resurgence of rhythm games. What about you? Is this a game you need in your collection?
Since the company accidentally came out of stealth mode, Clearview AI has had continuing trouble. While law enforcement loves the ability to identify people with their phones, public perception and the reception by privacy advocates have been incredibly negative. To add insult to injury, the company has refused to discuss or disclose exactly who they have been working with.
Some seemed determined to make sure that the list was made public. Someone accessed the company's computers, either internally or externally, and leaked the list. In addition, the person accessed several of the accounts created by these customers and the number of searches performed by each. The company seems very careful in its wording, never describing the data access as a hack.
If you are a law enforcement agency using Clearview's technology, the release of your participation might be a problem. Not only do criminals within your jurisdiction know that you're using it, but so does everyone else. When it was revealed that a jurisdiction in New Jersey had accessed Clearview's app, the state banned its use entirely. When using controversial technology and techniques, secrecy is key.
Also, being able to access the technology at all becomes important, as well. That has also become difficult, as this week Apple removed the Clearview AI app from its platform. While Apple removes apps every day, this one was more difficult than usual. That's because the app is not distributed through the App Store, but instead by using an enterprise distribution method. This process is designed to allow corporations to distribute apps to their employees without making them publicly accessible. Clearview violated Apple's developer agreement by using the process to distribute the app outside of the company, so Apple disabled the developer account. This move not only disables the future distribution of the app but uninstalls it from current iPhones and iPads.
Clearview AI is just seeing the beginning of its problems, however. As states like New Jersey ban the technology and lawsuits are filed against the company, keeping the lights on is going to be a difficult task.
We have long predicted that consumer burnout would ultimately lead to consolidation among video streaming services. To subscribe to all of the services that are available would cost far above the already outrageous cost of cable television. This leads to consumers having to choose which content they are willing to skip, which is not what any of the streaming services want. No one wants to be the service that is the one being skipped, so inevitably, the smaller services would be integrated into the larger ones. This week, reports have surfaced that two of the smaller video services are under contract to join two of the larger media companies.
The first is Vudu, a service that has had various owners and purposes. Originally, the brand converted DVDs into digital downloads, but Walmart has tried various alternate options since its purchase. The most recent has been Family Play, a content censorship program. After months of rumors about a potential sale, it appears that Comcast's NBCUniversal might be in advanced discussions to purchase the brand. For NBC, the purchase could be all about buying streaming rights to help with its upcoming Peacock streaming service.
The second brand in transition is Tubi, a service that allows users to watch movies and television shows online for free. This business model is similar to the free tier for NBC's Peacock - a feature that is missing from Fox's offerings. This is even more accurate with much of Fox's content library being sold to Disney. The reports suggest that Fox could be offering as much as $500 million for the Tubi service.
By folding some of these smaller services, such as Vudu, Tubi, Xumo, PlutoTV, etc., into the larger brands, it would make the larger services more attractive, and create a lot less pressure on consumers to choose which services to support and which to skip.
If there is any company in the United States that understands the fallout from not completely complying with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), it's Google. In the past few months, the company was on the receiving end of a Federal Trade Commission fine, which ultimately changed the entire community policy for YouTube. However, this seems to have had little to no effect on the wider Google, as they are once again in trouble.
A lawsuit, filed by New Mexico, claims that Google has violated both COPPA and New Mexico's Unfair Practices Act. Unlike the YouTube issue, where the company tried to claim that they couldn't control that children were using the platform, there can be no mistaking the intentions in this case. This case involves Google's tools being offered to school students.
While adults tend to understand that if the tool is free, the product is you and your data, children cannot understand exactly what that means. This is the reason why laws like COPPA exist, preventing companies like Google from tracking the behavior of children and creating data profiles of them. The suit claims that Google has knowingly done exactly that, saying,
To drive adoption in more schools-and to alleviate legitimate concerns about its history of privacy abuses-Google has been making public statements and promises that are designed to convince parents, teachers, and school officials that Google takes student privacy seriously and that it only collects education-related data from students using its platform.
Despite these claims, New Mexico believes that Google has been mining student data on the platforms and while using its hardware and software in schools. The suit insists, "Google has used Google Education to spy on New Mexico children and their families."
Google claims that the claims are "factually wrong" and that the Google Education platform allows educators to control the data collected and requires parental consent, adding, "We do not use personal information from users in primary and secondary schools to target ads."