Amazon and Google are spoilt brats

Amazon has in recent months been named as the ‘monster’ responsible for killing off high street retail businesses. It’s so convenient, especially if you use the Prime service, and if you have Alexa as well, you barely need to stir from your armchair. The firm is so invaluable to our daily lives that it has become the most valuable public company worldwide, and that makes it very powerful.

The battle over streaming services

Then there is Google, another giant company. Amazon is already in a war with Google over streaming services. Some time ago, Amazon banned any streaming service from its Amazon store, because they competed with Amazon’s own streaming hardware. The reason it gave was this; it was to avoid “customer confusion.”

In an email, Amazon said: “Over the last three years, Prime Video has become an important part of Prim. It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion.”

A game of tit-for-tat

Of course this led to a tit-for-tat response that escalated in 2017. For example, YouTube blocked the availability of its videos on Amazon’s Echo Show hardware, saying that this move was purely due to a “broken user experience.”

Amazon’s response was to ban more Google products from its site, by adding the Google Nest hardware to its blacklisted products.

Amazon also managed to find a workaround for its Echo Show users ho wanted to use YouTube, but Google managed to block that. YouTube then informed owners of Amazon’s Fire TV products that YouTube would no longer work on that hardware either. Basically, the feud hit rock bottom, because now customers experienced a broken experience on whichever platform they tried to use.

Google issued this statement: “”​We’ve been trying to reach agreement with Amazon to give consumers access to each other’s products and services. But Amazon doesn’t carry Google products like Chromecast and Google Home, doesn’t make Prime Video available for Google Cast users, and last month stopped selling some of Nest’s latest products. Given this lack of reciprocity, we are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and FireTV. We hope we can reach an agreement to resolve these issues soon.”

A playground tiff

Doesn’t it remind you of a playground tiff at a kindergarten? Rather than setlle the issue like two professional companies, they have indulged in a massive spat that leaves customers — the very people that are most important to them –wondering where else they can get a similar service from. They also showed that companies as powerful as they are can simply “eliminate integral functionality” when they feel like it, which demonstrates to consumers that they don’t really own what they have purchased. And how has the consumer responded? By continuing to use both these services and pushing them towards even greater domination, all for the sake of convenience. Surely there is a lesson to be learnt here?

EU Copyright Rules could silence us all

On 25 May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in Europe. It introduced a set of online privacy rules that could lead to a drastic change in the European law on copyright.

The Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive has been debated for some time and is intended to update the copyright directive of 2001. However, in the intervening years, there have been quite a number of changes in the copyright field that the new directive is supposed to fix in one single go. It has never been considered a controversial piece of legislation until May when German politician Axel Voss inserted two new rules into the draft legislation, and they are controversial.

First, there is Article 11: under this rule, “commercial” “links” with “snippets” from “news sites” would only be permitted if the platform hosting the link had a paid licence from the news site. Furthermore, quoting more than a single word constitutes a “snippet”, which has to be paid for. With no real definition given to the terms “commercial” or “link”, there will be arguments.

Second, there is Article 13: this rule says that any public communications platform is required to ensure that nothing copyrighted is ever posted without permission, even for a brief moment.

Germany tried applying Article 11 before, but Google found ways to circumvent the ‘Link Tax’ idea — it boycotted any sites demanding payment. So newspapers ended up giving Google free licences.

Article 13 is equally, or even more difficult to apply. There is a ContentID tool available on YouTube, but the people who own copyright say it doesn’t catch enough of those infringing copyright. Plus, the system tends to capture videos that aren’t guilty of any copyright infringements. Users don’t like it either, because their favourite videos get blocked.

There is concern that Article 13 will make this situation worse, not better for content creators and users. As Cory Doctorow writes: “Article 13 would expand the filter to consider text, music, video, still photos, software code, game mods, 3D printing files, and anything else that might be copyrighted.”

Unfortunately, both these Articles got passed in the draft regulations, but the debate is not over, as the EU talks to each Member State. These talks are usually secret, but such is the strong feeling about this Directive that the European Court of Justice has ruled that all Europeans should know what happens in these negotiations.

The aim may have been to exert more control over Facebook, Twitter, Google and the other big tech companies but they have the financial resources to follow the rules; it is the smaller companies that don’t. And that means the giants won’t have any competition.

And, although it is an EU regulation it could affect the rest of the world, with platforms having to block EU users, or censor the Internet globally. This regulation will affect many areas, not just online entertainment: it will affect education, social and political communications and more. If the Directive is passed it will be an abuse of regulatory practice — we need to hear and know more about it, as the ECJ has decreed.