Do you have information about something going on in the genre (sci-fi, horror, fantasy) entertainment industry? We want to know! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org—not just with info, but if you’ve made art or a cool fan film that you’d like us to showcase, or anything else, you can send that too! Don’t forget you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
MailOnline, a news site associated with the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper, has sued Google over allegations the tech giant has been “hiding” links to its news stories. Google calls the allegations “meritless.”
The U.S.-based lawsuit, first reported by the Guardian, alleges that articles about professional bloviator Piers Morgan and former royal Meghan Markle were recently hidden from prominent positions on Google because MailOnline has stopped using some of Google’s search engine optimization tools. But Google denies the claims.
“The Daily Mail’s claims are completely inaccurate,” a Google spokesperson told Gizmodo via email.
“The use of our ad tech tools has no bearing on how a publisher’s website ranks in Google Search. More generally, we compete in a crowded and competitive ad tech space where publishers have and exercise multiple options,” the Google spokesperson continued.
“The Daily Mail itself authorizes dozens of ad tech companies to sell and manage their ad space, including Amazon, Verizon and more. We will defend ourselves against these meritless claims.”
The lawsuit highlights the complex relationship between news outlets and Google. MailOnline and virtually every other private news enterprise depends on Google’s traffic to reach readers, but those same news outlets are struggling because companies like Google and Facebook are taking all of the ad revenue that previously went to traditional media companies.
MailOnline did not respond to a request for comment overnight from Gizmodo but whined to the Guardian about how Google was being unfair.
“This lawsuit is to hold Google to account for their continued anti-competitive behavior including manipulation of ad auctions and news search results, bid rigging, algorithm bias and exploiting its market power to harm their advertising rivals,” a MailOnline spokesperson told the Guardian.
“Despite increased criticism by regulators and governments around the world, Google’s ongoing behavior clearly shows they are not prepared to change their conduct,” the spokesperson continued.
We’ll update this post if we hear back from MailOnline.
Tentatively excellent news! The FTC has declared that it is serious about racist algorithms, and it will hold businesses legally accountable for using them. In a friendly-reminder type announcement today, it said that businesses selling and/or using racist algorithms could feel the full force of their legal might.
“Fortunately, while the sophisticated technology may be new, the FTC’s attention to automated decision making is not,” FTC staff attorney Elisa Jillson wrote in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the agency “has decades of experience” enforcing laws that racist algorithms violate. They write that selling and/or using racially biased algorithms could qualify as unfair or deceptive practices under the FTC Act. They also remind businesses that racial discrimination (by algorithm or human) could violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
The effects of algorithmic racial bias and automated white favoritism spill out far beyond the types of products Facebook serves us. Racist algorithms have been shown to disproportionately deny Black people recommendations for specialized healthcare programs. They have priced out higher interest rates on mortgages for Black and Latinx people than whites with the same credit scores. They have drastically exaggerated Black defendants’ risk of recidivism, which can impact sentencing and bail decisions. They have encouraged police to target locations and arrest records which perpetuate further disproportionate arrests in Black communities. The list goes on.
Government use of racist algorithms makes the “selling” part especially important. The FTC can’t try the cops, but it might be able to go after a company that misrepresented its tool as race-neutral.
Given the endless churn of stories about the racist results of facial recognition, it could seem that the FTC is equipping itself to practically annihilate the technology. In an email to Gizmodo, an FTC spokesperson said that a seller could be guilty of “deceptive” practices if it “misleads consumers (whether they are businesses or individuals) about (for example) what an algorithm can do, the data it is built from, or the results it can deliver, the FTC may challenge that as a deceptive practice.”
That’s a big deal! Most algorithms that sort through personal data do deliver discriminatory results, and companies tend not to admit it. But this is complicated by the fact that it’s often hard to prove the results because companies also tend to avoid letting us look under the hood, forcing investigative journalists and researchers to piece together clues after the damage is done. (See most of the links above.)
That caginess would likely stall an FTC complaint against an “unfair” practice. The commission would have to perform the time-consuming chore of exposing proof that the algorithm itself directly harms consumers. (In the spokesperson’s example: “compromises consumers’ ability to get credit, housing, jobs”.)
In other words, no one knows the extent of racist algorithms’ damage, and the FTC urges businesses to hold themselves accountable or the FTC “will do it for you,” read: the FTC will come for you, even if you’re a small potatoes Honda dealership.
Businesses will still lie, they know, so the announcement also reminds us that the FTC filed a complaint against Facebook alleging, among other things, that the company knowingly deceived users about facial recognition. This resulted in a settlement of $5 billion, which the FTC had celebrated as “history-making” but Democrats complained was wildly insufficient to make Facebook feel any pain.
On a more hopeful note, the FTC could spread some of the regulatory responsibility around. The spokesperson noted that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also enforces the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice, too, could pursue discrimination cases.
Here’s hoping they follow through and drive a hard bargain. People are getting sick and locked up.
Facebook hopes to launch a trial of its long-stalled digital currency project by the end of this year, according to a new report from CNBC. The currency, first announced in 2019 as Libra and then renamed Diem after some bad publicity, will now be pegged to the U.S. dollar, provided the tech giant can actually get it off the ground this time.
Facebook first announced plans for the digital currency in June of 2019 and was hit with immediate backlash from governments and consumer groups around the world that worried what would happen if a huge tech monopoly like Facebook competed with the world’s largest currencies. Facebook has roughly 2.8 billion active users on a planet of 7.9 billion people.
Facebook’s plan in 2019 was to launch the “blockchain” currency by early 2020, something that obviously didn’t happen after the tech company’s partner organizations like PayPal and eBay started to pull out after the wave of negative press.
But CNBC, and whoever leaked this Facebook news to the financial outlet, seem to hint that Facebook is taking a much more cautious approach this time, even if details are still extremely scarce.
The Diem Association, the Switzerland-based nonprofit which oversees diem’s development, is aiming to launch a pilot with a single stablecoin pegged to the U.S. dollar in 2021, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The person, who preferred to remain anonymous as the details haven’t yet been made public, said this pilot will be small in scale, focusing largely on transactions between individual consumers. There may also be an option for users to buy goods and purchases, the person added. However, there is no confirmed date for the launch and timing could therefore change.
What the hell is the Diem Association? It appears to be the next iteration of the Calibra Association, the supposedly independent organization set up by Facebook to oversee the currency back when it was called Libra.
When reached for comment about the CNBC story, Facebook’s Head of Communications for Australia, Antonia Sanda told Gizmodo by email, “looks like this could be a leak as there are no official announcements from the Diem site, but I’ll leave that for the Diem team to confirm.”
Sanda provided Diem’s email address and wrote, “We now send all media queries direct to the Diem organisation, as it is separate from FB […] if you’d like to contact their team direct.” Gizmodo has not yet heard back from Diem but will update this post if we do.
Governments around the world are setting up committees and task forces to examine the pros and cons of creating their own digital currencies, with China, Japan, and the UK announcing their own explorations in recent months. And it’s no secret that cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether have gained traction in recent years, with large companies like PayPal starting to get in on the action. PayPal announced last month it was launching a way for consumers to pay using cryptocurrencies at millions of retailers, handing the merchant fiat during the transaction.
But will Facebook’s digital currency flourish after already experiencing one very embarrassing false start? Only time will tell. But you can bet that government regulators will be keeping a close eye on Facebook’s plans for the future of money, especially since most world leaders think CEO Mark Zuckerberg already has too much power.
Congressman Brad Sherman even told Zuck in a July 2019 hearing that his new digital currency—which Sherman mockingly called “Zuck Bucks”—could cause the next 9/11, apparently referring to the possibility that criminals would use Facebook’s new currency for illegal activities. And when that’s your starting point of conversation with politicians who could help decide the fate of your new business idea, it’s tough to see it getting very far.
Americans had prepared today (and also last week) for MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell to unleash his nebulous avant-garde invention, Frank: a social media platform billed as a cross between YouTube and Twitter with elements of newspapers and television, except with free speech. We’ll have to wait a little longer to see the nexus realized.
Frank is currently down for an indeterminate length of time, but Lindell is offering an alternative spectacle. The homepage of FrankSpeech.com currently hosts the “Frankathon,” a 48-hour Lindell-hosted livestream broadcast set in a sort of news studio. He has a mug. The event opened today in full meltdown conspiracy mode.
“It was the biggest attack on a website, probably in history,” Lindell said of the failed launch. While Lindell has not yet specified exactly who attacked his website and how, the theory seems to be evolving live, with increasing certainty that this was the biggest cyberattack of all time. (A bucket of clues include attackers from “all over the world,” “Zuckabuck from Facebook,” and the inability to talk about “vaccines and machines.”) At this writing, Lindell says that 15 million viewers have tuned in.
We’ve reached out to My Pillow for comment and will update when we hear back.
Lindell’s headline news, though, is the announcement that My Pillow is counter-suing Dominion Voting Systems for $1.6 billion for defamation, which he has framed as a defense of free speech. Court records show the lawsuit, which claims violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, was filed on Monday in the U.S. District Court in Minnesota.
The sum is slightly higher than the $1.3 billion in damages Dominion is currently seeking from Lindell in its own defamation suit, targeting Lindell’s wild fabrications that the company conspired with Democrats to steal the election from Donald Trump. (The site showed a looping video of Lindell’s claims, which I won’t repeat here. Dominion has also sued Fox News for allowing Lindell to make such claims without challenging their veracity.) Lindell has enlisted a legal A-team including prominent First Amendment attorney Nathan Lewin and Alan Derschowitz, primarily known for advising on the O.J. Simpson trial and defending Harvey Weinstein. (Both, the Daily Beast has noted, are longtime registered Democrats.) In a motion to dismiss, My Pillow’s attorneys argue that Dominion has engaged in “lawfare,” using the suits to “restrict the marketplace of ideas to one viewpoint.”
Dominion has argued that Lindell’s “viewpoint” (read: hysterical accusations) has caused them irreparable harm and led to an onslaught of violent threats against employees.
Dershowitz, appearing on the Frankathon this morning via video, made a crystal clear point to distance himself from certain harmful misinformation that would likely be welcome on Lindell’s platform. Unprompted, he said, of free speech:
I defend the right of bigots and ignoramuses to say the Holocaust didn’t occur. It’s wrong, it’s foolish, it’s bigoted, it’s insulting. It affects my family. But I think they’re right to say it. If you want to say the Earth is flat, say the Earth is flat. The geologists will come and prove you wrong, historians will be wrong about the Holocaust.
Lindell also said:
“…It would be like if My Pillow was out there, and all these people were saying there’s rocks and knives in my pillows. And I would just say what I would do as the owner. I would say, ‘hey, everybody, look… there’s no rocks or knives.’”
Dershowitz does plan to uncover the truth behind Dominion’s election conduct in discovery, in which he’ll demand access to Dominion’s machines and source code, in case completely unsubstantiated social media-sourced conspiracy theories prove to be true.
You can watch unfolding events here. Steve Bannon and Diamond and Silk are on the docket. And you can view the lawsuit below.
Despite dropping hints that Facebook could be working on a new more powerful VR headset, Facebook VP Andrew Bosworth made it clear recently that the company doesn’t have any plans to release a Quest Pro or Quest 3 headset anytime this year.
The subject of a new headset from Facebook came up recently during a podcast (recorded by UploadVR here) hosted by Facebook Reality Labs vice president Andrew Bosworth and Oculus CTO John Carmack where Bosworth admitted that even though he had previously mentioned the possibility of a more sophisticated Quest Pro headset, he wanted to make it clear that no such device is coming anytime soon.
When asked about future headsets from Facebook, Bosworth said “People are also asking about the Quest 3, which doesn’t exist yet, and everyone who is listening to us who is a reporter there isn’t a Quest 3, there’s only a Quest 2, but I did hint at an AMA earlier this year about Quest Pro because we do have a lot of things in development where we want to introduce new functionality to the headset along the kinds that people theorize that we would want to introduce, and that’s a little ways off still. It’s still not gonna happen this year.”
Bosworth then capped off the podcast by saying “For those who are curious, Quest 2 is going to be in the market for a while – for a long while, and it’s gonna be, you know, I think the best bet for the most accessible way to get into VR and have a great experience.”
Renewed speculation about Facebook’s plans for future VR hardware has recently been spurred on by the release of the Resident Evil 4 VR remake, which doesn’t run on the original Quest and is the first new title made exclusively for the Oculus Quest 2. This caused a small panic among Quest 2 owners regarding Facebook’s long-term support of its current flagship VR headset, which originally came out back in the fall of 2020.
So far, both Facebook and Oculus developers have been rather slow to begin pulling support for the original Quest, with Bosworth claiming that there are over a million people still using Facebook’s last-gen headset. However, with Facebook having designated both the original Quest and the Rift S as products that have reached end-of-life, it’s pretty clear that the Quest 2 is Facebook’s flagship headset for both mobile and desktop VR experiences for the foreseeable future.
Thankfully—with Oculus having recently announced new features for the Quest 2 including support for native wireless VR streaming (called Oculus Air Link), improved productivity features, and faster 120Hz refresh rates—it seems there’s plenty of room to continue improving Facebook’s current VR goggles without the need for all-new hardware.
And when it comes to what is still a relatively new branch of tech, updated components and more powerful hardware are always nice, but there’s something to be said about focusing on the stability of your platform too, which is what Facebook seems to be doing with the Quest 2.
As the world descended into lockdown last year, people overwhelming tuned into livestreams to connect with others and stave off boredom while stuck in their homes. And that pandemic-fueled growth shows no signs of slowing down even as the world attempts to return to business as usual, with both Twitch and Facebook Gaming seeing record viewership in the first quarter of 2021, according to the latest numbers.
The popular livestreaming software provider StreamLabs released its first streaming industry quarterly report for 2021 on Friday. Using data compiled by streaming analytics firm Stream Hatchet from the beginning of January to the end of March, it offers some interesting insights, most notably that Facebook Gaming is closing in on YouTube Gaming’s spot for the #2 most popular streaming service. In first place is long-time leader Twitch, which still easily commands the largest chunk of the market with more than 72% of the total hours of content watched this year.
If you (like me) never really got that into livestreaming, you may be surprised to learn just how massive the industry’s become in such a short time. At Amazon-owned Twitch, viewership, hours streamed, average concurrent viewership, and the number of channels have all roughly doubled since this time last year, StreamLabs said. Twitch broke its viewership record for the second quarter in a row with users watching 6.3 billion hours of content, an increase of almost 1 billion hours compared to last quarter. The platform also saw its single largest quarterly increase in hours streamed since the early days of the pandemic, jumping from roughly 230 million hours to 265 million.
While Twitch is most well known for streaming video games, its most popular category continues to be “Just Chatting”. This category—considered the successor to Twitch’s ill-defined “IRL” section, which was reconfigured into 13 distinct non-gaming categories in 2018—involves exactly what the name implies: Content where streamers simply hang out and chat with viewers or engage in real-world shenanigans.
“Just Chatting” racked up a whopping 754 million hours watched in Q1 this year. To put that figure into perspective, Grand Theft Auto V, the most-watched game on Twitch in 2021, had 536.3 million hours, with League of Legends not far behind at 534 million.
Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming, which is owned by Google, continue to lag far behind Twitch, but the gap between them is quickly narrowing. Facebook hit an impressive milestone this past quarter, surpassing one billion hours watched for the first time, almost double the total viewership the platform garnered around this time last year.
“For the first time, we are seeing Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming closely compete against each other in terms of viewership,” said StreamLabs head of product Ashray Urs in the report. “While the difference in viewership was approximately 1 billion hours last quarter, that gap has shrunk to about 300 million in Q1. There is a chance we could see Facebook Gaming overtake YouTube Gaming in viewership next quarter. ”
StreamLabs attributes a lot of that success to PUBG Mobile, Facebook Gaming’s most-watched gaming category for at least the past two years. Users watched 254 million hours of PUBG Mobile livestreams in Q1, an impressive year-over-year increase of 76%. Facebook Gaming absorbing Microsoft’s failed livestreaming platform Mixer last summer no doubt attracted plenty of new talent and viewers that migrated over.
YouTube Gaming was the only platform of the big three that experienced a dip in viewership this quarter, down 28.6% from 1.92 billion hours to 1.37 billion hours. Both its total number of hours streamed and unique channels also fell, though not as much (6.7% and 9.9% respectively). However, taking into account its year-over-year growth, YouTube Gaming doesn’t seem to be doing half bad, as its total viewership and average concurrent viewership both increased by roughly 28%. The platform is also home to the most popular female streamer across all platforms: Valkyrae, whose content viewers watched for 12.2 million hours during Q1 this year.
We’ve reached out to Twitch, Google, and Facebook for comment, and will be sure to update this blog when we hear back.
All told, it seems the attention livestreaming platforms attracted during the pandemic isn’t dying down anytime soon even as lockdowns lift, vaccines roll out, and people start to journey outside their homes more regularly again. But whether Facebook and YouTube’s gaming livestreaming services will ever pose any real threat to Twitch’s industry dominance remains to be seen.
A Texas man who, according to court documents, recently stated that he is definitely “not a dumbass,” is now potentially facing decades in prison for plotting an alleged terrorist attack to “blow up” the internet.
Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, was taken into custody by the FBI on Thursday, after attempting to procure what he thought were explosives from an undercover agent in Fort Worth, Texas, a federal affidavit shows (the bombs were, in fact, fake). According to authorities, Pendley wanted to use C-4, a powerful plastic explosive, to target an Amazon Web Services (AWS) data center in Ashburn, Virginia.
Pendley’s target, Ashburn, is home to over 100 data centers and is the site where a majority of the so-called “Cloud” exists. The arrestee allegedly stated in online chats that he wanted to “kill off about 70% of the internet” and, thereby, annoy “the oligarchy” and, naturally, the deep state.
An apparent Trump supporter who claims he was in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 during the Capitol insurrection, Pendley recently implied in online chats that the ugly riot that killed five people hadn’t gone quite far enough. On MyMilitia.com, a rightwing website that ostensibly helps connect people to regional and local militias, Pendley used the screen name “Dionysus” to write a number of increasingly disturbing posts, the feds allege. In one, he wrote:
I feel like we all went into this with the intentions of getting very little done. How much did you expect to do when we all willingly go in unarmed. Let me tell you what I think (knowing going to touch some nerves.) For weeks I had prepared to show up at the capital [sic] as strapped as possible. The whole time I had high hopes that SOMEONE would understand.
In another post, he let it be known that he was not your run-of-the-mill terrorist:
I’m not a dumbass suicide bomber but even if I only have a handful of fellow patriots standing beside me I will happily die a young man knowing that I didn’t allow the evils in this world to continue unjustly treating my fellow Americans so disrespectfully.
The posts aroused the suspicions of a “concerned citizen,” who later gave screenshots of his comments to the FBI.
Afterward, the feds ascertained Pendley’s email address and issued a search warrant for his Facebook while also subpoenaing the subscriber records connected to his Gmail account. From there, the government appears to have conducted surveillance of Pendley’s home in Wichita Falls, Texas, and also infiltrated his communications with an informant and, later, an undercover agent.
During a conversation with both the informant and agent, Pendley laid out his masterful plans and nuanced political philosophy like so:
The main objective is to f*** up the Amazon servers. There’s 24 buildings that all this data runs through in America. Three of them are right next to each other, and those 24 run 70 percent of the Internet. And the government, especially the higher ups, CIA, FBI, special sh**, they have like an 8 billion dollar a year contract with Amazon to run through their servers. So we f*** those servers, and it’s gonna piss all the oligarchy off.
In his apparent crusade to end the world wide web and thereby piss off the powers that be, Pendley has accrued a federal charge of maliciously attempting to destroy a building with an explosive. If convicted, he faces 20 years in prison.
Rumor has it the front page of the internet may be the latest online platform cooking up a social audio feature a la the voice-only chat app Clubhouse.
Reddit is quietly working on incorporating moderator-run voice chats onto the platform, a person familiar with the matter said in a Friday Mashable report. In an interview with the outlet, the source described the feature’s development as confidential and still in its early stages.
If this voice chat feature ever does see the light of day, odds are it’ll roll out under Reddit’s “power-ups” banner, an initiative the company launched last year to experiment with new subscription-based features specific to individual subreddits.
In its initial announcement, Reddit listed several examples of these features, called power-ups, such as the “ability to upload and stream up to HD quality video,” “video file limits doubled,” and “inline GIFs in comments,” among others. Subreddits can unlock these perks after enough of their members purchase monthly power-up subscriptions, with the minimum threshold for each community determined by its size.
At the time, Reddit made it crystal clear it wanted to hear from users for future suggestions.
“The new experiment helps create a framework that allows us to add ‘nice to have’ features for subreddits,” Reddit said in its announcement in August. “We are starting with a few handpicked features and expect to add more as we get input from you and the communities that have opted into our early testing.”
Given all the buzz about social audio services these days, I suspect “voice chat” scored pretty high on the list of suggestions. Though I can understand why Reddit may want to keep things under wraps for now given how royally it screwed up trying to introduce chat rooms last year. TLDR: Reddit pushed out the feature with little forewarning and seemingly zero thought about moderation, as subreddit mods couldn’t opt-out of chats or control them. It was a disaster.
Reddit did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, but we’ll be sure to update this blog when they do.
Time will tell if this audio chat craze is a flash in the pan, but what is clear is that the landscape is quickly becoming crowded. Clubhouse has inspired several copycats since its launch in March 2020, with Twitter, LinkedIn, Slack, and TikTok’s parent company, Bytedance, all reportedly rushing to get in on the action with their own audio chat features. Facebook also began beta testing for its Clubhouse clone, a web-based Q&A platform that it’s calling Hotline, this week.
Cybercriminals have been pushing Facebook users to download a Clubhouse app “for PC,” something that doesn’t exist. The app is actually a trojan designed to inject malware into your computer. The popular new invite-only chat app is only available on iPhone but worldwide interest in the platform has risen and users are clamoring for Android and, presumably, “PC” versions.
Per TechCrunch, the malicious campaign used Facebook ads and pages to direct platform users to a series of fake Clubhouse websites. Those sites, hosted in Russia, asked visitors to download the app, which they promised was just the most recent version of the product: “We tried to make the experience as smooth as possible. You can check it out right now!” one proclaims.
However, once downloaded, the app would begin signaling to a command and control (C&C) server. In cyberattacks, the C&C is typically the server that informs malware what to do once it has infected a system. Testing of the app through malware analysis sandbox VMRay apparently showed that, in one instance, it tried to infect a computer with ransomware.
Taking advantage of a popular new product to deploy malware is a pretty classic cybercriminal move—and given Clubhouse’s prominence right now, it’s no surprise that this is happening. In fact, researchers recently discovered a different fake Clubhouse app. Lukas Stefanko of security firm ESET revealed how another fictional “Android version” of the app was acting as a front for criminals looking to steal users’ login credentials from others services.
Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that this most recent campaign was too popular, as TechCrunch reports that the Facebook pages associated with the fake app only had a handful of likes.
It’s an interesting little incident, though it may be difficult to find out more about this tricky campaign because the websites hosting the fake app have apparently disappeared. The takedown of the sites appears to have disabled the malware. Facebook has also taken down the ads associated with the campaign.