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YouTube algorithm woes, and more tech news today

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🌞 Nick here again with the day’s latest news. I’m also happy to report that the terrible heatwave here in Spain has come to an end, so the floor outside is no longer lava.

YouTube algorithm woes

The YouTube logo as of 2019.

We all know that YouTube recommendations can come up with some questionable results, but a recent in-depth study by Mozilla found far more nefarious consequences of the leading streaming platform’s algorithm.

First, a bit about the study itself:

  • Using crowdsourced data from its RegretsReporter browser extension, the company tracked watching habits and which videos users regretted watching after the fact.
  • These are self-reported regrets, so they range from the misleading to the truly offensive.
  • Data nerds can read the full 39-page report here, and the rest of you can keep reading to get the quick results.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, the study found that YouTube is consistently “recommending videos that violate their very own content policies and harm people around the world.”

  • In number terms, 71% of all videos that participants regretted watching were recommended by the algorithm, and recommended videos were 40% more likely to be regretted than those searched for.
  • This underscores the fact that YouTube’s recommendation AI is essentially pushing junk videos into people’s feeds.
  • To make matters worse, many of the videos that people regretted watching were later removed from the platform for violating Community Guidelines. These videos had collectively racked up 160 million views in less than six months.
  • Regretted videos included those concerning COVID and other conspiracy theories, offensive or bigoted content, graphic violence, sexualized content, and scams.

At the root of the problem is YouTube’s main monetary goal of driving more engagement to serve more ads. The more time people spend on the platform, the higher revenue grows. And nothing drives engagement like sensational and extremist content.

But this is nothing new. A Bloomberg report from 2019 (paywalled) highlighted several employees with the exact same concerns about toxic content. Google’s response was lukewarm at best, and the company line is still to avoid taking responsibility and refusing to release any data related to its recommendation algorithm.

  • Mozilla argues that the only real solution is for lawmakers to step up and release new regulations on algorithmic recommendations. 
  • But I wouldn’t count on that happening any time soon. 
  • Lawmakers are still notoriously clueless when it comes to technology, as evidenced by last year’s congressional hearings with big tech executives.
  • In the short term, making yourself and your loved ones aware of how YouTube recommends content and perhaps spending a bit more time away from the outrage machine should do wonders for your mental health.

Roundup

Throwback Thursday

Donkey Kong first level

Tomorrow, July 9, will be the 40th anniversary of the first Japanese arcade release of Donkey Kong. The game introduced not just the titular big ape, but also Mario (who was initially a carpenter) and Pauline, who went on to appear in dozens more titles.

The brainchild of gaming legend Shigeru Miyamoto, the iconic game allowed Nintendo to break into the North American market and helped save Nintendo from financial collapse. It was later released on various consoles and, in 1983, was one of three launch titles for the Famicom (NES) console in Japan.

The question is, what will Nintendo do to celebrate, if anything? The Mario franchise received a substantial 35th-anniversary celebration last year, but Zelda largely got the cold shoulder with a Skyward Sword port and a limited edition game and watch.

Here’s hoping Nintendo has big news planned for tomorrow.

Signing out,

Nick Fernandez, Editor

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