Here’s your quick, fun, sometimes serious, and always interesting daily tech digest, by way of the DGiT Daily newsletter, for Wednesday, April 3, 2019!

1. The YouTube fiasco

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki YouTube

Bloomberg published a damning investigation into YouTube, Google’s $16 billion a year business, titled: “YouTube Executives Ignored Warnings, Letting Toxic Videos Run Rampant”.

The peeled back insight into YouTube reads about as poorly as the detailed looks into Facebook’s culture. Both companies appear to have been chasing engagement and enormous and difficult goals to “win” the internet, without understanding what this might cost.

What are those costs?

  • The Bloomberg investigation alleges YouTube executives ignored external and internal employees warnings about the platform promoting toxic videos.
  • According to the report, executives were more concerned with keeping viewers engaged.
  • The biggest decision to focus engagement was to offer better recommendations, using YouTube’s neural network to offer more alluring videos. The videos with most engagement were surfaced.
  • But according to Bloomberg, the videos with most engagement, too often, offered false, incendiary and toxic content.
  • And, neither the content nor the recommendations were properly moderated, or actioned for removal.
  • Concerns with content were more shrugged off as less important than the goals and metrics for YouTube and its audience.
  • There’s no difference between good and bad engagement – more engagement is everything to a media company attempting to displace TV.
  • Responsibility appears to have come as a clear second, and only recently, following the election in 2016 and scrutiny over social media platforms.

The details:

  • Bloomberg spoke with more than 20 former and current YouTube employees about the internal goal was to reach 1 billion hours of views a day.
  • Bloomberg doesn’t necessarily condemn YouTube for its largely unmoderated “library” of videos, where the large majority of user-generated content is inoffensive, noting that the massive library “is bound to have untrue nonsense.”
  • But: “YouTube’s problem is that it allows the nonsense to flourish. And, in some cases, through its powerful artificial intelligence system, it even provides the fuel that lets it spread,” notes the report.
  • One employee wanted to flag troubling videos, which fell just short of the hate speech rules, and stop recommending them to viewers. Another wanted to track these videos in a spreadsheet to chart their popularity. A third, fretful of the spread of “alt-right” video bloggers, created an internal vertical that showed just how popular they were. Each time they got the same basic response: Don’t rock the boat.
  • The company had just 20 people in the unit overseeing content policies, and had to “fight tooth and nail” for more resources.
  • The report focuses on YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and her focus on the corporate business, not the underlying issues being raised internally: “[Wojcicki’s] view was, ‘My job is to run the company, not deal with this.’”
  • There are responses from YouTube, too. In particular, a PR spokeswoman said that “generally extreme content does not perform well on the platform.”
  • Gizmodo makes a well-made point in response to that: “YouTube says ‘Extreme’ videos don’t do well—so what do you call these?
  • Even Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that “people will engage disproportionately with more sensationalist and provocative content.”
  • It’s a people problem. But ignoring it doesn’t seem to make it go away, surprisingly (!).

Read on Bloomberg.


2. Samsung will give you $200 trade-in credit for your old and busted Android or iPhone (Android Authority).


3. Lenovo patents clamshell foldable phone with outside screen, weird hinge (AA)


4. Google+ is officially dead, but you might still be able to get your data if you’ve forgotten that was about to happen (AA).


5. With Google Inbox also dead, Google’s constant product shutdowns are damaging its brand (Ars Technica).


6. iPhone 11 (or XI) might get two-way charging and bigger battery (CNET).


7. Apple is saying more than 200,000 people subscribed to Apple News+ in the first 48 hours. Given it’s a free trial for the first month, it’s hard to know how meaningful that number is and how many people will pay. Will we see this number reported again? (NY Times).


8. Streaming accounted for nearly half of music revenues worldwide in 2018 (TechCrunch).


9. Ticket sales for “Avengers: Endgame” seem to be breaking movie theater websites (Quartz).


10. Patagonia is refusing to sell its iconic power vests to some financial firms (BuzzFeed).


11. Why do buses bunch? Bus bunching explained visually (http://setosa.io/bus/)


12. What does space smell like? Now you can find out for yourself via Lockheed’s (real) April Fools’ product (Ars Technica).


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