The Truth: Google Assistant Opt-In, Nintendo Turns 130, YouTube in Trouble Over Verification Changes

Monday, 23 September 2019

Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Truth, my newsletter bringing you the latest from the wild frontier of technological progress. Today, Nintendo turns 130 and Google finally reacts to massive criticism after the discovery that their Assistant sent voice recordings off to the mothership to be analysed by humans. We also mourn actor Aron Eisenberg of Deep Space Nine fame, who has passed away.

After journalists had uncovered that many smart home devices and personal software assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant save voice commands to have them reviewed by humans, Google is now belatedly changing its policy to make all of this behaviour opt-in – as it should have been in the first place. Under the cynical heading of “Doing more to protect your privacy with the Assistant”, the company lays out its new policies. They go so far as to apologise, even if it comes across as a bit grudgingly.

Nintendo was founded today, exactly 130 years ago. The company started in 1889 as a playing card manufacturer.

A Russian hacker who’s been arrested for hacking several banks is claiming that a convicted spy, ex-lawman and ex-head of Kaspersky’s incident investigation department blackmailed him into perpetrating the crime. According to reports, the ex-policeman told the hacker at his arrest: “Remember me? If you say a word about how we worked, I’ll find you in prison too.”

Meanwhile, members of Bulgarian phishing gangs actually live with their parents – it’s just like the script of a bad comic book.

The old scare story of video games being so addictive, that gamers starve because they forget to stop playing, is back. This time as a PR stunt for food delivery company Deliveroo, as a gaming parlour in Bristol has installed burrito emergency buttons so that gamers won’t die of hunger. At least the burritos are free.

A day after announcing changes to its verification programme, YouTube is now backtracking on the decision. After a massive outcry from creators, all currently verified YouTubers will keep their “verified” badge. The Verge reports: “All YouTubers who are currently verified will get to keep their verification status, and YouTubers who are not yet verified will still be able to apply for it once they hit 100,000 subscribers, as creators have in the past. Only a single key change isn’t being reversed: YouTube will actually verify that channels are authentic, whereas in the past it seemingly has not thoroughly taken this very obvious step.” YouTube had originally tried to limit its version of the blue check mark to big brands and celebrities, which would have meant no chance to get the coveted status for random Joe Shmoes with a webcam and a loyal following.

Spotify is also changing things. The music service will now periodically ask for the users' address if they use the family subscription. Because, as we all know, you can only be a family if everyone lives in the same house.

Apple has broken things with iOS 13 for games that need precise controls, it seems. It’s so bad that the developers of Fortnite and PUBG are actually urging people not to upgrade to the new version of the OS. Which might be prudent as other reports say they also broke security and privacy features.

In the open source world, the company behind the configuration management tool Chef is in hot water after selling licenses to the US government agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Yeah, the nasty guys who separate kids from their parents. One independent developer was so upset, he pulled his Ruby gem from the software, causing some workflows to break. Telling The Register “I’m not trying to make a political statement” in those circumstances is a bit rich, though.

Deep Space Nine actor Aron Eisenberg has died at the age of 50. He played Nog, the Ferengi kid and friend of Jake who later joins Starfleet as the first Ferengi to do so. It’s not been publicised why he died, but he’s suffered from kidney problems all of his life. Farewell and thanks for all the memorable scenes!

This is an archived issue of my daily newsletter FOXTROT/ALFA. You can find more information about it, including how to subscribe via email, on this page.