It's no secret that YouTube repeatedly finds themselves in trouble with one problem or another. Whether it be drive-by cryptominers in advertising or racism from its young comedians, there always seems to be a controversy going on with the network.
One of the repeated issues the company has experienced revolves around how they interact with kids. Previously, in their YouTube Kids app, their algorithms began allowing non-family friendly content to appear. In addition, on videos that are family friendly, incredibly sexual comments were appearing, as well. That ended with the company changing their policies, including curating the content manually, as opposed to by computer.
This week, YouTube's trouble with kids has increased. A collection of advocacy groups, numbering over 20, has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission claiming that YouTube has knowingly violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa). The law was passed in 1998 and expanded in 2012, and requires that companies that collect information about children acquire parental permission first. This law is the reason why many websites, including YouTube, require you to be 13 years old or older to use the service.
In the case of YouTube, their terms of service state that by using the service you agree that you are at least 13 years old, with the exception being YouTube Kids. The complaint, however, asserts that YouTube and parent Google are fully aware that kids under the age of 13 are using the service, including creating YouTube accounts, and willfully collect information about these kids and their browsing history without parental consent.
The group has plenty of proof of this, simply by looking at some of the videos on the site and the continuation of video trends specifically featuring children. However, the real problem that YouTube will be facing is the fact that the company has been running ads specifically targeted at younger audiences, on the primary service and not YouTube Kids. If they can convince the FTC of these facts, which seems fairly straight-forward, Google with almost certainly be facing another round of fines and a forced change to their business processes. More importantly, though, it will create a better environment for kids who are, without question, using the site.
If you're unaware that the internet is having a renewed interest in privacy, then you have not been following the news. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent part of the week in front of Congress because another company violated Facebook's terms of service. It has reminded people that many people regularly give personal information to a small number of companies, particularly Facebook and Twitter.
However, some companies collect a lot of information about us without us having to give it over. Google collects information about your browsing history, and browses the web on its own looking for information about any and all subjects. The browsing is what powers their primary service, Google Search. However, there are a lot of people who have done stupid things that have been immortalized by the internet and made searchable by Google.
In the European Union, a program called the Right to be Forgotten was implemented by Google, Bing, Yahoo and more. This program allows a person to petition the search engines to remove a listing that creates personal harm. None of the companies were keep to implement this ability, as it directly affects the quality of the search index, which means that the value of the search results is lowered.
Of course, there are a lot of incidents that don't need to be preserved. College applicants lose out on school because of a photo on Instagram. Job applicants lose out on a career because of something they posted on Facebook. But some information is entirely public, and therefore should be searchable. For example, if you have an arrest record, it's easy to find that information. Here in the Tampa Bay area, the counties themselves provide a way to look up arrest information.
In the UK, a suit was filed against Google by two in-named men, referred to as NT1 and NT2, for the company refusing to remove information from their search index upon request. Both of these men had arrest records and convictions: NT1 was convicted in the early 90s for conspiracy to account falsely, and NT2 was convicted in the early 2000s for conspiracy to intercept communications. Both of these men wanted Google to remove any reference to these convictions from the search results.
The case was closed this past Friday, with Mr. Justice Warby insisting that Google remove the results of NT2, but not NT1. The judge believed that the information about NT1 was of public interest, while the information about NT2 was not. Obviously, this decision will see appeals, and it is possible that the ruling will not stand. If it does, it will create a swarm of new cases in the EU of people with convictions hoping to make the internet forget.
If you've ever seen the documentary The King of Kong, you'll recognize the name Billy Mitchell. He is the focus of the film, as he theoretically goes for 2 separate 1 million + point scores on the game Donkey Kong. For over a decade, Mitchell has been recognized as the first player ever to achieve the 1 million point barrier on the game. His scores have been recognized by Donkey King Forum, Twin Galaxies and Guinness World Records.
In February, Donkey King Forum removed Mitchell's high scores following an analysis of the footage submitted to support the score. After watching the video frame-by-frame, it was discovered that there was artifacting during level transitions. This is a scenario that only exists on early versions of the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) system, and not on the original arcade hardware. High scores, however, can only be counted if achieved on arcade hardware.
Following this revelation, Twin Galaxies did their own investigation, and agreed with DKF's analysis. They also discovered what appears to be inconsistencies in the game itself, suggesting that the footage is actually cut together from more than a single run, meaning that the score was completely manipulated, and therefore invalid. Twin Galaxies then removed the high scores from their board and banned Mitchell from appearing in the future, due to a decade of lying about his scores.
This left him with a single forum that recognized his score: Guinness. Unfortunately, Guinness uses Twin Galaxies as part of its verification team for videogame scores. Shortly after Twin Galaxies dismissed the scores, Guinness did, as well, leaving Mitchell with nothing but a documentary about him not accomplishing anything.
Over the past few years, Apple has had a problem keeping its secrets. Long before a product is officially announced, the market knows the name, the looks and most of the features. In the case of the iPhone X, everyone even knew as early as July that Apple was having design issues with the iPhone, both with the Apple AirPower Qi charging pad (which has still not launched) and the TrueDepth sensor, which ultimately delayed the iPhone X by months.
Since then, Apple has managed to contain information within the company - at least enough to keep analysts guessing about their plans. This has come, at least in part, from Apple's internal attitude towards leakers, and their response when it happens. Last year, the company caught 29 leakers, which resulted in terminations and 12 arrests. Obviously, with a termination for leaking information or any arrest, getting another job in the tech industry will be nearly impossible.
This information comes to us care of possibly the best irony of the week: a leaked internal memo. In the memo, which was published to the company's internal blog, they outlined a number of examples of leaked information, including a meeting in which Craig Federighi informed employees about feature delay. The memo follows a company meeting in 2017 where they tried to deal with the issue. Since then, hundreds of articles have been published about devices that have been unannounced and internal issues.
This change is definitely a win for Apple. Leaked product specs, and unannounced products, can have a negative effect on device sales. People are less likely to purchase current generation devices if they consciously know that a replacement device is on the horizon. Apple saw this behavior with information that they kind-of leaked themselves, when they announced the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, but said that the iPhone X would not come out for several months after the iPhone 8. That move negatively affected sales of the iPhone 8 until the iPhone X released, when people could make an educated decision (and usually skipped the iPhone X).
When Verizon purchased AOL and created their nostalgia unit, formally called Oath, the company was looking for content production. It was just one of many examples of "line owners" looking to get into the content production market. AT&T purchased DirecTV, intending to enhance their distribution, and wants Time Warner for the content.
Obviously with the purchase of a company as large and sprawling as AOL comes some unwanted baggage. For example, part of AOL was the long-running Moviefone brand, a company that provides remote movie access. Originally provided through the phone number 777-FILM (famously parodied on Seinfeld), the company shifted to online and mobile movie information and shut down the phone number in 2014.
This week, Verizon was able to unload the brand, which does not serve the Oath purpose of being a content producer, on a startup that many people erroneously have called Moviefone for months: MoviePass. This company allows you to pay a certain amount per month to see "unlimited movies" in theaters (though you are actually limited to a single film per day). Verizon let the brand go for only $1 million, a massive loss for the AOL brand, which purchased the company in 1999 for $388 million.
The Moviefone acquisition makes a lot of sense, and not just for the existing brand confusion. By combining the informational partnerships of Moviefone with the theater viewing experience of MoviePass, subscribers to the service can get a lot more information about the movies they are considering seeing without having to leave the MoviePass environment. They can also leverage the Moviefone userbase to encourage subscriptions to the MoviePass service.
MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe said of the purchase,
This natural alignment between MoviePass and Moviefone will help us grow our subscriber base significantly and expand our marketing and advertising platform for our studio and brand partners. Moviefone has been a go-to resource for entertainment enthusiasts for years, and we're excited to bolster its presence and bring this iconic platform into the entertainment ecosystem of the future.
Of course, the next important step is to successfully leverage the buyout. MoviePass has had some troubles attracting new customers. Recently, they resorted to a price reduction for a full-year purchase. Obviously they have had some success with it, but they will need to retain growth to be able to stick around at all, let alone validate the purchase of an iconic brand like Moviefone. Hopefully those plans will not include the controversial user tracking feature in the long-term.
In 2012, rumors began about a "Steam Box" project. Gabe Newell confirmed the project, claiming that it was intended to compete with consoles while running like a computer. In 2013, the company officially unveiled SteamOS, the Linux-based system that would power Steam Machines, the final name of the product line. While the hardware was supposed to launch in early 2014, by the end of the year, Alienware gave up waiting, installing Windows on the computers and shipping them.
This week, Valve's dream of owning the living room came to an end, as Valve has removed all Steam Machines from their store and redirected the original URL to a list of other hardware. This retirement was inevitable and, for many, one that was believed to have already happened. If it weren't for those of us who watch for these things, most people would have assumed that Steam Machines had been retired in 2015, which was the last time we really heard anything about the platform.
The success of SteamOS and the Steam Machines was doomed even before they were announced. Some issues simply couldn't be overcome no matter what Value tried, while others could only have been dealt with if the platform was already successful.
Reliance on Linux
Sure, we've seen platforms based on Linux succeed in the past, but more often than not, if it relies on Linux as a platform, it has no chance in the market. SteamOS relied on Linux to succeed, and didn't because of it. We talked on F5 Live: Refreshing Technology before and after the release of the platform that less than 10% of Steam games were available on Linux, which meant that the game selection was already limited. As time went on, and more games came to Steam, that percentage lowered, as few new games target Linux.
Having no success in attracting AAA titles to Linux meant that few hardcore gamers were interested in the platform. Those who might be interested in playing the types of games that were available, often games made with platforms like GameMaker or Unity, would not be interested in this hardware.
Speaking of hardware that people didn't want, take a look at the original controllers. Most of the games available on Linux at the time of release were designed to be played with a mouse and keyboard, as very few people who use Linux use controllers. However, the console shipped with controller support and a controller that did not work in non-controller games.
Even if the controller had been a good pairing for the types of games on the platform, people still weren't happy to hold them. Absolutely no research was done on ergonomics and what was produced was uncomfortable after only a few minutes. Also, reaching some of the button combinations was nearly impossible if you had small hands.
To add insult to injury, there was not a way to pair third party controllers to the system. That is until January 2016 when Bluetooth pairing was added to the system. That is over a year into the hardware finally being available. In the end, the most popular controller for the Steam Machines were those for the Xbox.
A War With PC Gamers
Game Newell said, when Windows 8 was first released, that it was not a platform for gaming. Instead, he recommended either Windows 7 or Linux, the former sharing a kernel with Windows 8 and the latter having very few games available. It was a strange statement meant to undermine Microsoft's PC gaming community and, hopefully, transition them to SteamOS.
If you know anything about the gaming community, you know that insulting a gamer's platform of choice is like insulting someone's religion. Immediately, the gamer is on the defensive and unwilling to even listen to reason. In this case, it turned PC gamers off to SteamOS rather than endearing them to the platform.
Microsoft Stole Their Thunder
Valve's idea of a PC-based living room gaming console was obviously not a bad one. In fact, it was one that Microsoft had already had. With the release of Windows 8, which Gabe believed was anti-gaming, Microsoft also released a new Xbox Experience to the Xbox 360. That new experience was based entirely on the Windows 8 kernel. With Windows 8.1 came another update to the 360, updating not only the kernel but the interface to work similar to the prime interface.
With the release of the Xbox One came a unified platform, known as the Universal Windows Platform, which meant that an app or game written for Windows could run on Windows Mobile, Xbox One and HoloLens. This move let the last remaining Steam out of the biggest selling point of Steam OS: the Xbox One was a Windows 10 PC.
One of Valve's strange ideas is that internal resources can kind of decide what projects they want to work on. Unfortunately, SteamVR came along and partnered with HTC to produce the Vive. As we have discussed on The Piltch Point, the Vive is a runaway VR success. As such, employees want to be part of it, meaning that there were not enough resources available to keep SteamOS alive. Add to that the entry of new competitors, including Microsoft's HoloLens and additional Mixed Reality headsets from every major manufacturer (including HTC's Vive), Valve lost focus on their already dying platform.
All of this together meant that no one, from hardware manufacturers to gamers and even game studios and publishers, had any interest in the platform. Some hardware partners converted their computers to Windows before release, while others allowed the upgrade later. Game studios and publishers continued with business as usual, publishing nearly nothing of value to the Steam Store for Linux. Gamers universally ignored the consoles, sticking to their existing platforms of choice, either for price, convenience or game choice - or possibly all of these together.
Finally, the gaming world has the ability to say goodbye to the platform that no one cared about.