Previously I wrote about the Elephant on the Internet, and lately it seems like we can’t stop blundering into the pachyderm that shall not be mentioned. Last week, Medium published a controversial article about a strangely mutated (but inexplicably popular) genre of kids videos on YouTube. For those of us hardened by years of work (and play) in the darkest and weirdest corners of the internet, the article wasn’t surprising, but it was definitely disturbing how bad things had become in this area. If you don’t mind wearing the mental equivalent of hip-waders, James Bridle’s article plays Rod Serling to this Twilight Zone-esque subgenre that evolved to exploit YouTube’s keyword and “Suggested Videos” algorithm. One of my “favorite” videos from this story is entitled, “BURIED ALIVE Outdoor Playground Finger Family Song Nursery Rhymes Animation Education Learning Video”. Rolls right off the tongue, eh?
What this means for you
A few years back, my wife and I made the sad (but not surprising) discovery that YouTube was not something that could be left in a child’s hands unsupervised. At the time, it had yet to grow the strange and mutated mushrooms that crowd the darker corners as described in Bridle’s article, but we encountered too many inappropriate “suggestions” from YouTube’s algorithms and came to the conclusion that (a) nobody was driving this particular bus, and (b) some people would do anything to make a buck, especially if they could do it by exploiting technology. In other words – not family friendly, and definitely not kid safe. A few years after that, Google announced YouTube Kids – a walled-garden subset of age-appropriate content that parents could trust to entertain their progeny, and we had a brief glimmer of hope that someone at Google noticed their space needed some adult supervision.
It’s no secret that children’s content is an evergreen but highly competitive industry. Prior to the internet, media companies would spend millions chasing short attention spans in the hopes of cashing in on an ephemeral merchandising craze, eg. Cabbage Patch Kids, Tickle-me Elmo and Baby Einstein videos. Now, thanks to the popularity of crowd-generated content, YouTube is a top destination for Internet “Gold Rushers” with children’s videos a particularly profitable and exploitable “vein”. The problem is not with the creators of these freaky videos – capitalism and Internet make for some strange, but predictable bedfellows. It’s that YouTube is yet another example of a system that has gotten away from its creators, and despite their attempts and promises to close yet another Pandora’s box, the sheer size and scale of the Internet continues to overwhelm and surprise the companies that laid the groundwork for its current dominance.
To sum up: it should come as no surprise that when the Internet gets ahold of something and everyone’s too busy watching the scenery to drive the bus, we can end up on the wrong side of town with no idea how to get back. Add YouTube to the crowd of monsters (Twitter, Facebook, Equifax, Wikileaks etc.) that have gotten away from their masters in service of agendas outside of their control.
Image courtesy of TAW4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Though it may sound enticing to some, “Mobilegeddon” is not the sudden annihilation of all mobile devices. Rather, Google is releasing a new search algorithm that will impact how mobile users find websites. For those of you who aren’t up on your search engine technology, Google uses a complex, closely-guarded formula to calculate its search result rankings for all the websites it indexes. The last major update to the algorithm, entitled “Panda“, was released in 2011, and was designed to reduce the impact of gaming search engine ranking through content manipulation, a specialty of many less-than-honest SEO companies that sprang into existence in the last decade. Panda impacted about 12% of existing websites, most of them content farms designed to leverage popular content and other nefarious SEO methods to get to the top of search results.
What this means for you:
This time around, Google is focusing on providing better results for smartphone users by favoring mobile-friendly websites over those that display poorly on small screens. If you don’t drive business through your website, this may not be a high priority for you, but it may surprise you to know that over half of all internet traffic is from mobile devices, and nearly 40% of search is done on smartphones. Having a website is essentially a must-have for any ongoing business or organization, and if your website makes a poor showing to over half of your visitors, it will have an impact on your brand. How do you know if your website is ready for Mobilegeddon? You can punch in your URL to a website developed by Google to determine whether your website is mobile-friendly. Unlike Google’s last algorithm change, this one should start impacting rankings as soon as 72 hours from launch. Lest you think you are the only one caught out in the cold with this change, there are several internationally recognized brands whose sites do not pass Google’s mobile “sniff test.” One advantage you may have over corporate behemoths: less red tape and meetings will be necessary to make the required changes to your website, also you happen to know someone who can provide strategic advice in this area as well as assist in the website redesign. Give us a call if you need to “mobilize” your website!
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Any day we can take a purveyor of child pornography off the streets is a good day in my book. In this case, we can thank Google for discovering a Texas man sending images of child sex abuse through his Gmail account. As you might have guessed, a search algorithm rather than a human spotted the transgression and sent an alert to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who then tipped off local authorities. According to Google, this is the only criminal activity they actively scan for within Gmail, and the search relies heavily on a large database of known illegal images maintained by NCMEC against which comparisons are made.
What this means for you:
In the case of child pornography, I’d say that just about any method used to catch perpetrators is justified, but as many pundits and security analysts point out, this practice teeters precariously on a knife edge of ethics. Telecommunication service providers like Google are required to inform law enforcement of suspected child abuse whenever it is made aware of such activity within its systems, but that word “aware” is ill-defined in today’s age of artificial intelligence, big data analysis and search algorithms. Does a search algorithm matching mathematical hashes on images constitute “awareness”? Should this same algorithm be used to look for other serious crimes? What about petty crimes? Does talking about a crime constitute the commission of a crime? What happens if someone hacks your account and sends out a bunch of disgusting images in an attempt to get you arrested? All the more reason to keep your passwords strong, unique and very, very safe. Oh, and don’t use email to commit or plan out crimes, because even though Google says they are only watching for child pornography, you can bet other agencies are looking at everything. Heck, maybe you should just not commit crimes at all, mmkay?