Monday, May 24, 2021

Reading list: The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance: Unfair and Deceptive Advertising in Children’s Apps

 Mary Kate Fernandez,  The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance: Unfair and Deceptive Advertising in Children’s Apps, 66 Loy. L. Rev. 211 (2020)


The University of Michigan released a startling study (“the Michigan Study”) in October 2018 which unveiled that “manipulative and disruptive” advertisements are deceptively built into phone applications (“apps”) designed for children. The results of this study led members of the United States Senate and several public interest groups to petition the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) to investigate apps marketed specifically to children. The current federal administrative regime for regulating deceptive advertising targeted at children, however, falls far short of what is necessary to enable the FTC or any other federal agency to respond to the revelations in the Michigan Study with meaningful protections for children.

A striking passage on host selling:

This advertising practice, illegal during children’s television programming, is fundamentally unfair to child consumers. Yet, multiple apps designed for children heavily employ host-selling.

 For example, in PAW Patrol: Air and Sea Adventures, the commercial characters are not only the object of gameplay but also have interactions with the user. Characters make faces indicating feelings of disappointment when the user does not click on locked items that require payment. App characters also show disapproval when the player is unable to accomplish a certain mission because he did not make a required purchase. The Michigan Study stated that such tactics “could be characterized as social pressure or validation” and “may also lead children to feel an emotionally charged need to make purchases.” In Doctor Kids, the main character bursts into tears if the player does not make an inapp  purchase. In Barbie Magical Fashion, Barbie narrates and specifically encourages users to use “locked” items that require making a purchase. 

Most problematic of the host-selling examples was Strawberry Shortcake Puppy Palace. In this app, Strawberry Shortcake instructs users to choose a puppy to play with, but only one out of eight puppies can be played with for free. Every other puppy is locked. If the child selects a locked puppy, Strawberry Shortcake says, “Oops. To play with [name of puppy], you’ll need to get the puppy pack. Or you can unlock everything and get the best deal.” Throughout the game, Strawberry Shortcake has thought bubbles. Some tell the user that the puppy is sad, and the user should give the puppy what it wants. But oftentimes the item that the puppy “wants” is locked, and when the child selects it, Strawberry Shortcake tells the child to buy “the activities pack to keep the puppy happy.”

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Misinformation, Disinformation, and Media Literacy in a Less-Centralized Social Media Universe

Knight First Amendment Institute, Reimagine the Internet 

Great panel today; more to come the rest of the week and they will shortly post the video. 

Francesca Tripodi (UNC) shared her amazing research about how conservatives use textual interpretation techniques to interpret information and reject journalistic interventions. Conservatives then use and trust Google’s top results, believing that Google top results reflect reality, which seems a bit contradictory to me. The problem is that our keywords are ideological, so Google searches confirm one’s worldview: searching for “illegal aliens” gets you right-wing sites that confirm what they already believe, while “undocumented workers” produces very different results. And it’s not just Google—DuckDuckGo is better for your privacy but returns the same type of results based on ideological keywords. Google suggestions create the possibility of parallel internets that are invisible to outsiders. “Data void”: limited/no content is available, so it’s easy to coordinate around keywords to guarantee that future searches are directed to content that includes these terms—this is what happened to “crisis actor.” Search engines are not designed to guide us through existential crises or challenge our beliefs—the notion of relevance is subjective and idiosyncratic as well as unstable and exploitable. Knowing/understanding audience concerns and amplifying key phrases allows conservative media to drive users to search where their beliefs will be reinforced. Like Council of Conservative Citizens reaching Dylann Root in his searches for black on white crime. They encourage viewers to “do the research” while highlighting phrases that lead to the preferred sources. So Google started autofilling “Russian collusion” with “delusion,” a phrase promoted by Roger Stone. In impeachment proceedings, Rep. Nunes used his opening remarks to repeat a few names/phrases and tell us that we should be paying attention to those—which, when searched in Google, linked to Fox, Daily Caller, and even more right-wing sources. Urged constituents to do their own research. Nelly Ohr: a perfect data void/litmus test. She used to work for Fusion GPS and is part of a conspiracy theory about Russia investigation—the search exists in a vacuum and was curated by conservatives as a dogwhistle about election fraud.

What can we do? How can Google fix this? It’s important to stop thinking about a fix and focusing on Google. Misinformation is not a bug in the code but a sociological issue. The only way to circumvent misinformation traps is knowing the kinds of Qs people seek answers to, knowing how they interpret information, and knowing how political actors exploit those things. [Easy-peasy!]

Barbara Fister, Gustavus Adolphus College: In practice, students are treated as information consumers who need to be educated to examine claims. At universities, they are often treated as needing help finding information in the walled garden of the library, focusing on information that will help them satisfy professors. Libraries have felt compelled to emulate Google and create single-search boxes. But the results don’t help you navigate the results, so it’s no wonder that students come up with workarounds. Students have trouble getting themselves situated. They adopt a strategy and stick to it; look for “safe” sources; often don’t really care about the topic because it’s been assigned. Follow the news, but don’t trust it; don’t think college does much to prepare them to ask questions of their own. Feel both indignation and resignation about algorithmic systems invading their privacy. Students feel that they’re in a very different place than professors; they’re used to different sources. “We grew up with untrustworthy sources and it’s drilled into us you need to do the research because it can’t be trusted.” Students are already being taught “media literacy” but more of the same won’t necessarily help, because people who believe misinformation are actually quite “media literate” in that they understand how these systems work and are good at manipulating them. Qanons understand how media/info systems work; they interpret media messages critically; they feel passion for discovery and enjoy the research b/c they feel like they’re saving the world. Alternate authority structure: trust yourself and trust Trump/“the Plan.”

What is to be done? Deep-seated epistemological differences: if we can’t agree on how we know what’s true, hard to see common ground. So what’s next? Recognize the importance of learning to trust, not just to be skeptical; get at why to trust rather than what to trust—saying “peer-reviewed research” doesn’t help; explore underlying values of knowledge systems, institutions, and practices such as journalism’s values; frame learning about info systems as education for democracy: you have a role to play; you should have an ethics of what it is that you will share. Peer-to-peer learning: students are learning from each other how to protect privacy etc. Students are concerned about their grandparents and about their younger siblings—interested in helping other age groups understand information.

Ethan Zuckerman, moderator.

Fister: Further reading: Information Literacy in the Age of Algorithms—what students are interested in that doesn’t come up in class: knowing that Google works by using the words we use rather than as a neutral broker would be very important! Alison J. Head (January 5, 2016), Staying smart: How today’s graduates continue to learn once they complete college; Project Information Literacy Research Institute, Alison J. Head, John Wihbey, P. Takis Metaxas, Margy MacMillan, and Dan Cohen (October 16, 2018), How Students Engage with News: Five Takeaways for Educators, Journalists, and Librarians, Project Information Literacy Research Institute.

Tripodi: People would say “I don’t trust the news” and she’d ask where they got candidate info; they say “Google,” without acknowledging that Google is an aggregator of news/taking content directly from Wikipedia. We’re not in a new time of epistemological fissures or polarization—we have always been in a place of big differences in how we seek truth, what are sources of knowledge, how we validate knowledge. What’s changed: we can connect from further away and we have an immediate ability to determine what we think is right. Focus on keywords is something that work on filter bubbles hasn’t yet considered—it’s not the tech that keeps us in the filter bubbles; we are the starting point for that closure.

Zuckerman: the people who find hate speech on YouTube are the people with hateful racial attitudes—so the polarization argument may not work the way we thought.

Fister: the power to amplify and segment market messages is way more pronounced now. But it was deliberate fissure with the rise of Fox News, talk radio. Amplified by platforms that like this content b/c controversy drives attention. Far right white supremacists have always been good at tech—used film early, used radio; they are persuasion machines designed to sell stuff. They are earning money while using the platforms, which has changed the velocity/amplitude of the most hateful speech.

Tripodi: There may be ways to figure out the keywords that resonate with people’s deep stories, to find the data voids, by doing more ethnographic work. The narrative that conservatism is being silenced: trying to reshape objectivity as “equal balance.” Rebranding of objective to mean “both sides.” If your return doesn’t show equal weight, it’s somehow flawed/biased/manipulated [at least if your side isn’t dominant]—that’s leveraged in the rightwing media ecosystem to say “don’t use these platforms, use these curated platforms that won’t ‘suppress’ you.” That’s complicating notions of media literacy, which sometimes uses “look for both sides” as an indicator of bias. Propaganda campaigns are now leveraging the idea of “lateral reading”—looking for relevant phrases around the target of interest in a new window—these systems are being deliberately exploited. Thinking about keyword curation may help: you could put a bunch of “Nelly Ohr” all over mainstream coverage of the impeachment. Old fashioned SEO manipulation in a new light.

Fister: discussion of the tautology underneath this: you trust the sources you trust b/c you trust them. People create self-reinforcing webs of trust by consulting multiple sources of the same bent. Students are also interested in talking about how algorithms work, including for sentencing people to prison; tie that to traditional values/understanding of how we make knowledge.

Tripodi: in response to comment on similar dynamic on doctor/patient relations: when people search “autism treatment” they are more likely to see non-evidence-based treatments, because doctors with evidence-based treatments are not using YouTube. Has a student who is trying to create a lexicon for doctors to tell people “research these treatments”—you can’t tell them not to search, but you can give them phrases that will return good quality content. Also important to make good quality content for evidence-based treatments. People are looking on YT; have to be there.

Zuckerman: that requires auditing the platform; YT is not that hard to audit, but FB is when it directs you to content.


Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Today's IP artifact: Cuervo bottle with dripping red wax seal

 This decision remains one of my least favorite, but perhaps I will nonetheless get a bottle of Maker's Mark to pose beside it.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Tootsie Pups

 Acquired from a seller before the inevitable shutoff. The rare occasion where I see the harm story, since Tootsie Pops theoretically contain chocolate, which one would not want to give a dog.

Does Gordon v. Drape really mean what it says about explicit misleadingness?

Testing Gordon v. Drape with the paintings of Tom Sachs, some of which reproduce famous product labels in their entirety (or nearly so). The introduction to the coffee table book I just bought says,

From Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Snickers bars to images of American flags and Air Force One, Sachs takes familiar brands, symbols, and commodities as his subjects. He represents these iconic images in his deliberately imperfect and conspicuously handmade aesthetic, wanting us to see the uneven brushstrokes and roughly hewn surfaces that distinguish his “handmade paintings.” By drawing attention to how his objects are made, he deconstructs the formidable and complex systems that powerful logos and brands represent. In Tom’s words, “When I look at these paintings, to me they all speak about power. There is power in logos and there is power in good advertising.”

On Artsy, the description says:

Critiquing the speed and regularity with which a materialistic society replaces commodities, Sachs uses both a profusion of commercial icons in his work and builds his own functioning versions of consumer goods using re-purposed items, such as the glossy, black Prada Toilet (1997), a workable toilet constructed out of Prada’s up-market packaging, with the company’s logo prominently displayed on the sculpture. Sachs’s works are emphatically process-oriented, an expression of the artist’s DIY spirit, divulging even the flaws of his complex and labor-intensive projects.

So, are his works explicitly misleading? See below for some examples:


Note the detail on this painting:

If you think the "Tom Sachs" signature on the side helps, what about this one?

Reading list: race and GIs

Reading list:

Mathilde Cohen, The Whiteness of French Food: Law, Race, and Eating Culture in France (forthcoming in French Politics, Culture, and Society, 2021)

English Abstract:

Food is fundamental to French identity. So too is the denial of structural racism and racial identity. Both tenets are central to the nation’s self-definition, making them difficult, yet all the more important to think about together. This article purports to identify a form of French food Whiteness (blanchit√© alimentaire), that is, the use of food and eating practices to reify and reinforce Whiteness as the dominant racial identity. To do so, it develops four case studies of how law elevates a fiction of homogeneous French/White food as superior and normative at the expense of alternative ways of eating and their eaters—the law of geographical indications, school lunches, citizenship, and cultural heritage.

Really interesting perspective on GIs; if you believe that they were born in sin (racism/colonialism), do you think that they can be redeemed?