Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Rant Time: Google’s Lie

Posted in botch, business, california, rant by commorancy on January 7, 2020

finger-512I’ve already written an article or two about YouTube giving content creators the finger. I didn’t really put that information into this article’s context so that everyone can really understand what’s actually going on at YouTube, with the FTC and with Google. Let’s explore.

Lies and Fiction

Google has asserted and maintained, since at least 2000 when COPPA came into effect, that it didn’t allow children under age 13 on its platforms. Well, Google was caught with its proverbial pants down and suffered a $170 million fine at the hand of the FTC based on COPPA. Clearly, Google lied. To maintain that lie, it has had to do a number of things:

  1. For YouTube content creators, YouTube has hidden its metrics for anyone under the age of 13 from viewer stats on YouTube. What that means to creators is that the viewer metrics you see on your stats page is completely inaccurate for those under the age of 13. If Google had disclosed the under 13 age group of stats on this page, Google’s lie would have unraveled far faster than it did. For Google to maintain its lie, it had to hide any possible trail that could lead to uncovering this lie.
  2. For other Google platforms (Stadia, Chromebook, Android phones, etc), they likely also kept these statistics secret for the same reasons. Disclosure that the 12 and under age group existed on Google meant disclosing to the FTC that they had lied about this age group using its services all along.
  3. For Android phones, we’ll let’s just say that many a kid 12 and under have owned Android phones. Parents have bought them and handed them over to their children. For the FTC to remain so oblivious to this fact for years is a testament to how badly operated this portion of the government is.
  4. Google / YouTube had to instruct engineers to design software systems around this “we don’t display under age 13 metrics” lie.

Anyway, so lie Google did. They lied from 2000 all of the way to 2019. That’s almost 20 years of lying to the government… and to the public.

YouTube’s Lie

Considering that even just one COPPA infraction found to be “valid” could leave a YouTube channel owner destitute. After all, Google’s fine was $170 million. Because a single violation could cost a whopping $42,530, it’s a major risk simply to maintain a YouTube channel.

Because of the problem of Google perpetuating its lie about 12 and under for so long, this lie has become ingrained in Google’s corporate culture (and software systems). What this means is that for Google to maintain this lie, it had to direct its engineers to write software to avoid showing any statistic information anywhere that could disclose to anyone that Google allows 12 and under onto any of its platforms, let alone YouTube.

This also means that YouTube content creators are entirely left in the dark when it comes to viewer statistics of ages 12 and under. Because Google had intended to continue maintaining its “we don’t serve 12 and under here” lie, it meant that its systems were designed around this lie. This meant that any place where 12 and under could have been disclosed, this data was specifically culled and redacted from view. No one, specifically not YouTube content creators, could see viewer metrics for anyone 12 and under. By intentionally redacting this information from its statistics interfaces, no one could see that 12 and under were actually viewing YouTube videos or even buying products. As a creator, you really have no idea how many 12 and under viewers you have. The FTC will have access into YouTube’s systems to see this information, even if you as a content creator do not.

This means that content creators are actually in the dark for this viewer age group. There’s no way to really know if this age group is being accurately counted. Actually, Google is likely collecting this information, but they’re simply not disclosing it over public interfaces. Though, to be fully safe and to fully protect Google’s lie, they might have been purging this data more often than 13 and older data. If they don’t have the data on the system, they can’t be easily caught with it. Still, that didn’t help when Google finally did get caught and were fined $170 million.

Unfortunately, because Google’s systems were intentionally designed around a lie and because they are now already in place, undoing that intentional design lie could be a challenge for Google. They’ve had 19 years worth of engineering effort build code upon code avoiding disclosure of 12 and under using Google’s platforms. Undoing 19 years of coding might be a problem.

Swinging back around to that huge fine, this leaves YouTube in a quandary. It means that content creators have no way to know if the metrics that are being served to content creators are in any way accurate. After all, Google has been maintaining this lie for 19 years. They’ve built and maintained their systems around this lie. But now, Google must undo 19 years of lies built into their systems to allow content creators to see what we already knew… that 12 and under have been using the platform probably since 2000.

For content creators, you need to think twice when considering setting up a channel on YouTube. It doesn’t matter what your content is. If that content attracts children under 13, you’re at risk. The only type of channel content that cannot at all be seen as “for kids” is content that kids would never watch. There is really only a handful of content type I can name that wouldn’t appeal to children (not an exhaustive list):

  1. Legal advice from lawyers
  2. Court room video
  3. Horror programs
  4. Political programs
  5. Frank sex topics

It would probably be easier to state those types of programs that do appeal to children:

  1. Pretty much everything else

What that means is topics like music videos, video game footage, cartoons, pet videos, singing competitions, beauty channels, fashion channels, technology channels and toy reviews could appeal to children… and the list goes on. You name it and pretty much every other content type has the possibility of attracting children 12 and under… some content more than others. There’s literally very little that a child 12 and under might not consider watching.

The thing is, when someone decides to create a channel on YouTube, you must now consider if the content you intend to create might appeal to children 12 and under. If it’s generalized information without the use of explicit information, children could potentially tune in. Though, YouTube doesn’t allow true adult content on its platform.

Google’s lie has really put would-be channel creators into a huge bind with YouTube, plummeting the value of YouTube as a platform. For monetization, not only is there now the 1,000 subscriber hurdle you must get past and you must also have 14,000 views in a month, but now you must also be cognizant of the audience your content might attract. Even seemingly child-unfriendly content might draw in children unintentionally. If you interview the wrong person on your channel, you might find that you now have a huge child audience. Operating a YouTube Channel is a huge risk.

YouTube’s Value as a Platform

With this recent Google change, compounded by Google’s lie, the value of YouTube as a video sharing platform has significantly dropped. Not only did Google drop a bomb on its content creators, it has lied to not only the government, but to the public for years. With the FTC’s hand watching what you’re doing on YouTube, YouTube really IS moving towards “big government watching” as described in George Orwell’s book 1984. Why Google would allow such a deep level of governmental interference over its platform is a major problem, not just for Google, but for the computer industry as a whole. It’s incredibly chilling.

$42,530 per COPPA violation is not just small change you can pull out of your pocket. That’s significant bank. So much bank, in fact, that a single violation could bankrupt nearly any less than 100,000 subscriber channel on YouTube.

Not only do you have to overcome YouTube’s silly monetization hurdles, you must attempt to stay far away from the COPPA hurdle that YouTube has now foisted on you.

Google’s Mistake

Google did have a way to rectify and remediate this situation early. It’s called honesty. They could have simply fixed their platform to accurately protect and steer 12 and under away from its properties where they don’t belong. It could have stated that it did (and does) allow 12 and under to sign up.

If Google had simply been honest about 12 and under and allowed 12 and under to sign up, Google could have set up the correct processes from the beginning that would have allowed not only Google to become COPPA compliant, but by extension allow YouTube creators to remain compliant through Google’s tools. Google should have always remained in the business of protecting its creators from governmental interference. Yet, here we are.

In fact, the COPPA legislation allows for parental permission and consent and it’s not actually that hard to set up, particularly for a large organization like Google. For Google, in fact, it already has mechanisms it could leverage to attempt to obtain verifiable parental consent. If Google had chosen to setup and maintain a 12 and under verifiable parental consent program all along, YouTube content creators could have been left off of the hook. Instead, YouTube has given content creators the finger.

If YouTube content creators must share in Google’s lack of COPPA compliance, then content creators should equally share in a Google created parental consent system. Parental consent isn’t that hard to implement. Google could have spent its time building such a system instead of lying.

Trust and Lies

When companies as big as Google participate in lies of this magnitude, you should seriously question any business you do with such a company. Companies are supposed to be ethically bound to do the right thing. When companies don’t do the right ethical thing and perpetuate lies for years, everyone must consider how much you trust that company.

What else are they lying about? It’s difficult to trust someone who lies. Why is it any different when a company chooses to lie?

When that lie can cost you $42,530 per violation, that’s what comes out of lying. Google not only didn’t protect its content creators, it perpetuated a lie that has now left its content creators hanging out to dry.

This is why YouTube as a content creator platform is about as worthless as it can possibly be… not only for the lie and COPPA, but also the monetization clampdown from 2017-2018. Every year has brought another downside to YouTube and for 2019, it’s Google’s lie.

For large creators who have an entrenched large audience and who are making ad revenue bank from their audience (at least for the moment), I understand the dilemma to ditch YouTube. But, for those content creators who make maybe $5 a month, is it worth that $5 a month to risk $42,530 every time you upload a video? Worse, the FTC can go back through your back video catalog and fine you for every single video they find! That’s a lot of $42,530 fines, potentially at least one per video. Now that’s risky!

Solutions

There are solutions. The biggest solution, ditch YouTube for other video platforms such as Facebook, SnapChat, Vimeo or DailyMotion. If you’re live streaming, there’s YouNow, Twitch and Mixer. You’re not beholden to YouTube to gain an audience and following. In fact, with the huge black COPPA cloud now permanently hanging over YouTube, it’s only a matter of time before the FTC starts its tirade and cements what I’m saying here in this article. For small and medium sized creators, particularly brand new creators, it’s officially time to give YouTube the finger-512 (just as Google has given us the finger-512). It’s long past time to ditch YouTube and to find an alternative video sharing platform. You might as well make that one a 2020 New Year’s resolution. Let’s all agree that YouTube is officially dead and move on.

Just be sure to read the fine print of whatever service you are considering using. For example, Twitch’s terms and conditions are very explicit with regards to age… no one under 13 is permitted on Twitch. If only Google had been able to actually maintain that reality instead of lying about it for nearly 20 years.

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