Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Rant Time: Is Apple protecting our devices better than Google?

Posted in Apple, botch, business, Google, mobile devices, security by commorancy on August 20, 2020

While many people believe that Google’s App store is a far inferior store to Apple’s app store, there is also a misplaced belief that Apple’s store offers more propriety than Google’s Play store. We need to understand more about both ecosystems to better understand the answer to this article’s question. Let’s explore.

App Protection

Certainly, iOS appears to be more resilient to malware on the surface, but is it? Google’s Android also appears way more prone to malware on its surface, but is it? We need to understand more about both of these operating systems and each OS’s overall ecosystems.

Let’s understand better how and why Apple has garnered its appearance of propriety, with “appearance” being the operative word. The first reason that Apple appears to have a better system in place is primarily because iOS doesn’t allow side loading of apps. What is side loading? Side loading is the ability for the user to load apps outside of the Android app store, for example using a USB cable or, more importantly, by downloading an ‘APK‘ file directly to your device from any web site.

While there are means and methods of side loading apps on iOS, it can only be done through Apple’s developer toolkit. You cannot perform this process directly on a phone in the wild. You can’t even do it with iTunes. If you had even wanted to side load an app, you’d have to jump through some fairly complicated hoops to make that happen on iOS. Because of this one thing, this forces you to download ALL apps from the App store.

On Android, you can not only use the App store to download apps, but more importantly, you can side load them. Side loading an app on Android does require some security setting changes, but this change is easily done in about 3 simple steps.

Does side-loading account for all of Google’s malware?

No, it doesn’t. After all, there are many who likely haven’t changed the necessary side-loading parameters and have still been hit by malware. So then, how did the malware get onto their phone? Likely, through the App store directly.

One App Store

Here we come to the second reason why propriety seems to prevail at Apple. With Apple, there is one and only one app store. With Google, there are many, too many. Google not only runs Google Play, but there are many other App stores including:

  • Amazon
  • Samsung Galaxy Apps
  • Aptoid
  • Sony Apps
  • Huawei App Store
  • F-Droid
  • GetJar
  • AppBrain
  • SlideMe
  • 1Mobile
  • Opera Mobile Store
  • Appolicious
  • NexVa
  • Kongregate
  • Appland
  • Itch.io

These stores are all independently owned and operated. This is not a complete Android app store list, but it gives you an example of how many different app stores are available for Android. This is significantly different from Apple’s iOS, which only supports one app store and that store is operated by Apple and Apple alone.

There is no such thing as a third party app store for iOS. It simply doesn’t exist.

Multiple App Stores

Because of Google’s insane choice to allow many app stores to operate simultaneously by different companies, Android users are at the mercy of each of those app store’s propriety. The difficulty is, there’s no rhyme or reason or protection afforded by many of these app stores, let alone Google Play. The secondary problem is that some of these app stores come preloaded as the primary download store on some Android devices.

Clearly, Google branded devices come shipped with Google Play set up. Amazon devices some shipped to use the Amazon app store. However, no-named brand Android devices likely come shipped with one of the above non-Google stores installed. In fact, it could even be set up to a store not in the above list… a store operated by the manufacturer of the device.

Careful with that App

The difficulty with multiple app stores is one of, you guessed it, propriety. What I mean by using this specific word ‘propriety’ is the app store’s ability to police its content for completeness, functionality and, yes, malware. In short, propriety is a company’s ability to protect its download users from malware or dangerous software.

The difficulty is that while Google might have enough money to throw at App vetting to ensure higher quality apps reach its stores, not every store in that list has the money to afford that level of commitment.

What this means for consumers is, when you use a random app store, you take your chances with malware. Multiple stores combined with side loading is nearly the sole reason why Android gets a bad rap for malware. These two things are something Apple doesn’t do in its ecosystem. For Android, it’s worse still. As a consumer of a device, you don’t really know which app store is the default on your device. Most app store manufacturers properly label their apps, but cheaper devices made by random Chinese manufacturers tend to play games with naming and might name their app store app Goggle Play or Gooogle Play or even simply Play Store. There are many ways that manufacturers of cheap phone devices can trick you into thinking that you’re getting your apps from Google’s store… when, in fact, you’re not.

Not only are there too many app stores that can provide questionable apps, Android has been licensed by so many random Chinese manufacturers (okay, so perhaps licensed isn’t necessarily the correct word here… it’s more like, ripped off). Anyway, if you buy into any of these super cheap Chinese phone brands, you have no idea where your apps are really coming from. Although, because it’s Android, you should be able to load Google’s Play store (the real thing) and use those apps instead… with should being the operative word. The device manufacturer could have instituted a block to prevent the use of the Google Play store.

However, replacing a crap store with Google Play typically takes effort on the part of the consumer… that and knowledge that they must take this step. Most consumers are oblivious to this aspect of their phone’s use and naturally assume the included app store is looking out for their phone’s well-being and their own best interest. You should never assume this, not even with Apple devices.

Apple’s App Store

Here we circle back around to Apple. We are beginning to see why Android is in the state that it’s in, but how much better is Apple’s ecosystem of devices?

A lot of people believe that because there’s only one iOS app store and because Apple is the sole operator of that store that this somehow makes Apple devices safer to use.

Security through Obscurity

This is a phrase tossed around in the security communities. What it means is that because a platform is more obscure (more exclusive and closed), that that somehow makes the platform safer to use. Security through obscurity works maybe 10% of the time. Maybe. The other 90% of the time it’s less about obscurity and more about best practices.

For example, you should never load random apps from any store. It doesn’t matter if it’s Android or Apple. If you don’t know anything about the developer, you shouldn’t trust them. Why?

App Store Approval Process

Apple’s app store approves apps for release into the store based on specific usability criteria. For example, that the developer is not including terms-of-service restricted content or features. Restricted content being whatever Apple or Google or that specific app store deems off limits within an application.

The developer must verbally or on a written form affirm that their app does not contain such restricted content when submitting it for approval. Even then, Apple may or may not be able to verify such an affirmation. Basically, developers can lie and say their app doesn’t do something that it does, in fact, do. Apple and/or Google may not be able to see the app doing it until that specific set of code in the app is triggered. In other words, the app may appear totally genuine enough to pass Apple’s and Google’s store submission criteria.

We have seen some apps which have been released into the app store as a result of such affirmations only to be pulled from the store when it is found that the developer lied about what was affirmed and stated to have not been included in the app. Apple doesn’t take kindly to lying about app features, particularly when you can see the app doing things it shouldn’t be doing.

Apple is relatively quick on removals of offending content from its app store. Google Play and other Android stores may not be quite so nimble in this process. In fact, many of the third party stores may not even police their apps at all. Once it’s in the their store, it may be there more-or-less permanently. Apple is much more active and selective with maintaining that their apps are upholding developer agreements. However, there is a limit to even Apple’s propriety.

Epic Games

This is a recent fight between Apple and Epic Games. Epic Games apparently decided to change the way it utilized in-game purchases, which has since culminated in Apple rescinding Epic Games’s license to use Apple’s developer tools. Both Apple and Google have since removed Fortnite from their respective app stores citing violation of the store’s terms.

In-app payments require that developers hand over a portion of their profits to Apple and Google. However, there are ways of circumventing that by including outside payment systems in apps. I don’t know exactly what was included by Fortnite that triggered this specific problem, but apparently Epic wasn’t satisfied by Apple’s greedy in-app payment system and decided to take a stand.

Some may think this is about consumer protection. It’s not. It’s about Apple profiteering protection. Apple cites its terms that apply equally to all developers, but in fact, this specific condition is intended to maintain Apple’s profits. Yes, it does apply to all developers (well, almost all developers… see Amazon below), but it is also a condition that is unfavorable to developers and extremely favorable to Apple’s bottom line.

Ramifications

Apple picked a fight with the wrong company in this “epic” (ahem) fight. Epic Games also happens to be the developer of the Unreal game engine. This is a very widely used game engine throughout the gaming industry. It’s probably one of THE most commonly used engines, particularly on gaming consoles.

Without access to Apple’s iOS developer tools, this engine is effectively dead on iOS (and MacOS) devices. Worse, developers who rely on Unreal to drive their own iOS games may soon find that they have to find another game engine. These Unreal engine users may wake up to find their Unreal-based game removed from Apple’s app store as a side effect of Epic Games’s removal.

If Unreal can’t be supported, then neither can the games that utilize this engine. This Epic Games fight has deep reaching ramifications for not only Apple, but also impacts every iOS device owner and every developer that uses Unreal to drive their game. If that game you love was built around Unreal, you may find that app no longer available in just a few weeks.

If you have the app downloaded onto your device, you can still use it. Bought a new Apple device? Well, don’t expect to cloud download that app again if it’s been removed. You’ll need to rely on iTunes backup and restore instead of Apple’s cloud storage… which relies on downloading the app again from the app store. If it’s been removed, the app will be unavailable. Only backing up and restoring through iTunes will recover apps you presently have on your phone device and which are no longer in Apple’s app store. Didn’t do this? Oh, well. That app is gone.

Apple’s Ramifications

Apple’s once burgeoning gaming section may soon become a ghost town. Maybe this is an exaggeration, but maybe not? Let me explain. The loss of the Unreal engine from the iOS platform is a huge blow to iOS game developers worldwide. It means game developers must either now build their own engine instead (to avoid such engine removals in the future) or rely on another gaming engine that supports iOS (at the peril of it being removed in the future).

Apple is effectively “Cutting off its nose to spite its face”. In other words, Apple has most likely done more long term damage to its own brand and products than it has done in short term damage to Epic Games. Sure, Epic’s loss of Fortnite on iOS is a big loss to Epic, but Apple’s loss of the Unreal engine is a much, much bigger problem for Apple.

If developers can no longer turn to the Unreal engine for use on iOS, then that means fewer games will be developed for iOS… at a time when iOS doesn’t need this gaming speed bump. Fewer games developed means fewer game apps in the app store. Fewer game apps means less revenue for Apple. Basically, Apple’s loss of revenue from cutting off developer access to the Unreal engine will come back to bite Apple hard in the ass.

Apple relies on that in-app revenue for its continued operation of the App store. If that revenue dries up, well so too will iOS devices while also undercutting MacOS notebook sales. It’s not just about Fortnite here. It’s about every iOS game using Unreal that also uses in-app payments legitimately. People won’t buy into a mobile platform when they can no longer find and play their favorite games, particularly if those games are on other platforms. The loss of the Unreal game engine is a big deal to Apple. Considering Apple’s paltry 10-13% mobile device market share as of 2019 (and shrinking), killing off development tools that bring revenue to the platform should be a big deal to Apple, one would think.

However, there are still other game engines that developers can use, such as Unity, BuildBox and AppGameKit. With the loss of the Unreal engine, of which many, many games are built on consoles, that means straight ports of well recognized and popular console games to iOS will become almost impossible. Very few console developers choose Unity and none use BuildBox or AppGameKit.

If Apple was hoping to pull over the bigger console titles onto iOS, they’ve just lost that opportunity by kicking Epic Games off of their platform. No console developer will spend several years porting their Unreal based game to Unity or one of the other game development kits. Without Unreal on iOS, the much larger money making console games will forever be locked out of iOS, simply because of Apple’s stupidity.

Instead of trying to work through a compromise with Epic Games over this issue, they simply pulled the plug. They’ve “thrown the baby out with the bathwater”. They’ve as I said above, “Cut off their nose to spite their face.”

Apple’s Stupidity

This is a huge blow to iOS devices and to consumers alike. Within the next year or so without Epic Games support on iOS, Apple’s gaming community is likely to dry up. Games like Fortnite can no longer come to exist on Apple’s platform because of the loss of the Unreal engine.

There is a bigger danger to using a third party game engines for iOS games. If you, as a developer, settle on a third party game engine and that engine developer has a fight with Apple thus causing their developer licenses to be rescinded, just like Epic Games, you could see your game pulled from the store or, more importantly, obsolete by the next yearly iOS release. This whole Epic fight has some serious ramifications to the gaming industry.

I guarantee that with Epic Games being pulled from the Apple platform and if this is allowed to stand going forward, Apple’s usefulness as a gaming platform will greatly diminish. Not instantly, but definitely over time. It will definitely erode confidence in iOS and MacOS as a gaming platform.

Lest you think I’m being overly dramatic, I suggest you look at this very long Wikipedia page and see the list of games produced using Unreal for consoles, specifically Unreal Engine 4. Every single one of these games had the potential of making their way to iOS or even MacOS. This hope is now lost. The loss of the Unreal engine on Apple’s ecosystem is a loss to the entirety of Apple’s devices.

If Apple had designs of getting into gaming, they summarily lost that hope in one fell swoop. What’s worse is that other game developers may follow suit and voluntarily pull their engines from Apple’s devices as well, leaving only the smallest and crappiest of game development engines available for iOS devices… firmly dragging Apple’s devices back into the stone age for gaming. The best you can hope are the silly finger swipe games that leave you bored in less than 15 minutes.

Sure, Bethesda, Ubisoft and Activision may continue to maintain their proprietary engines on iOS and MacOS for their specific games, but up-and-coming and existing Unreal console developers alike have lost any iOS portability inroads they might have seen on the horizon.

Though, I suppose this situation is a win for Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox consoles… and consoles in general.

Epic Games Ramifications

I would be remiss without discussing the ramifications to Epic Games, also. Certainly, Epic Games has lost a huge platform for both Fortnite and the Unreal engine … well, two with the additional loss of Google’s Play store. Though, I don’t think that Google has yet rescinded Epic’s developer license for Android. As a result, would-be game developers considering which engine to choose will not choose Unreal if they have eyes on iOS, MacOS or possibly Android (depending on how far Google takes this). For game developers who’ve already chosen Unreal, it’s probably too late to undo that choice. Game developers in the planning stages can reconsider which engine to choose.

Epic Games Unreal engine may not fall out of favor with the game development community. It was formerly an engine developers could rely on, more specifically for a wide range of platform support. With the loss of iOS and Android, that leaves a big hole for the Unreal engine, and Epic Games. That’s basically the loss of every mobile platform! Epic Games chose this battle by not wanting to follow Apple’s greedy rules.

Honestly, I don’t blame Epic. Amazon fought with Apple over these very same rules a long while back. Amazon chose to remove all ability to buy anything via their apps. Though, the Amazon app seems to have regained its ability to purchase junk, but I’ve no idea how they’ve worked this with Apple. Epic should cite Amazon app’s ability to purchase products using a third party payment processor. If Amazon can do this, Epic should be able to as well. It seems that even Apple isn’t following its own “all developers are equal” rules.

Tim Sweeney, Epic Games CEO, should call out this incongruity in Apple’s “equal” application its app store terms and conditions. If Epic Games is violating Apple’s purchasing rules, then so is Amazon… and so is any other company who is able to offer purchases using their own third party payment processor.

However, that doesn’t leave Epic Games without problems. Without iOS and Android for not only Fortnite, that leaves a huge revenue stream hole for Epic Games. That’s the downside for Epic. That and the loss of being able to license the Unreal engine to would-be iOS and potentially, depending on how far Google takes this, Android developers.

TikTok and WeChat

Beyond Epic, there are other problems brewing at Apple. The problem with Apple’s app store is that it will accept and publish apps from any developer from any part of the world. Yes, even communist bloc countries like China and Russia.

What does this mean for you as a consumer? It could mean spying, malware and theft of your data. Apps like WeChat and TikTok originated in China. These are apps that were intentionally designed and released by Chinese people who live in China and who have no ties to the U.S. and who don’t care about data privacy, your data or anything else about you. They don’t even have to follow United States laws. They want your money and they’ll do whatever they can to get it. They don’t care if they have to step on your toes (or turn on your camera and microphone at inappropriate times) to do it.

Apple has been entirely remiss in this area of vetting apps. Can we trust apps developed and produced entirely in China or Russia? Yet, Apple has published these apps to the App store and still allows them to remain in the store. But… Epic Games, a U.S. based game developer, can’t keep their app in the store because of silly in-app purchases? It’s perfectly okay to allow apps to spy and steal data for communist bloc countries, but it’s not okay for a U.S. developer to want to use a third-party payment processor. Yeah, Apple’s priorities are entirely effed up.

Apple’s values at this point are entirely suspect. What Apple has done to Epic is retaliation. It has nothing to do with propriety or consumer safety. It has to do with ensuring Apple’s revenue remains intact. If it were about consumer safety, Apple would have not only re-reviewed WeChat and TikTok for appropriateness the moment the President called them out, they would have been removed from the store.

This is where we learn Apple is not about propriety, it’s about making money. Losing the ability to make money from Fortnite (and by extension the Unreal engine) is way bigger of a deal than allowing Tencent and ByteDance to use their respective apps to potentially spy on U.S. consumers.

Here’s where consumers get lost in the mire and murk of it all. Apple’s silly hide-everything-from-everyone ideals allow this sort of behavior from developers to fester. Developers get to hide behind Apple’s veil of secrecy and “wall of friendliness” so that apps like WeChat and TikTok can flourish without consumers being the wiser.

Yet, here we are. Chinese and Russian apps are infiltrating Apple’s store with careless abandon, some of these are taking the Internet by storm, like TikTok. ByteDance rolled the big one with TikTok and now they can roll out spying measures if they wish, assuming they haven’t already.

I look on anything coming out of China as suspect. Most products coming out of China are third rate products that fall apart as soon as you sneeze on them. Many are counterfeit or are a stolen designs from an original product created outside of China. Clearly, China’s ability to innovate is limited. Instead, Chinese engineers must reverse engineer an existing design that originated outside of China only then to build their thing based on that existing design. Copying is said to be the highest form of flattery, but in this case it’s intellectual property theft.

With products that don’t need the Internet, such as a toaster oven or a microwave or a fridge, other than their possibility of falling apart or harming you physically, they can’t steal personal data or spy on you. Like physically harming you with junk appliances from China, downloading apps from an app store can be equally harming to you. They can steal keyboard input, turn on microphones and cameras at inappropriate times, grab your photos… they can even monitor which apps you use and watch your movement around the city via GPS on your phone. There’s so much data they can collect about you, including the contacts in your phone book.

By installing one of these communist bloc apps, there’s literally a mountain of data they can learn about you from your device. Spying? That’s literally an understatement.

Apple has given the communist bloc countries carte blanche access to U.S. owned devices through iOS. Google has done the same with Android. Worse, both Apple and Google are doing absolutely NOTHING about this. Treason by U.S. companies? That’s an understatement. They not only allow these apps to be published, they’re endorsing them… and some of Apple’s and Google’s own developers may even be using these apps personally. Talk about inception.

Spying

Spying was formerly thought to be about covert operatives running around gathering intel with crude and rudimentary devices in black garb. Today, it can be done in broad daylight using every person’s very own cell phone right in their hand.

Need access to listen in on a conversation at a specific GPS point… I can just hear someone say, “Let’s see which of our apps are on devices close to that location.” Yeah, this is a real thing. Simply enable the microphone and possibly even the outward camera and BOOM, you’ve got access to immediate intel relayed instantly back to you in real-time.

Yeah, that’s the danger of social apps like TikTok and WeChat. They can be used to eavesdrop on anyone anywhere. You only need to give access to the camera and microphone and boom, they’ve got access anywhere the app owners wish.

Apple can thwart this possibility potentially, but only if they add some heavy restrictions for when and how these devices may be used. Like, for example, these devices can only be enabled when the app is the front most active app and the screen is on (i.e., the user is accessing the screen). Even then, access to these devices should always require positive confirmation to use them every single time. Without positive confirmation, these devices cannot be enabled remotely.

Otherwise, spying is already here. Nefarious apps can listen in on what you are doing without your knowledge. They may even be able to switch on the camera and stream video data back to whomever. Yeah, bad news here.

Malware

Many people think malware means software that intends to cause malicious harm to your device. It doesn’t only mean that. Malware covers a lot of territory including spyware, malicious software, ransomware and many, many other types.

Any type of software designed to subvert your device for someone else’s use is considered malware. Don’t limit your thoughts to only software that intends to erase or destroy data. It doesn’t end there. It begins there. It ends with any software of malicious intent, including any software that is designed to spy on you, steal your data, copy data from your device or attempt to get you to do things that might compromise not only your phone, but also your personal finances.

However, the days of overt malware are firmly over. Now we’re seeing a new wave of software that makes itself appear legitimate by offering seeming legitimate services, but which have malware belying that happy-go-lucky façade. It’s the software version of social engineering. They trick you in believing you’re getting a real legitimate app, but underneath, these apps are doing things they shouldn’t be doing.

This is a new wave of bad news rolled into one app. No one can know the ultimate intentions of an app producer. Hopefully and trustingly, we put our faith into the developers hands to “do the right thing”, to be upstanding and give us an app that does only what it claims.

Unfortunately, we’ve moved into an era that’s now firmly gone beyond this. If you’re getting an app from a U.S. developer, you can pretty much be assured that what the app says that it does, it actually does do… and nothing beyond that. That’s a given because U.S. companies must follow U.S. laws. With apps coming from China or Russia or Cuba or Vietnam or even North Korea (don’t kid yourselves here), you have no idea what their ultimate motives for producing that app are. Worse, they are not required to follow United States laws. Yeah, and that’s the problem in a nutshell.

Apple and Google’s trusting nature

These communist countries not only see the dollar potential wrapped up in these apps, but they also see the spying potential above the dollars. Not only can they divert U.S. dollars outside of the country to fund who-knows-what, they can steal your data and spy on you, too.

Why? Because Apple and Google are far too trusting and let them do it. They believe that developers will be good neighbors and not do untrustworthy things. Apple and Google are both trapped into believing that everyone will follow United States laws. Naïve! Unfortunately, that trusting nature is now being used against both Apple and Google… though, Google more than Apple by these communist countries. Google devices way outpace Apple’s devices in market share. In 2019, Apple’s devices made up just ~13% of the market, where Google’s Android devices made up a whopping 87%! Together, Apple and Google make up close to 100% of the market, with the small remaining percent running other mobile operating systems (yes, there are a few).

For Google’s saturation reason, it’s no wonder why malware authors are targeting Google over Apple. It’s a simple matter of low-hanging fruit. Google’s fractured stores and litany of device problems has led to where we are. Malware authors can have a field day with Google’s devices because they can take advantage of these tinier stores with much reduced release restrictions. It’s easy, then, for small indie developers to release malware onto Android… far too easy. It’s much more difficult to do this same thing on Apple devices. That is, until you realize exactly how developers are outwitting Apple’s far-too-trusting nature.

Once not-so-upstanding developers understand they can disguise malware underneath a legitimate service, they can then push that service out to app stores (with Apple’s blessing) and get people to use it, in similar form to TikTok. In fact, perhaps the app was even released without the malware to have the appearance of propriety (and to pass Apple’s initial scrutiny). Then, after enough momentum has been reached, the app developer can then slowly release updates containing bits of malware at a time. As far as I know, Apple doesn’t put the same level of scrutiny into app updates as it puts into new app listings. Apple’s hands off approach to updates means the author can slip bad features into updates under Apple’s and our noses and none will be the wiser.

Security Considerations

You always have to really think 🤔 about what apps you have installed and why you’ve installed them. More than that, you need to find out who specifically is developing your apps and where they are in the world. You might be surprised to find that the author doesn’t live in the country where you reside. If the author isn’t in your country of residence, they don’t have to follow your country’s laws for, well, anything.

Of course, you never know what an app author intends by writing and releasing an app. Even the money making aspect on the surface may not be the actual agenda. Hopefully, the app’s purported use case (making money) is the only reason the app exists. Unfortunately, subversion seems to be becoming more and more common in apps, particularly those that may not be developed in the same country where you reside.

For example, someone who develops an app in China doesn’t have to follow the laws of any other country than China. Meaning, if the app developer decides to include spyware, no laws will apply to that developer other than Chinese law. Even then, since they weren’t spying on Chinese citizens, they likely won’t be seen as having violated any Chinese laws… even when spying on citizens in other countries. Because the U.S. can’t apply laws to Chinese citizens, any spying that may have taken place is damage already done. The only action that can be taken is banning the app entirely from the U.S., just as Trump had wanted to do with TikTok.

Every mobile device user must remain on their toes. You can’t assume that Apple’s closed store nature will protect you from spying or data theft (all forms of malware). Apple is way too naïve for that. Instead, you must do the research yourself. Determine who develops an app you intend to install. Find out where they live in the world. If they live in a country where you do not, your local laws will not apply if the developer includes illegal activities in your place of residence. This means they can do a lot of nefarious things and never be caught at it, particularly if they live in a country like China.

If you want to safeguard your own data, don’t install apps without knowing where the author lives. No, not Android and not even on iOS devices. No, not even on… and especially not on company owned devices.

In this day and age of anyone and everyone who can design and build an app basdd anywhere in the world, we’ve firmly come to a time where our devices can be used to spy on us and those around us simply because we’ve installed a random app.

It’s now only a matter of time before government policies catch up with this technology trend and new laws begin emerging which intend to hold device owners responsible for treason when an app spies on and funnels data outside of your country of residence.

In answer to the article’s primary question. No, neither Google nor Apple is better at protecting our devices from malware. However, while the overt malware may be less common on Apple devices, Apple’s and Google’s trusting nature is now firmly subverting our devices for foreign spying activities… particularly when these apps are designed to intentionally use the camera and microphone.

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Should we believe social media influencers?

Posted in advice, Google, scams, youtube by commorancy on May 14, 2019

There are many, many YouTubers (and Instagramers) who claim to profess knowledge of a given topic. By far, a vast majority are in the beauty industry. After all, beauty sells. Unfortunately, while they may be pretty, many have few brain cells in their heads. Let’s explore.

Social Media Sites: YouTube and Instagram

With the advent of social media sites, many young people have rabidly jumped on board to create content for these platforms. Some of these people (dare I say ‘kids’) have chosen to specialize in specific areas, like beauty products. I’ll focus on these ‘influencers’ in this article. Can these (or any) ‘influencers’ be trusted?

The short answer to this question is, no. These are young people (many aged between 18 and 21) who have acquired just enough knowledge to be dangerous. Yet, they in no way should be considered “professional”, let alone “knowledgeable”. I won’t name any names here. Even if I wanted to name names, there are actually far too many of these types of beauty channels to even point out a single one. Suffice it to say, there are many, many far too young beauty advocates on YouTube who may already have money, a palette of makeup and very strong opinions, yet actually have no skill or talent at all. Instead, with their limited talent at applying makeup, they have managed to amass a large following of young followers. Some have gained enough followers that they have been able to get product endorsements, sponsorships, monetization or have been approached to create product lines. Gaining followers is actually what they are good at, not applying the makeup, not creating the hairstyles, not selling makeup brushes.

In fact, many of their ideas can be downright dangerous. What they are actually good at is…

Hawking Products

And… that’s not a reason to celebrate or follow anyone. As these “kids” become “personalities” on screen, what you’re buying into isn’t the their products, but their drama. Watching an 18 year old drag queen apply makeup like a pro may seem enthralling, but the reality is you have no idea how many times that person may have applied it until they got the application just perfect. Maybe they even hired someone to apply it on them pretending as though they applied it. As we all know, “Practice Makes Perfect.” No where is this concept more important than on YouTube. Yet, fakery is everywhere, even in these beauty videos.

YouTube videos make the application of beauty products seem like a breeze. What you aren’t seeing is all of days worth of practice and product testing that the YouTube “personality” (and I use that term very loosely) endured to make that video appear perfect. Even then, give them a few months and they couldn’t even reproduce that look, if they even produced it the first time. Who knows if they even really applied the makeup themselves?

Unfortunately, the goal of being a celebrity is the want of money. In fact, many YouTuber’s goals are to make money from the platform. That’s their #1 goal. It’s not about you, the viewer. It is about you, the consumer funneling money into their channel (and eventually into their products). Whether that money is via clicking advertisements or via Patreon or buying into their sponsored products.

This is why the once “down to earth” YouTuber turns into a flamboyant, loud, arrogant, controversial dramatic personality trying to get you to buy the latest Morphe brush set that you don’t really need. It’s about making THEM money and parting you from yours. It’s not about reality, it’s about sales and fakery.

Drama Advertising

YouTube drama and scandals are quite commonplace in the YouTube beauty arena. On the one hand you have a seeming drag queen who’s boisterous, loud and obnoxious. On the other, you have another large personality who feels they are also entitled. When the two clash, it becomes a huge social media blow up. It ends up all over Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and, yes, YouTube.

The scandal and drama fuels their channels with tons of new subscribers, viewers and brings their brand front and center. Effectively, it’s ‘dramadvertising’. The question is, is whether all of that drama is …

Fake

One of the problems with YouTube is that so much of what you see is fake. With perfect cuts between takes, filters, expensive lighting and cameras and, yes, even the perfect application of makeup, the camera can make someone appear flawless.

With the makeup (or more specifically, fakeup), when you turn the ring lights off and take that person out into natural lighting, not only will the makeup application look like crap, you’ll be able to see very crease, flaw and imperfection in the application. Even then, the makeup is so overbearing, you wouldn’t really want to wear it anyway. With the right lighting and cameras, you can hide just about any imperfection. With the wrong lighting, let’s just say that the personality is an amateur.

Additionally, much of the drama that shows up on YouTube is entirely fake and is staged as a publicity stunt. Just like YouTube celebs sometimes have seeming congenial collabs with one another, they can also script scandals in the same way. It’s so easy for two personalities to meet and agree (to publicly disagree), to make a scene on social media designed to get their channels more viewers, more divisive comments and basically stir the pot. Sometimes stirring the pot is the only way to gain more viewers.

Several large beauty personalities have tried this approach in the recent past. Again, I won’t name names as they don’t deserve to be named on Randocity. I won’t give them the satisfaction of increasing their channel’s membership at the cost of my time spent writing this article. No. If you want to find those scandals from the recent past, you’ll need to head on over to Google and do some searching.

Knowledge, Age and Acting

I’m not going to say there aren’t prodigies in this world. There are. Unfortunately, none of them are on YouTube hawking beauty products. What you see on YouTube is random, usually “pretty” young guys and girls who have gained a following because of their seeming talents. Oh, they have a talent, but it’s not teaching you beauty techniques. Oh, no no. The talent they have is parting you from your money and being a general scam artist.

At 19, I didn’t have enough knowledge enough in any subject to be considered “professional” at anything. These same aged personalities on YouTube are also in this same boat. If they have any knowledge, it’s likely because they paid for it by hiring someone to show it to them, or more likely, do it for them. That’s not knowledge acquisition, that’s acting… and not even very good acting at that.

In fact, anyone on YouTube who has a channel is acting. Some of that acting is, in general, for the betterment of the viewers by showing the viewers something interesting. This should be considered entertainment, not advice.

While I can buy into an actor on stage telling me a story, I can’t buy into an actor behind a camera trying to sell me Morphe brushes. This was tried in the 90s via many, many…

Infomercials

Before YouTube became a thing, infomercials ruled. The talent that might have jumped in front of a camera for YouTube instead did so for Guthy Renker or other similar production companies. These companies have hawked all sorts of garbage throughout the 90s and 00s on late night TV.

These things including psychic readings, beauty products, acne products, hair care products, kitchen gadgets and even money making books. The array of crap advertised on infomercials is as varied as it is endless. Thankfully, infomercials were typically one-and-done. Meaning, only one infomercial was ever produced and when its run finally ran out months (or years later), the product disappeared from the airwaves.

YouTube

With YouTube, we now have a situation where the same crap that was hawked via late night infomercials has moved to YouTube as a daily, biweekly or weekly “show” (again, I use this term loosely). Because many of these personalities produce their own material, the structure of the video is random and chaotic. The one thing that isn’t random is their want for money.

Worse, viewers seem to buy into this random chaos from a random “young” person. It makes them see more “real”. Don’t kid yourself, there’s nothing at all real about a guy dressing up in drag for a camera. That’s a show.

In all likelihood, when that “kid” gets home, the makeup, nails and hair all goes away and they go back to being average kid living with their parents. It’s all for the camera.

This is the fallacy of YouTube. It’s not real. It’s not genuine. It’s not even accurate. It’s fakery and deception at its finest. The “Hi Guys… I appreciate you so, so much” is so disingenuous, it makes me want to gag. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard a similar phrase from a YouTuber. It’s all superficial and fake. Many of these kids turned personalities are likely even mentally disturbed. Yet, they can somehow compose themselves enough in front of a camera to appear ‘sane’ and ‘normal’. These are people who are not and should never be role models, let alone ever consider befriending in real life.

Yet, companies like Morphe extend sponsorships to these damaged folks, not because they’re good role models, but because they have 1 million or more YouTube subscribers… in other words, for all of the wrong reasons.

What is your damage?

An age old question, but very applicable to many YouTube personalities. Far too many of them, in fact. I simply do not feel comfortable taking advice from someone I don’t know, let alone from a drag queen whose claim to fame is putting on flawless makeup using a social platform without any formal training. Really? You expect me to believe what you have to say simply because you’re “famous” or because you look like you know what you’re doing? No.

YouTube Fame

Many YouTubers seem to think that being famous on YouTube actually means something. It doesn’t. If you want to be famous, and I mean seriously famous, you train to become an actor and you get hired in a blockbuster a film or highly rated TV series… then put on a performance that wins awards. That’s fame. And, that’s fame for all the “right” reasons… including displaying actual talent.

Being on YouTube because you can run a camera isn’t fame. It isn’t even celebrity. If anything it’s considered being a “minor” celebrity… and that’s being extremely generous. Being on YouTube doesn’t require skill, it only requires a camera, an idea and your opinions. Again, I won’t name any channels because the point of this article isn’t to send you off to a YouTube channel to become a subscriber, it’s to point out the problems with YouTube as a platform… and where YouTube stands today.

It’s called YouTube with a YOU

There’s a ‘YOU’ in the name. Which means, it’s about you. The real you. Not about a sponsor. Not about your cat. Not about makeup. Not about advertising. It’s about YOU. I think the platform has lost its reason why it came to be. When YouTube became about making money and lost actually being about ‘YOU’, then it became yet another lame commercial platform to sell stuff. And, that’s exactly what it’s become. One big advertising platform… from the embedded ads in the videos to the ads served up verbally in the videos by the creators.

In fact, it should probably be renamed ‘AdTube’ as that’s what it has become. It’s not about the ‘YOU’, it’s about the ‘advertising’, making money and selling you, the viewer, something, anything.

I used to go to YouTube to find interesting people doing interesting things. To find funny, amateur videos. Today, it’s about selling you something and making the creator money. When I go into a video and within 1-3 minutes a strategic product placement appears, I click away. Too many videos are now following this format.

With YouTube’s crackdown on monetization, that’s making even the biggest channels less and less money. I’m all for that. If YouTube turned off monetization tomorrow, it wouldn’t make many creators happy, but it would bring the platform back to its roots… the reason the ‘YOU’ in YouTube exists.

YouTube should move the the highly commercial channels into a new network called AdTube. Get them off the YouTube platform and let YouTube go back to its roots. Turn AdTube into the network that allows these highly commercial, highly sponsored, advertising heavy videos (and channels) to operate. YouTube doesn’t need these. In fact, because YouTube has basically degraded so badly, it’s really just a matter of time before the platform ultimately implodes under its own weight and stigma. Google needs to make a choice and they need to make it fast.

Making Choices

We, as consumers, need to wake up and stop following (and buying stuff from) brainless YouTubers who have no skills or talents other than holding a camera. You have a choice to watch or click away. You don’t even have to visit YouTube. Use your own critical thinking and stop watching channels that have 5, 10, 15 ads along with paid sponsorships in the video. That’s not what YouTube is about, that’s what both YouTube and Instagram have become.

You don’t have to watch this drivel. You have choices. Turn it off and spend time doing something creative or with your friends or family. Learn something… like how to draw or paint or play a guitar. Pick up something that you can do and learn to do it. You don’t need to watch someone on YouTube to be creative. In fact, watching YouTube does the opposite of making you creative. It robs you of precious time that you could be learning a skill, craft or how to play music. Spend that time bettering yourself rather than giving your money to someone and wishing you could be like them.

In fact, you don’t want to be like them. They may appear wholesome and friendly on YouTube, but chances are they are far, far different from what they portray themselves to be. As I said, they’re actors putting on a character. It’s not real. It’s not genuine. It’s a character designed to rope you in and have you spend money on them.

Authentic YouTubers

Just to clarify, this article is not intending to rail against every YouTuber. I’m specifically calling out the big 1, 2, 10 and 50 million subscriber channels playing every trick in the book to get you to spend money. And more specifically, this article is aimed squarely at the beauty industry channels. These very large, seemingly successful channels are solely about one thing. Getting you to buy something. Chances are, if you do buy that something, that channel stands to make a hefty cut of the profits and you’re left with a mediocre product you likely can’t return and may not even be able to use.

If you want to buy products, do it at a store. Try the product out and then decide if you want it. Use your OWN judgement to see if it works for you. Don’t believe the hype a beauty channel spouts. Believe what you see in person… at a store.

I’m not at all saying not to watch YouTube or even Instagram with the right frame of mind. Consider all social media channels as strictly entertainment. If it makes you laugh or gives you some other emotional response, great. But, don’t get invested in the channel as if it were real or believable or even an authority. It’s none of that. It’s simply entertainment, plain and simple. In fact, this part applies to ANY YouTube channel. They’re all simply entertainment with fallible and inaccurate information offered in video form, even with the most well meaning of intentions. As the saying goes, “Take it with a grain of salt.” Which ultimately means, disregard the information as inaccurate and only watch as you would pure fictional entertainment. If the video content peaks your interest, go Google the topic and find out more from reputable sources.

From this perspective, YouTube is fine to watch… but don’t invest money into the channel or into products hawked on the channel solely because you feel some kind of responsibility to the channel creator or because you believe what they say. Definitely, no. Simply by watching a YouTube channel does not obligate you to anything. The creator spent time putting together the video, yes. But you have no obligation to give them any money in return for watching their content. It was on them that they created and posted. Don’t let the creator “guilt” you into feeling like you “need” to give them money. You don’t. You also don’t need to buy anything advertised on any channel.

If you do decide to donate to a channel or buy products from them, do it because you sincerely want to do it, not out of some sense of duty (or guilt) because you “watched” their videos. No, YouTube and Instagram and all other social media should be considered strictly entertainment. You don’t need to open your wallet to any social media influencer… and you probably shouldn’t.

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Rant Time: YouTube, Copyrights and Content ID

Posted in botch, business, Google, youtube by commorancy on May 16, 2017

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably know what YouTube is. It is a video sharing platform that allows anyone to post video content onto the Internet. YouTube offers the likes of travel videos, personal vlogs, how to guides, DIY projects, music to all types of random content. However, Hollywood has forced Google to employ more and more heavy handed techniques to video uploads to (ahem) protect big Hollywood copyright content. This system is severely flawed. Let’s explore.

YouTube Channel ownership

While it’s fun to run around on YouTube looking for all kinds of weird content, let’s look at what it’s like to be a channel owner and all the fun we’re not having. While I do like writing blog articles, I also have a gaming channel on YouTube. So, I have personal experience with this issue. I like to play games on my consoles and upload recorded game content to YouTube for others to share in my fun.

As a channel owner, you really don’t get many tools other than a content uploader and metadata tools to tweak a video’s description, tags, monetization settings, language, etc. As a channel owner, YouTube offers no tools to the owner to validate that your content is, in fact, your content. Meaning, for example, you might have taken a video of a day at the beach with wave sounds in the background. Then, you’ve uploaded it. Or, you’re playing Grand Theft Auto and you record your session (minus any copyrighted audio to not trigger YouTube’s audio content detection system) and upload. Here’s where things start to fall apart.

YouTube Content ID and content ownership

Besides being a channel owner or a viewer, there is also a third lesser known management meta user. This interface is intended to be used by Hollywood and the music industry. It was designed for the likes of EMI, Sony and other large music and movie conglomerate content creators (mostly by legal threats to Google). This system allows those content creators to submit their content to YouTube into the Content ID system. What is Content ID?

Content ID is a way for YouTube’s automated system to match a channel owner’s content against a copyright owner’s uploaded reference content. Seems like a legitimate thing. I mean, it allows artist’s representatives to make sure their content isn’t being placed onto YouTube unauthorized. Where’s the problem then?

YouTube is the problem

Here’s the rant. The problem is that ANYONE can create a meta content management account and begin uploading any content they wish against YouTube’s content ID matching system. YouTube requires no verification by any alleged content creator. They create a content meta account, get approved (which is apparently relatively easy), upload random content and begin matching against videos on people’s channels. In fact, I’ve even seen content management accounts grab original videos from other people’s channels, download them from YouTube, upload them into the content ID matching system and claim ownership over material that they stole from the original owner. Yes, you can even upload content you downloaded from another YouTube channel and claim ownership of that content in your channel… though, that’s called copyright infringement.

YouTube has taken its somewhat usable platform and turned it into a joke. YouTube is a disaster if you actually expect YouTube to help you protect your own original copyrighted content. Yes, it does allow someone to download a video you own, upload it and then claim ownership of it.

Let’s keep going. What happens when content ID matches a video uploaded through the meta content management account against a channel? YouTube does several things:

  1. It flags the video on the first channel owner as copyrighted content matched against another channel. Basically, the system tells one channel that another channel has claimed ownership over that content even if the claim is false (we’ll come back to false claims).
  2. It allows the alleged ownership claimant to monetize the video (even if they do not own the content).
  3. It allows the first channel owner to dispute the copyright claim, remove the video or leave it up (depending on how the content ID matcher is used).
  4. If the content owner claims exclusive content claims on the content, the content on the first channel can be taken down or deleted.

Disputes

Here’s where the entire system falls apart. While YouTube can match content fairly rapidly, filing a dispute can take days, weeks or sometimes months to resolve. All the while the content is in dispute, YouTube allows the claimant access to monetization over the content in question. Here’s the bigger rub (as if monetizing content you don’t own isn’t big enough).

False claimants are never at all verified by Google. YouTube’s content ID matching system assumes fair play by those approved to use it. That is, people who create meta content accounts are on their honor to upload content that they actually own. In fact, this isn’t happening. While legitimate usage of this system is happening by big content providers, many lesser channels have learned to game the system to claim ownership over content they don’t rightfully own and don’t have the rights to monetize. This is especially true for channels outside the US (i.e. Russia and Vietnam) where copyright rules don’t apply in the same way as in the US. This ridiculous YouTube help article which discusses setting up a meta content account states:

“Content ID acceptance is based on an evaluation of each applicant’s actual need for the tools. Applicants must be able to provide evidence of the copyrighted content for which they control exclusive rights.”

Yeah riiiiiight. Content evidence of what exactly? Copyrights, especially on YouTube are nebulous at best. What are you expected to show, the camera it was created on? How does that prove anything? There’s no way to know that any particular video was produced on any particular camera. YouTube doesn’t show camera EXIF information in the video’s metadata.

Copyright Basics

US Copyright law states that as soon as a work is created, you are automatically the owner of it and possess all worldwide copyright ownership to this work in perpetuity. This is considered an implicit copyright. You don’t have to do anything other than create the work to own it. This assumes some basics like, it must produced entirely by you on your own equipment and on your own time. However, some countries, like China, don’t recognize implicit copyrights at all. Instead, to protect your copyrights in the countries that don’t recognize implicit copyrights, you are required to fill out forms, possibly pay a fee and likely submit your work as evidence. Only then will your work be explicitly acknowledged by the government to exist and that you own that work.

For example, when you’re using your own personal phone to take video of you playing games at an arcade, this work is now considered fully owned by you under US Copyright Law. The moment the video (and audio) is created, it’s yours. On the other hand, if you are hired as an employee of a production company, and that company owns the equipment and they have hired a camera crew to follow you around watching you play games, you won’t own that video content because the production company paid to create it. Of course, there are pesky things like contracts that can explicitly authorize or deny ownership of copyrights to any party involved in a production. So, if your content is created under a contract, you should read your ownership rights carefully. Just because you were involved in a production, doesn’t necessarily mean you have any copyrights to that material.

Evidence of Copyright Ownership?

In this day and age of immediate gratification, YouTube content owners rely on implicit copyright ownership protections to allow their channels to exist. That is, as soon as the content is created and edited (implicit copyright ownership), it’s uploaded to YouTube.

In the case of copyrights, how can anyone sufficiently provide ‘evidence’  over any content? What kind of evidence does YouTube expect to see? The camera it was shot on? The recording studio that it was recorded at? A bill of sale? Seriously, how can you possibly provide ‘evidence’ of ownership for copyrights?

The only way to provide even the smallest amount of evidence is to submit your work to the U.S. Copyright Office for registry. Let’s understand why this is not exactly feasible for most YouTube content. At the moment of this article…

  • It costs $35 to register a single work (one poem, one video, one work of art).
  • It costs $55 to submit multiple works together (a collection of poems, videos or songs).
  • Who knows how long it will take the copyright office to actually register them so that you have ‘proof’.

Sure, while you could do this to, ahem, protect your works, it’s expensive and what exactly does it do for you? The Government won’t stand up on your behalf. The copyright office is merely a registry, not a legal team. They won’t help you protect your content, that’s your responsibility to find a lawyer. It’s also not like Google will get involved in copyright disputes either. For the prices listed above, that would cost $35 for every single video you upload to YouTube and that only registers your work in the US, not necessarily in other countries. It doesn’t give you any specific legal protections other than someone can go look it up, like Google. You may be required to register your content in many different countries to protect your rights in those locales. You’re also responsible for hiring a lawyer to protect your content (regardless of whether it’s registered).

Google and Copyright Disputes

Google outright states they do not get involved in copyright disputes. Yet, by providing a content ID system, content matching and marking videos in YouTube as being claimed by another channel, this absolutely, most definitely is the very definition of getting involved.

If you don’t get involved in copyright disputes, you don’t create controls to help manage disputes. Meaning, it’s entirely disingenuous to create a copyright dispute system and then when someone disputes a claim (that your system sent us notification) state that you don’t get involved. You can’t claim that. You already ARE involved by providing the notification system.

Worse, once you begin the dispute process, Google’s YouTube team doesn’t care. They don’t actually attempt to review the content, the owners or anything related to the dispute at all. They just let the two parties fight it out even if the content isn’t owned by either of them.

Content ID System is Half-Assed Designed + False Claims

Google’s YouTube team got this content system just far enough to make Hollywood and the music industry happy because they can kill content on channels matching their own content catalog. Yet, Google never brought it far enough to actually prevent scammers from abusing it. Instead, Google lets random scammer channel owners run roughshod all over YouTube’s other channels without any consequences. I’ve seen scammer channels claim false copyrights over multiple legitimate channels (even my own) using content that they clearly do not hold copyrights over and yet those channels STILL exist on YouTube. Google does nothing about this. Why was this channel not closed? Clearly, these scammer channels have willfully violated copyright laws using YouTube’s woefully under designed crap of a content detection system to facilitate these false claim(s).

Claiming false copyright ownership over content is, in fact, copyright infringement and very much against copyright law. However, because most of these scammers are outside of the US, Google won’t do anything… not even close the scammer’s channel. Though, sometimes Google will close the legitimate channel and leave the scammer operating. That false claimant had to copy and upload that content to YouTube’s matching system which, in itself, is a violation of copyright laws. This means that Google’s content ID system facilitates false copyright claims and makes Google an accessory to copyright infringement. Google allowed the copyright infringement to take place and allowed the fraudulent claimant’s channel(s) to profit off of that infringement. This is a legal situation just waiting to happen.

Google, fix your shit. YouTube is quickly becoming an unusable mess of a video sharing platform and is now just one big lawsuit waiting to happen against Google. A lawsuit against Google for not only being an accessory to copyright infringement, but providing a service that actually enables copyright infringement in a system that’s supposed to prevent it. Ironic. Such a lawsuit, if won, might ultimately be the end of YouTube.

If you’re an IP lawyer reading this and you would to have a discussion about this situation, please leave me a note on the Randosity About Page.

Rant Time: Google should stop producing Chrome

Posted in botch, business, Google by commorancy on July 7, 2015

I’m all for browser competition, but only if the organization that chooses to produce such a browser actually takes it seriously. Enter Google. Google’s initial motivation for producing the Chrome browser was all wrong. Instead of wanting to produce a browser because they wanted something technologically better, Google’s reason for producing Chrome was to facilitate their advertising initiatives and agendas. Google should stop producing Chrome. Let’s explore.

What is a browser for?

A browser’s number one reason to exist is to render web sites. That’s the single solitary reason a browser exists. Everything else is just bells and whistles. But you might say, “Well, Chrome does that.”. In fact, it doesn’t. There are many sites I’ve recently visited in Chrome 43 that don’t render. I have no idea why and I really don’t care the reason behind its failure. I just want to know that when I visit a web site that the browser will render it. For example, the same web site that produces a white page in Google Chrome produces a rendered page in Firefox. It’s clear, Google doesn’t care whether or not Chrome works.

Does Google Care?

It’s clear, if you visit the bug reports pages for Google Chrome, there are ‘low hanging fruit’ bugs that haven’t been touched for years. Google doesn’t care. They don’t care if the browser is half-assed. They don’t care that pages don’t render. They don’t care that when the pages begin to render, they show all manner of ugly gobbledygook just prior to applying the CSS… and, in some cases, even fail to apply the CSS.

Oh, Chrome didn’t start out this way. No. It started out as a fast browser with independent sandboxed processes. What it has devolved into is nothing short of a dictatorial memory hog of disaster.

“Automatic Updates are nice”, you say.

Yes, they are, until you realize you still have to restart the whole browser. Whatever happened to the initiative of incremental component updates that didn’t require a browser restart? Well, that clearly never materialized. Worse, when the three line menu bar starts to turn colors (green, then yellow, then orange, then red), that’s just the kiss of death for Chrome. The point at which the bar starts turning color, you might as well restart it. If you don’t, Chrome’s developers intentionally and randomly begin breaking web sites until you do.  So, until you update, you can expect that some sites won’t load at all, won’t load correctly, or won’t work once loaded. And, this is intentional. It’s a gentle nudge (albeit, stupid) by the developers to force you to update your browser.

Worse, and as the color begins to change, the frequency of the breakage increases. I just don’t get this one at all. Why would you intentionally hobble the user’s browsing experience? But then, not actually just ask the user to update? Seriously, if you want the user to update, just present a notification panel that says, “The browser requires an update, restart” and force the user to restart. Don’t randomly stop parts of the rendering code from working and assume the user will take the hint. Just force the restart on the user… it’s a much more sane experience.

Broken renderer

And the crux of this whole thing is Google’s lack of seriousness (and experience) in producing this browser. As long as Google’s sites work, that’s all that matters to the Google. If you visit some other random site and it doesn’t work, Google doesn’t really care. They might or might not fix it if you report it. Oh, sure, they offer a place to report it, but it’s clear. No one really looks at these. There are bugs outstanding that haven’t been touched for years. So, don’t expect your bug report thrown into the ether to actually be touched in any timely fashion, if ever. Which comes to…

The Wrong Motivation

Netscape was formed to produce a browser. That was the reason for Netscape’s existence. Their commitment was in producing the best browser possible. However, Google’s motivation to produce Chrome was not from the goal of producing the best most compatible browser. No. Google’s motivation was to produce the best experience for displaying its own advertising and search content. If showing Google sites is the only metric by which to assess success of Chrome, then I guess it is a success. But, the rest of the browser experience is a failure.

Failures such as being unable to properly play flash content, failure to play Silverlight content at all, restrictive and unnecessary security ‘features’ and overreaching and heavy handed security tactics. Chrome is not about producing the best browsing experience, it’s about producing a browsing experience that Google mandates on you. In other words, if Google doesn’t approve of the site, then you can’t visit it. That’s not for the browser creator to decide.

A browser creator should remain entirely site neutral. If the user wants to visit a so-called malicious site, that’s their choice. If a user wants to visit any site, Chrome should dutifully render it regardless. Google’s involvement in the Chrome browser should be to produce a browser that ‘just works’. Not a browser that ‘chooses to work’ at some Google employee’s whim.

Technology Enhancements?

As lofty as Google’s initial engineering goals were for Chrome, that whole pretense has been completely dropped today. There have been effectively no browsing experience improvements to Chrome since its first year of existence. Yes, the version number has increased to 43, but there has been little change with each successive update. Oh, they’ve improved the extension system, but not to the point that enough developers take advantage of it. Yes, there are quite a number of extensions that exist, but still no where near the number that exist for Firefox. But, extensions aren’t the reason to use a browser. Sure, they’re niceties, but the reason a browser exists is to view the web. If a browser can’t even fulfill that basic function, what use are extensions?

Technologically, Chrome has also gotten worse over time. The whole browser is predicated on memory use (and lots of it). So, if you want to open 50 tabs, expect your browser to consume 12G of memory or more (depending on the sites you visit). With Firefox, this browser might consume 1-2G of RAM or less. I have no idea what Chrome is doing internally here, but whatever is going on is not right. There is no reason a browser should consume 12G of RAM under any circumstances. Effectively, the only relevant tab is the one that’s visible. This is the ONLY tab that should consume any active RAM (or any tab playing music). The rest of the tabs should be paged out of RAM freeing that memory. Which leads to the horrible tab system…

Tabs?

The tab system in Chrome is not only antiquated, it’s one of the worst implementations of tabs I’ve seen. At this point, I’d even call it broken. Not only do the tabs get progressively smaller as more are opened, there’s a tiny X on every tab to close it. Again, the only tab that’s relevant is the tab that’s visible. All other tabs are there for recall only. This means that the tiny X should not be visible on any tab but the active tab. If the tab is not actively focused, then the X should disappear. Removal of the X means no accidental way to close a tab on activation which does happen in practice far too often. The X should only reappear only when the tab comes into focus, but after the tab has been clicked.

Worse than the usability issues I just mentioned, there is no way to search through the active tabs that are opened. When the tabs get so small you cannot even see the icon, then you don’t even know what’s in the tab. So, the only way to find what tabs you have open is to search. Yet, Chrome provides nothing here. Firefox is at least aware of what tabs you have opened. So in Firefox, if you attempt to open a site that already exists in an open tab, Firefox will at least go to that tab. In Chrome, there’s nothing. Chrome happily lets you open yet another tab for a page you already have open, consuming yet more memory.

Chrome and its Future

It’s clear, Google is not serious about making Chrome better or more usable. Instead, it’s worried about making certain security obsolete to its own detriment. For example, Chrome developers removed certain key SDK features preventing Silverlight from working. Oh, I’m sure those software engineers would argue, that’s our right. Oh, I’m sure that it is. But, removing a key SDK feature that also eliminates a necessary browsing experience is not smart. It’s especially not smart for a browser that needs these features to stay relevant in an ever competitive browser market. I’d call this self-obsolescence.

When other browsers continue to feature this functionality and Chrome doesn’t supply an alternative, this is just stupid engineering design. It’s one thing to replace an SDK feature with a new one that’s compatible. It’s entirely different to remove SDK features that render certain features unavailable.

For example, because Amazon relies on Silverlight for its Prime TV experience, Google’s removal of the key SDK feature that allowed Silverlight to work means no more Prime TV on Chrome. This effectively says Chrome is no longer useful at Amazon. Meaning, if you want to use Amazon, you might as well switch back to Firefox. I ask Chrome developers, “Is it really a good idea to force users away from your browser?” Are the developers really stupid enough to believe that Prime users will ‘live without’ watching Prime TV and Movies and still continue to use Chrome?

Nails in the Coffin

It’s these stupid decisions by Chrome developers that really make no sense. Is it really the wisest of decisions to lock out web sites because your engineering team says this is what should happen? No. It isn’t. It also isn’t for your engineering team to decide. A browser is desgined to be flexible and expandable, not to offer limited browsing experiences. Chrome shouldn’t dictate which sites are ‘allowed’ by making wholesale changes that prevent sites from loading. Instead, Chrome needs to become open and flexible, not closed and unusable.

This software should let the user decide his/her browsing experience. If that leads the user into a trap that gets their computer infected, that’s not the browser’s fault. You can only prevent the user from their own folly for so long. But, the browser should remain neutral at all times. It should offer and allow all commonly used features, tools and protocols (whether they are good, bad, old or new). Who cares that SSL3 is old? Taking it out of the browser entirely will break user experience. It should never be taken out, but it can be set as a user preference to allow or disallow usage. If the user chooses to disable that protocol, that’s the user’s choice. It should never be a blanket choice dictated by the Google engineers.

It’s these stupid global wholesale decisions by the Google engineers that will make Google Chrome a thing of the past. Eventually, Google will become so constrained and so impossible to use that everyone will have to switch back to another browser. We’re quickly approaching that crux point… especially with removal of ‘insecure SDK’ features that remove key features like Silverlight.

No, I am not necessarily a fan of Silverlight, but I do want to be able to use it when sites need it. If Chrome simply can’t even support this most basic of uses, then what’s the point in using Chrome?

Chrome’s Dictatorship

It’s really surprising to me that Chrome’s developers are just pretentious enough to think they can dictate exactly how sites should be built. Meaning, when Chrome engineers remove SSL3 and other ‘weak protocols’ from browser support that these engineers think that sites will be forced to update the outdated protocols on their sites for Chrome. That’s a double edged sword. Chrome doesn’t yet wield enough power as a browser to make that unilateral decision. Oh, the Chrome engineers think that Chrome’s brand is that powerful, but I’m here to tell you it isn’t.

Chrome cannot and should not attempt to dictate what is ‘acceptable’ browser standards. That’s for the W3C to state. If a site chooses to use SSL3, that’s their choice, not Chrome’s. The only thing that removing these ‘features’ from Chrome will accomplish is to make Chrome itself less relevant. In other words, the more of these items that are removed from Chrome, the less reason there is to use Chrome. Sites have no obligation to support Chrome’s browser standards, especially when they become overbearing and unnecessary.

Overall

I am quickly coming to the conclusion that Chrome has outlived its usefulness as a browser. On my notebook where RAM is limited, I’ve already moved back to Firefox which consumes far less memory. On my home system where memory is a little more abundant, I’m still using Chrome. But, there are times where I want to watch Prime TV on Amazon and have to switch to Firefox. Because I’m tired of running multiple browsers and dealing with Chrome’s dictatorial approach to browser engineering, I’m about done with Chrome.

Eventually, more and more users will wake up to Chrome’s lack of basic features, such as viewing Silverlight content. I’m surprised that Chrome developers haven’t stopped Flash from working. That’s probably coming. That would be the ultimate nail in Chrome’s coffin. Once that’s done, Chrome is all but a thing of the past. For me, that day is already here. Bye Chrome.

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