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Rant Time: Adobe VoCo’s ethical dilemma

Posted in best practices, botch, business, california, ethics by commorancy on February 28, 2018

I have to wonder about Adobe’s business ethics at times. First, there’s Photoshop. While I can admit that photo editing has a legitimate purpose, such as correcting red eye or removing telephone lines or removing reflections of the camera man from a photo, there is the much seedier and ethically murky purpose for Photoshop. Now comes Adobe VoCo. It is a product idea that does for spoken audio what Photoshop does for images. Let’s explore this YouTube clip from 2016:

Skip to 3:18 for the meat of this video.

VoCo’s Use Cases and Ethics

Though, yes, I will concede that the demonstration above was funny and we all laughed, the demonstration has a deep seated ethically murky undertone once the laughing stops. In fact, that’s what prompted this blog article.

Unlike Photoshop which has actual real world use cases (yes, other than making models thinner and glowier for the cover of Vogue), VoCo is one of those unnecessary tools that, while cool in theory, makes Adobe seem that it’s now in the business of causing world disruption instead of actually solving creative problems. After the ethical problems created by Photoshop, Adobe has to know the ethical quandary it introduces by bringing the VoCo audio editing tool to market. Adobe decides to go ahead with demoing this tool anyway. So much for business ethics. Instead, Adobe should have patented and shelved this product idea and never shown it off.

There’s no effective real world use case for this product other than for making someone say things that they actually didn’t say. The only use case where this technology might even be somewhat useful, depending on output quality, is in the voice over industry where an actor might be unavailable at a time when a line needs to be changed to fit continuity better. The voice over industry is the only industry where VoCo could have even the smallest glimmer of hope of a use case. This is such a tiny niche market segment to introduce this tool in such a public spectacle way.

The only other use case would be to sample all of the audio from a particular dead actor or actress’s productions and then recreate lines of new spoken dialog based on that. Again, this is one of those entertainment areas that fits firmly into the uncanny valley, particularly if the spoken lines are attached to a CG actor. Again, this is not a substantial use case in my opinion and is most definitely creepy. It’s definitely not a big enough use case to warrant this public release spectacle. Do we really want to see Marilyn Monroe or Elvis brought back to life on the big screen using CG and VoCo dialog?

There is no other legitimate use case for this product. It’s like Adobe intentionally wants to flaunt its lack of ….

Business Ethics and Self-Editing

Businesses today have no ability to self-edit or recognize ethics. That is, stop ethically bad product ideas from making it to the market. Just thinking about this product and how it could possibly be used, it doesn’t have legitimate use cases (other than the voice over use case I mentioned above). However, there are perhaps thousands of illegitimate uses for this tool. Let’s list a few of them, shall we:

  • Falsifying a deposition to make the person being deposed say something they didn’t say
  • Falsifying a statement of non-confession to make a person confess to a crime when they didn’t actually confess
  • Falsifying a phone conversation
  • Changing any spoken words from non-incriminating to incriminating evidence

In legal circles, the use for this tool is ripe for abuse and has use cases as wide as the Grand Canyon and as deep as the Mariana Trench. In other words, while VoCo has no substantial legitimate use cases, it has thousands of illegitimate use cases. There is no way Adobe couldn’t see this. There is no way for Adobe to feign ignorance about this tool or the ethical problems it imposes if released.

Legal Evidence

Some have theorized that this tool would become just as Photoshop has. Basically, because evidence can now be manufactured in products like VoCo, it means that audio evidence would no longer be easily admissible. While that idea has some soundness to it, the legal system is not always technically savvy and can sometimes move at a snail’s pace. Eventually, the courts and lawyers will be on board with this ‘manufactured evidence’ sound clip idea, but not before several someones are incriminated over manufactured evidence that isn’t caught in time.

Some have theorized that Adobe should watermark the sound clip. The difficulty with audio watermarking is that it ruins the audio. No one would buy a professional audio tool that intentionally makes the audio sound bad or introduces something that is audibly noticeable, strictly because Adobe wants to insert a watermark to legally cover their collective butts. No. No one would buy a tool that causes damage to the audio output. This means that only a silent kind of watermark could be introduced. Such a watermark would consist primarily as a tag within the saved audio clip file. Any tags introduced in a save file can easily be stripped away by converting the audio clip to a new format or by playing the audio clip back and recording it on analog equipment. In fact, a whole industry and set of tools would likely appear to strip out any watermarks imposed by Adobe onto the saved files.

Unless there is a substantial way to identify that the clip has been edited, and I don’t know how Adobe could even solve this problem fully, VoCo is a tool that would end up more abused than legitimately used.

Flawed Product Ideas

While this is somewhat of a cool technological advancement, it doesn’t need to exist. It doesn’t need to exist because it has basically one limited use case. I’d argue that as a production runner, you can just wait until the voice actor becomes available and ask them to re-record the lines you need. That is, instead of using a tool like this. A tool like VoCo might save you some time, but by demanding such a tool for your use, it means the rest of the world must also endure the consequences of a world full of falsified evidence. Is that the world you want to live in? Evidence that could even be used against you, the audio editor. No, thanks.

However, it’s clear that prototype code has been written based on the video above. This means that Adobe could release such a product into the wild in the future. Thankfully, as of this article in 2018, this product does not yet exist. Unfortunately, Adobe has already opened Pandora’s box. A working prototype means that any coder with leanings towards audio engineering could produce a similar tool and release it into the wild without the help of Adobe. Thanks Adobe.

It is as yet unclear when or if this product could ever be released. Note that this video segment apparently showcases experimental product ideas (products that may never see the light of day) and not actual products. After all, such a legally murky product would have to clear Adobe’s legal team before release. Considering the many negative use cases for such an audio editing product and the legal liability that Adobe might endure as a result, I’d hope that Adobe’s legal team has shelved this product idea permanently.

Agree or disagree? Please leave a comment below. Also, don’t miss any new Randocity articles by subscribing to this blog via clicking the blue follow button at the top right.

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Adobe Creative Cloud: Adobe’s Stupid Mistake

Posted in botch, business, california, cloud computing by commorancy on April 27, 2014

CreativeNoCloudIn the process of upgrading to Adobe’s Creative Suite 6 (CS6) software package, I spoke with an Adobe representative who then tried to up-sell me into their monthly software plan labeled Adobe Creative Cloud. The representative also told me there would not be a CS7 or CS8 version released ever with the introduction of Adobe Creative Cloud. Let’s explore why offering only Adobe’s Cloud will ultimately become a huge blunder.

Adobe’s software has always been purchased!

The business model for Adobe software has always been to purchase the software and upgrade later by paying an upgrade fee. It’s a model that has fully worked for all of their versions up to CS6. This has been the software purchase model for years and years (not even just from Adobe). Yes, while it is how we have always purchased Adobe software packages, it is also how we have purchased software from every other software developer. In fact, for sellers other than Adobe, it’s still how we buy software. Basically, nearly every other software package out there is a one-time payment to own the version you are buying. So, what’s changed?

Adobe’s Clouded Mind

Adobe has now made the decision that they are no longer ‘selling’ software. They are now ‘renting’ it to you in exchange for a monthly or yearly fee. Clearly, this is an entirely different business model from their original purchasing model. This is not the software purchasing model we have come to know, understand and agree to. But, someone who thinks they are brilliant at Adobe has decided the old model is no longer valid and they are now wanting us to buy this purchase model. Because they have done away with purchased software, they are now forcing YOU to ‘rent’ their software through the cloud. No longer can you just ‘buy’ it.

The pricing model is currently $600 yearly or $50 monthly for their service. But, you have no guarantees that they won’t double or triple these prices in two or three years. Once your plan ends, they can charge you whatever they want and your software is invalidated if you don’t agree. You don’t get to keep your software that you’ve purchased during the plan. The money you’ve spent is entirely lost. However, when you previously bought the software, you own that software to use forever no matter what pricing they use later. When purchased outright, the software is on your system and can be used forever without further involvement of Adobe.  This permanency in ownership is just as it should be with software.

The Mistake

Whomever at Adobe that made this decision must have done so without consulting us, the software buyers, because why would anyone want to rent software forever? Software that you cannot keep or use after you shut the plan off. It’s an entirely different business model and an entirely different way to manage software. I don’t want to use cloud based Adobe software. I want the software installed on my system to use for as long as I want. I want to be able to move around and not be dependent on a 24/7 always-on Internet connection. If I’m offline, I still want to be able to edit and create work.

If you’re already using this service, you know that the software requires checking in every 30 days for monthly subscriptions and every 99 days for yearly subscriptions. This is not what I want. I want software that works infinitely offline. I don’t want anything ‘checking home to mothership’ ever. If I need to get a new version, just notify me of it and, if there’s a fee I’ll pay and download it. This is the tried-and-true model. Why abandon it?

Throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

Seriously, why would any top level executive dump a fully functional business model that has sustained an entire company for years in exchange for an extremely risky new business model that may not be adopted by buyers? Why wouldn’t you want to carry both models? Clearly, there are those of us out here who still want to ‘buy’ software, not ‘rent’.

For example, renting a car for a day is fine, but the market still is a big enough place where you can also ‘buy’ cars. Why would you, as Adobe, decide to close down the entire ‘buy’ market in lieu of a ‘rent’ only market? Think about it, the cloud rental software is fully downloadable but hobbled to check in every 30 days. It’s like paying to use a never ending trial version. To carry both business models, it’s just semantics to set up the software to check in every 30 days, 99 days (as it does right now) or NEVER (to buy it outright.. which doesn’t exist). If I want to pay full price up front for a package, that’s my choice and I should have that choice available to me. If I choose not to rent, then that’s your loss when I choose not to rent. And believe, I won’t rent ANY software from any business.

But, Adobe has decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The model that they formerly and successfully used to sell their software they have entirely abandoned for this new ‘rental’ world. A world that is likely to not only backfire badly on Adobe, but likely to force them to completely rethink this idea. Some ideas need to die and rental software like this is one of those ideas that needs to go away as fast as possible. That someone thought it would be a great idea needs to be slapped sane.

Renting is not Acceptable

Rentable software is both a creepy ‘big brother’ privacy invading tactic (no thanks Adobe) and a crappy business model that, as I have already said, needs to die a horrific and fiery death. I understand why it exists (companies want residual income and to collect all sorts of creepy privacy metrics), but it’s not a model that I will ever endorse or use. Therefore, I do not accept this business model and thusly CS6 will be my LAST purchase from Adobe until this company comes to its senses.

If you agree with me on this, please leave a comment below. Adobe, if you’re reading, you need to wake up and realize that there are some of us out here who want to actually buy software, not rent it. We want to be able to use purchased software without having to check home to mothership ever (except for updates when I request it to check).

It always amazes me just how stupid some company executives can be. So long Adobe, it was nice knowing you. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

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