FOXTROT/ALFA: New Bluetooth Version, YouTube Kid Content Propaganda, Pig-Free Pork

Welcome to issue 57 of FOXTROT/ALFA for Tuesday, 7 January 2020. Welcome especially to all the new readers I’ve been picking up recently! I hope you like my newsletter and won’t get scared away by my occasional snarky comments – I can’t help it, I’m just a curmudgeonly old coot sometimes. Comes with a decade of reading press releases. I’m a nice guy at heart though, trust me.

Speaking of press releases… Here we go, CES has kicked off. So brace for some PR bullshit. For what it’s worth, I’m really happy I never had to fly to Vegas for this myself – because it doesn’t sound like fun. I’d rather stay at home and wade through it all as best as I can for you. Anyway, here’s what I came up with.

Android Security Patches for January

Again with the media framework, Google…

The most severe of these issues is a critical security vulnerability in Media framework that could enable a remote attacker using a specially crafted file to execute arbitrary code within the context of a privileged process.

More details on these fixes here.

Firefox 72.0 Brings Enhanced Tracking Protection

A new version of Firefox has been released. Features for Firefox 72.0 include:

  • Firefox’s Enhanced Tracking Protection marks a major new milestone in our battle against cross-site tracking: we now block fingerprinting scripts by default for all users, taking a new bold step in the fight for our users’ privacy.

  • Firefox replaces annoying notification request pop-ups with a more delightful experience, by default for all users. The pop-ups no longer interrupt your browsing, in its place, a speech bubble will appear in the address bar when you interact with the site.

  • Picture-in-picture video is now also available in Firefox for Mac and Linux: Select the blue icon from the right edge of a video to pop open a floating window so you can keep watching while working in other tabs or apps.

I fear like they are getting themselves into yet another major cat-and-mouse game with fighting the fingerprinting scripts, but good on them for trying.

New Bluetooth Version Announced at CES

The makers of the Bluetooth standard are trying to make the batteries in your wireless headphones and smartphone last longer:

Today at CES, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group announced that a few new capabilities will be coming to its namesake technology. These enhancements will be rolled into Bluetooth as a set of features known as LE Audio. That LE stands for “low energy,” and the goal for the update is to allow a standard Bluetooth signal to better manage and share wireless audio streams between devices without overworking the batteries in your phone, your smartwatch, or your headphones.

It seems it’s not a completely new idea, though. It’s just new for audio streaming.

If the name seems familiar, it’s because low-energy features have been enabled in Bluetooth since 2012. Formerly called Bluetooth Smart and BLE, low-energy Bluetooth allows devices with lower bandwidth requirements – like wearables, fitness trackers, or environmental sensors – to stay connected without draining battery life as quickly. Wireless audio devices, however, have always had higher bandwidth needs, and thus, higher power requirements.

As the name implies, LE Audio will allow devices to transmit sound streams across the low-energy spectrum, but it will do so using a new compression algorithm that maintains the same high audio quality you get from Bluetooth right now. Manufacturers who build products to match the new set of specifications can design wireless products that get nearly double their current play time, or even shrink the battery to reduce the overall device size.

A Security Camera That Keeps Your Data Private?

With Ring’s security cameras being a privacy nightmare and most competitors being cheap China crap that is even less trustworthy, there seems to be a niche in the market for a security camera that actually respects your privacy. At CES, the company Eve Systems is promising exactly that.

Eve Systems has announced the Eve Cam, which it describes as “the first-ever indoor camera made exclusively for Apple’s HomeKit Secure Video, built from the ground up to keep your data secure”.

Well, I believe it when I see it. A secure and trustworthy system like that would be an IoT first.

Why Go Outside to Freeze When You Can Freeze in VR Instead?

CES is always chock-full of companies peddling useless products. This year is no exception, it seems. Here’s Heise’s Jan-Keno Janssen reporting on a gadget that makes you feel hot or cold while you are in a VR game:

“I’m in a virtual snowball fight – as soon as an opposing player hits me, it actually feels like I just got drenched in ice-cold snow. Interestingly, I can’t really locate that cold feeling, even though ThermoReal is only producing cold on my wrists, my forearms and my forehead.”

Apparently the thing can also make you feel hot and produce “a pretty unpleasant feeling of pain, that is reminiscent of an electric shock.”

Yeah, because the thing VR needed was more realism. Never mind attaching another clumsy piece of hardware to the whole contraption that you have to put on every time you use it and that makes you look even more like a dork. Not to mention that those glasses make me feel hot after a few minutes anyway. I don’t need a special gadget to make me even hotter…

Pig-Free Pork Coverage is Impossible Indeed

Now, the fact that CES originally stood for Consumer Electronics Show has never stopped them from having ludicrous shit at the expo that has nothing to do with consumer electronics. Especially since they rebranded to “CES isn’t an acronym anymore, it just means CES now”. But that doesn’t change the fact that technology news outlets reporting on Impossible’s new pig-free pork mincemeat is idiotic. How is this technology news? Hint: Not at all. Of course, that doesn’t stop these people getting all giddy about it. Gods, I miss the times when technology publications actually wrote about technology and knew what they were talking about instead of writing about shit like this.

Not to mention that I never understood this Impossible bullcrap anyway. I mean, I understand being a vegetarian or a vegan, even though it’s not for me. But if you don’t want to eat meat, don’t eat meat. Why would you go and try replacing it with some horrible chemical product that doesn’t even remotely approach the real thing? It’s not like meat is an addiction that you need to wean yourself off of, like nicotine. This seems to be another case of the groupthink phenomenon that Silicon Valley so often projects on the rest of the world.

New YouTube Rules for Children’s Content

If you have a YouTube account, you know about this already. YouTube has started changing how it deals with content explicitly produced for kids.

Targeted ads will now be restricted from running on kids’ videos, and kids’ videos will lose access to comments and some other community features. YouTube has said kid-focused channels will see “a significant business impact” due to reduced ad revenue.

YouTube told creators back in September that they’ll soon be required to “designate their content as made for kids or not made for kids.” The changes come as part of a $170 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over alleged violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Anyone watching a video that’s been designated as made for children will now be seen as a viewer under the age of 13 years old, regardless of how old the user actually is.

Now, what The Verge (and to be fair most other reporting I’ve seen on this) leaves out of their story, is the fact that YouTube is couching all of this as the responsibility of video creators. When in fact it was YouTube specifically who was sued by the FTC and who settled. The FTC was quite clear that it is YouTube’s responsibility to make sure that children are being protected from targeted advertising and tracking. After all it is YouTube (and its parent company Google) who insert targeted ads and tracking that they have sold to their advertising partners.

What’s even more concerning is that YouTube seems to push the responsibility to decide what content is made for children to creators because the company, despite all its vaunted AI genius and big data prowess is unable to figure that out. Now, The Verge (and others) did pick up on that part, but, naturally, blame the FTC:

YouTube still can’t describe what content is “made for kids” and what isn’t, because ultimately it’s up to the FTC to enforce the rules. The FTC defines the category as being intended for kids, taking into factor what the subject matter of a video is, including if it emphasizes kids’ characters, themes, toys, games, and more.

YouTube has recommended creators team up with their own legal counsel outside of YouTube if they’re concerned.

“We also use machine learning to help us identify this content, and creators can update a designation made by our systems if they believe it is incorrect,” the blog post reads, noting that YouTube may label a video as made for kids if a creator doesn’t. “We will only override a creator designation if abuse or error is detected.”

Why would creators need a legal counsel? You were sued, YouTube …not your creators! And why aren’t the crack journalists at The Verge and CNet picking up on this? YouTube is obviously using them to shift the blame here. Stop gushing over fake pork meat and start doing your job! Ask some hard questions, for fuck’s sake.

YouTube’s lack of guidance over the changes has creators concerned. Toy channels, for example, have a large adult audience and are ostensibly targeted at collectors, not just kids who want to play with them. These creators have already discussed changing their channels, and preparing for major monetization problems, in the coming weeks and months.

“Creators are being held directly responsible by the FTC,“ Dan Eardley, who reviews collectible toys on his channel Pixel Dan, previously told The Verge. “So if the FTC decides that [we] are indeed targeting children, we’ll be fined. That is frightening. It’s especially scary because the verbiage of ‘kid directed’ vs ‘kid attractive’ isn’t very clear. It’s hard to know if we’re in violation or not.”

No. No, no, no! Why are you being held responsible by the FTC? That’s bullshit. The FTC is holding YouTube responsible. But YouTube did such a good spin on this that even the creators think it’s their fault now.

Don’t believe me? Read what the FTC said on the settlement.

Several channel owners told YouTube and Google that their channels’ content was directed to children, and in other instances YouTube’s own content rating system identified content as directed to children. In addition, according to the complaint, YouTube manually reviewed children’s content from its YouTube platform to feature in its YouTube Kids app. Despite this knowledge of channels directed to children on the YouTube platform, YouTube served targeted advertisements on these channels. According to the complaint, it even told one advertising company that it did not have users younger than 13 on its platform and therefore channels on its platform did not need to comply with COPPA.

With other words: Google knew it had content for children on its platform but refused to accept responsibility to comply with COPPA and then served targeted ads on those videos.

In addition to the monetary penalty, the proposed settlement requires Google and YouTube to develop, implement, and maintain a system that permits channel owners to identify their child-directed content on the YouTube platform so that YouTube can ensure it is complying with COPPA.

There isn’t a single word in this whole document about content creators being responsible. This lawsuit was about Google knowingly violating a law and now they are trying their best to still shirk responsibility by telling their creators they have to put the work in. And many in my colleagues in the tech press are complicit in this reality-bending propaganda because they refuse to put the minimal effort in of reading the actual FTC documents on this settlement.

Man, this job is annoying sometimes. Here’s to hoping tomorrow will be less full of idiocy and that we’ll have some actual news reporting going on.

Also Noteworthy

If you still haven’t had enough, though, here are some other stories I came across that might be of interest:

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.