YouTube's Inane Response To Handing Popular YouTuber's Channel To Cosmetics Company: Blame The Algorithms

from the the-algorithms-did-it dept

Another day, another big tech company doing things wrong. Matthew Lush is apparently a super popular YouTuber, who has been on the platform since 2005 (yes, a decade ago). His YouTube name was “Lush” which makes sense, given that’s his name. But along comes Lush Cosmetics, and YouTube apparently just hands his channel over to the company. That’s ridiculous enough, but it gets even more bizarre, when reporters asked Google to explain:

Google said it was “sympathetic” to Mr Lush’s situation and that the decision was made by an algorithm.

Oh, come on. Yes, Google pointing to its algorithm making decisions makes sense when it comes to issues at scale around things like search results. But blaming taking away someone’s username on an algorithm just seems ridiculous.

And then there’s this:

[Lush Cometics] told the BBC it had not requested the change but would not say if it would give the address back.

Okay. So let’s just work through this:

  1. Matthew Lush registers his YouTube name “Lush” in 2005.
  2. He spends years building up a massive following.
  3. A decade later, a cosmetic company that did not ask for it is simply given Matthew Lush’s popular YouTube username, based on “an algorithm” deciding this.
  4. And Google insists there’s no way to fix this.

Really? Yes, I know some people fear that science-fiction future in which the giant AI in the sky makes algorithmic decisions about what’s best for us (“I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that”), but I hadn’t thought we were quite there yet. Because we’re not.

It seems likely that what’s missing from the BBC story is that there was some sort of naming conflict brought on by the various attemps to shift around YouTube naming conventions, integrate it with Google+ and all of that. In the end, there was probably some sort of conflict with two “Lush” usernames, and Google’s “algorithms” gave the account to the cosmetics company instead. At least that’s my interpretation of this statement:

Google said its algorithm decided which address Lush Cosmetics was given, based on data from YouTube, Google+, its search engine and other sources.

But if that’s the case, at the very last, Google could be a lot clearer and upfront about it. And it seems to be a mess brought on by the company’s own decisions about its username conventions. To play it off as just “well, those nutty algorithms again, nothing can be done” seems pretty ridiculous.

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Companies: google, lush cosmetics, youtube

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Comments on “YouTube's Inane Response To Handing Popular YouTuber's Channel To Cosmetics Company: Blame The Algorithms”

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78 Comments
kog999 says:

“Google insists there’s no way to fix this.”

“[Lush Cosmetics] told the BBC it had not requested the change but would not say if it would give the address back.”

So google can’t fix it but Lush Cosmetics can but is deciding if they want to? How can that be? sounds like google is asking Lush Cosmetics for permission something they didn’t do for Lush the person. Why would google ask for permission for Lush Cosmetics but not from Lush the person. only 1 reason money or other valuables changes hands between Lush Cosmetics and google.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: So we're back to the feudal era...

Where wealth or power, whether inherited or stolen or taken by force, takes what it wants because it can.

The reason that whole liberty / equality / government by-the-people thing was such a neat idea when America was founded was because the whole world was sick and tired of rule by bullies and warlords.

You know, we’re still not yet sick and tired of it.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 So we're back to the feudal era...

Who makes more: a banker or a USMC grunt on the front line? Which one works harder?

Who makes more: a minimum wage waitress or a stockbroker? Which one works harder?

Once upon a time, the American Dream was an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work. What happened to that?

Let me answer that question for you:

Firstly, the truck system that paid workers scrip that was only good at the company store which sold goods at gouging prices, because our robber barons didn’t give a shit for their workers.

And secondly the California Gold Rush, which changed the American Dream to hacking the system with get-rich-quick schemes, a few of which worked but mostly they didn’t.

And that is why some people (you?) idealize people like Romney who spent their lives getting rich by hacking the corporate moneylending industry, bankrupting companies and wrecking economies for the most of us.

But he’s rich enough to try to run for President, so he’s an idol.

Don’t even get started about “earning”. The wealth of inventors and artists is microscopic to the hoards owned by the bean counters who capitalized on them, which is why we’re neck deep in the IP quagmire we’re in.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 So we're back to the feudal era...

Make a lot of assumptions do we? I don’t idolize Romney or anyone else for that matter. So from your rant I see that you truly don’t believe anyone earns wealth. You actually sound like a communist, everyone gets paid the same whether their output is valued or not.

I get some of your arguments against the wealthy, but others are just jealousy. I don’t begrudge a baseball player his millions because people are willing to pay him that for what he does. Personally I feel that money is wasted, but if society wants to pay them that kind of money, good for them.

Why should artists make millions either? Some do, just like some baseball players, but most don’t, just like most baseball players never make it. I am in the IT field and some IT people make billions while most don’t.

Village Idiot (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 So we're back to the feudal era...

I think Uriel-238 is questioning the legitimacy of the system, not whether anyone “earned” their money legitimately within the system. Using communist as a pejorative does not lend itself to me taking your comment seriously.

Do you claim capitalism is the absolute superior among economic models? True, it has been the most efficient at allocating resources of the systems tested by modern societies. Much of economic theory exists within a “clean room” so to speak and has never dealt with reality, IMO. There is more to interactions between people than efficient resource allocation.

Doesn’t really matter, capitalism as a system is simply unsustainable and its expiration date is likely within my lifetime. An economy and the market largely exist because people are more productive when they specialize. When machines do almost everything, then I (currently called a consumer) will no longer need (almost any!) external producers.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Assumptions

I was saying that the way that wealth is distributed by our system to the individual doesn’t correspond either to the value that person produces, or the amount of effort they put in. This is not to say I know how to fix things — I don’t. At best I can point to the same places where things go wrong that most of the regulars on this forum know.

If course I’m jealous of money — I could use to live a tad more comfortably than I do and to have more secure patronage for my projects — but I have perspective enough to know I wouldn’t want it at the expense of making others suffer, for instance, as Romney did, toppling companies that actually employed people and created product for his own personal gain.

And I don’t know if communism would work, whether soviet communism or communism in another form. But I have the advantage of being able to say that the current system isn’t working and not have to posit a fix. To be fair, we don’t have the engines by which we could simulate human economics accurately enough, so we’re stuck with trying new ideas until one works.

But the economic system we got is definitely not working, and I fear it’s going to collapse catastrophically.

MikeC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 So we're back to the feudal era...

Who makes more: a banker or a USMC grunt on the front line? Which one works harder?

— which one affects more people every day?

Who makes more: a minimum wage waitress or a stockbroker? Which one works harder?

which can can add move value to our economy with a single decision?

I agree a lot of folks bust their rear for not enough money, I tip very well to a good waitress for just that reason. However I don’t devalue a person just because of how someone perceives their amount of physical labor or physical risk (USMC) … it’s all about what is valued. If you don’t value it fine — are you paying their salary? If you aren’t well then you don’t get a vote. I think lots of folks are overpaid too. But I am not “directly” paying them so I don’t get a say unless it’s with my purchasing dollar or proxy vote. Wish it wasn’t so, but this is the real world not the world I wish it was most of the time.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 For want of a soldier

MikeC do you really mean to imply that people should be paid not by the effort that they put in, but by their personal or economic power?

You seem to be saying that’s just the way it is. And I agree that I have no way to change things myself, nor knowledge enough to plot a course to transition to a different system. But Americans do not get to choose between cushy high-paying jobs and military duty or food services. If they can find a job, they get what overworked abused slot comes around.

For a good lot of people in the US, the status-quo is insufferable. And as they get leaner and hungrier they’re going to be more prone to mischief. I suspect we’re going to learn time and again that it doesn’t take the promise of seventy-two houri to convince someone to do something heinous, but that anyone who is miserable enough will do anything for their suffering to stop.

MikeC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 For want of a soldier

“MikeC do you really mean to imply that people should be paid not by the effort that they put in, but by their personal or economic power?”

No I mean to imply people are paid on perceived value. 1 out of a 100 can be killer broker, 50 out of a 100 can be a waitress, 90 out of a 100 can be a soldier — value/scarcity of talent is what gets you paid. Don’t make it right, just makes it so. That is why a great waitress can make more than a poor one, but is limited. Doesn’t mean they don’t have value, doesn’t mean they don’t bust there ass — means there is a limit to their percieved value to society, reduced by the amount of folks who can do what they do, even if not so well. Always someone waiting to take your spot. Just not as many are killer brokers.

In my career I’ve been better at what I do than 90% of the folks I’ve met in my profession. New much younger folks coming in push more every day and willing to work for less — hence I have to give better ROI.

I get paid well because of what I can do … it’s not
liberal or conservative, it’s the value delivered. A great waitress can only add so much value to society, other professions add more to the bottom line, hence they get paid more.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 I think my point, then, was to argue that maybe it shouldn't be that way.

I’d even go on to argue that we need to stop associating sustenance to work before all the transit jobs and clerical jobs get automated, with the professional jobs soon to follow.

Our system as it is is cruel and soulless and does very little to encourage people to participate in it, rather than to try to break it or circumvent it.

I know once I am hungry and homeless and my next meal depends on you hiring me I might be strongly incentivized to dispose of any competing applicants. Not sure how others behave when they get hungry and desperate. Maybe they happily lay down and die.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 I think my point, then, was to argue that maybe it shouldn't be that way.

I’d even go on to argue that we need to stop associating sustenance to work before all the transit jobs and clerical jobs get automated, with the professional jobs soon to follow.

I have a feeling we’re going to act too late on that one. Could be a real disaster.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 For want of a soldier

I get paid well because of what I can do … it’s not
liberal or conservative, it’s the value delivered. A great waitress can only add so much value to society, other professions add more to the bottom line, hence they get paid more.

There’s a fundamental problem with this, in that it is extremely difficult to measure value, and that accurately measuring value is of little use in deriving worth. I would argue that a good waitress adds much more value to society than a good stockbroker… though not the economy.

Trash collectors and street sweepers are absolutely invaluable to society and also useful to the economy, yet they are valued (and paid) quite lowly. Perhaps these people are highly replaceable and so don’t share the value of their position – someone MUST do the job, but it doesn’t matter who.

Teachers are possibly a better example – harder to replace than individual street sweepers… but I’d suggest that our society and economy would fail more absolutely if we lost all teachers, than if we lost all stockbrokers or lawyers. Perhaps the modern economy would fail faster if we lost all stockbrokers, but I suspect that society would cope quite well.

How much value do good app developers add to society, or the economy?

Socrates says:

Re: Re: Re:4 So we're back to the feudal era...

Uriel-238:Who makes more: a minimum wage waitress or a stockbroker? Which one works harder?

MikeC:which can can add move value to our economy with a single decision?

Easy one; the stockbroker does not add value

The exchange is a zero-sum-game. What one party gain another loose. Because of this, the exchange is a zero-sum-game for the economy also.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 So we're back to the feudal era...

The exchange is a zero-sum-game. What one party gain another loose. Because of this, the exchange is a zero-sum-game for the economy also.

Yes and no. This is true on the face of it, but the exchange enables an information market that allows lenders to determine the worth of a company and so its borrowing/repaying potential. When the share price of a company goes up money is neither created nor destroyed… BUT the company can leverage its raised share price to borrow funds at a premium interest rate, and use that money to expand their business – creating new jobs and growing the economy.

It’s obviously not a perfect system, but it’s arguably better than no system at all. This is not to say that I think a stockbroker is a high value job, just that I think that the stock market itself has value.

Socrates says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Value

IMHO, the exchange have value as a mean to pool enough money to make larger investments than individual participants would have been able too. It also lowers the barrier to be a part owner of something.

Using the stock price to assess value is common but flawed. Just look at the Icelandic crisis as proof. The brokers deliberately sold stocks at elevated prices back and forth to lend money. The Icelandic citizens were forced to foot the bill even though they had nothing to do with the “game”, and would not have seen a dime of the “profit”.

Just as it may help a corporation when its stock price bulls, it may just as easily harm a corporation. And worse, it may be used deliberately to dip a corporation into problems that is completely unrelated to its operations, and then slaughter the corporation and looting the employees pension funds. This is legal, common, and immensely harmful.

Look at how the Norwegian national pension fund is managed. The brokers promise to not take unnecessary risks, but operate in a mono-polar risk profile, where they get a massive bonus if the stock soars and get no penalty if it crashes. This is common and contribute to large scale economic crisis in the western world.

Look at what actual real-world “high value” brokers do, like Carl Icahn. Look at what methods he used to loot Trans World Airlines (TWA), Howard Hughes airline. Look at how he bought stock in Apple and then cajoled and forced Apple to increase buyback to inflate the stock price. He is still at it.

The exchange have its place as long as it is kept in its place, but it is a less useful tool when the government is such a tool.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Well fuck. I just recorded a great rant about how gmail’s free email can prevent my email from being handed to someone else (and somehow comcast’s paid email can’t), and then google goes and pulls this shit and just dumps over the entire theory. Yeah, technically they are very different services and what happened here is an edge case that is almost nothing like the Comcast cases, but hell. I just know someone is going to bring it up if I post that rant now.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, sorry. Google’s free email is Google’s and they can do with it as they please.
Comcast’s paid email is Comcast’s and they can do with it as they please.

Oh, and if you think that John Deere tractor is really yours, you just licensed the part that makes it actually work, so you are screwed there too.

Face it, we don’t get to own anything anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yes, Google pointing to its algorithm making decisions makes sense when it comes to issues at scale around things like search results. But blaming taking away someone’s username on an algorithm just seems ridiculous.

When a significant portion of the Human race is registered with one or more of your services, algorithms are the only way to go. This is an effect of the scale of services that the Internet allows. I am not saying that this does not have unfortunate results, but most people fails to understand the scale of doing things on the Internet.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Isn't Google's business model based on entrusting algorithms with data that humans shouldn't look at?

In that case, when an algorithm makes clearly a bad choice, Google has strong incentive to…

a. correct it immediately, and

b. fix the algorithm

Shitting on someone, blaming the algorithm and then denying they have power to respond are all not these things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Isn't Google's business model based on entrusting algorithms with data that humans shouldn't look at?

That assumes that Google has a means for the average user to actually message a human. It is more likely things only come to human attention at Google is if it makes the press. Which will piss of the other affected users the most, a correction after it hits the press, or a shoulder shrug?
If you want a more personalized service, don’t use the Big Boys like Google. If you must, Make sure that you have alternative independent ways of communication with you supporter and fans, just in case you have troubles with on of your service providers.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Re: Re: One day, someone will program a robot to murder someone else.

Obviously the programmer has some culpability, but it would be nice if the people who designed the requirements for the algorithm shared the blame.

Hard to say what to do if it’s a bug by omission rather than a bad algorithm though – which programmer/analyst specifically is responsible for not correctly identifying this particular corner case?

Nimas says:

What I don’t understand in this matter is actually Lush Cosmetic’s response. Here they have a perfect opportunity to get some free, good publicity and all they have to say is that they’re going to give the channel back.

All they give up is a youtube channel username which, if they’re only now getting one it’s unlikely they need the name *that* much.

For that they’d basically get to look like a company who actually cares about people (even if they don’t).

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, they almost literally had an amazing PR opportunity land in their lap, and it looks like they’re squandering it away due to greed and/or idiocy.

‘Google may not care, but we do, and that’s why we’re relinquishing ownership over the account back to it’s rightful owner.’

How hard would that be? They get the kind of PR money can’t buy, the guy gets his channel back, Google looks like idiots for screwing up and failing to fix the problem. It’s a win-win for everyone.

did no one at LUSH take Marketing 101 says:

Re: Re: Re:

I totally agree re: the PR opportunity. In fact Lush cosmetics almost seems intent on creating a PR faux pas. According to Mathew Lush’s video that he posted to his twitter profile Lush cosmetics said to him on the conference call with Google “we’re a 1 billion dollar company, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have.” Matthew’s subscribers: almost 1 million, Lush Cosmetics: 90k.

Lush cosmetics was given 2 vanity urls not one, so that also smacks of a paid human not a rogue algorithm
They were given the vanity url https://www.youtube.com/lushcosmetics
AND the vanity url https://www.youtube.com/lush both point to their original user name https://www.youtube.com/user/lushcosmetics

some would think that Lush was hoping to capitalize on his followers since the vanity url now points to their channel.

Anonymous Coward says:

And so I should have a Youtube channel for what reason? No I don’t think so. Nor should I have a Google account either.

While I do not bang the drum of Google hate very much, there are somethings I don’t want. One of them is not being able to get a real person on the line to make a decision, which Google is notorious for.

DogBreath says:

The end is near, thanks to copyright and the fools wielding it like a toy gun.

3. A decade later, a cosmetic company that did not ask for it is simply given Matthew Lush’s popular YouTube username, based on “an algorithm” deciding this.

It doesn’t matter how you Skynet yourself, you’re still obliterated in the end. So the world ends, not with a whimper started by an AI, but with a bang triggered by an algorithm. Not Artificial Intelligence, but Real Stupidity.

That is how Skynet decided our fate in a microsecond, or “So long, and thanks for all the nuclear armed ICBMs”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Who are Google's customers?

Google made some statement about how much they value their creators. That was bullshit. 99% of YouTube’s users are not corporate entities that are going to buy special deals and/or advertising. Google will gladly hand any asset currently held by a small ‘creator’ to a large company, no matter what the community backlash. Matt Lush is not Google’s customer, and they don’t care about him in the slightest.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Who are Google's customers?

Silly person, why of course they care about him, that started as soon as the story went public and they looked like idiots trying to blame a programming error and claiming that ‘the computer has spoken, we can’t do anything’.

Once the story blows over, they’ll go right back to not giving so much as a single moment of consideration for him or anyone else without a hefty bank account, but right now you can be sure that they very much care about him, even if only in the sense that they wish he would go away.

Sean A says:

New Google Algorithm Shut's Down Internet Company

Google flipped the switch today on a new algorithm to automatically assign name ownership to urls, regardless of current ownership. Unfortunately, they forgot to that their company name was based on googol. Googol represents the number 1 followed by 100 zeroes.
This unfortunate slip caused all of Google’s online assets to be assigned to the Mathematics Department of Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts run by Professor Lovecraft.
Of the 14 reporters sent to Miskatonic U. to interview Dean Cthulhu and Professor Lovecraft, none have yet reported in or been heard from family members.

zboot (profile) says:

Misleading Article

Let’s be clear about what happened. Mr. Lush did not lose his account. What happened is that google changed how it does urls on youtube.

Before, his channel was available through the url youtube.com/user/lush which due to how youtube did redirecting, could also be accessed at youtube.com/lush

Note, there was never an explicit agreement that the url youtube.com/lush was tied to his channel, it just so happened to work that way and people used it. The way countless programmers turn undocumented behavior in some platform into necessary features of their app.

Anyway, youtube changed things to allow custom names/urls. Lush cosmetics got youtube.com/lush and the whole issue began.

Note, you can still access Mr. Lush’s channel at the original url. He still controls his account. Just the url hack that benefited him does so no longer.

While there are certainly PR arguments to be made around to granting control of that URL officially to Mr. Lush, what actually happened and what this article (and comments) seem to imply happened are quite different.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Misleading Article

zboot: Mr. Lush did not lose his account. What happened is that google changed how it does urls on youtube.

nasch: Thanks for the clarification – this comment should probably be First Word. Makes the whole thing a big of a tempest in a teapot.

Google said: “your evicted from the premises; we’re giving the spot people used to find you to a corporation; you may stay in your moving home in a back ally”

AnonyBabs says:

Re: Misleading Article

Okay, but did you see the part where Lush Cosmetics did not request the url? So why was it automatically given to them? Why not “hey the algorithm says the best url for Lush Cosmetics would be youtube.com/lush.” “but that url is already being used by matt lush.” “okay, well, the second-best url for Lush Cosmetics is…”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The problem with the human brain approach is that the human brain does not scale well, and except for simple in tactics tasks, like making war, does not work in clusters well. Therefore as a service publisher, Youtube, Blogger etc., Google has to rely on automation for what little control that they want, or have to, exert over users.
Some of the problems with Google, like Content ID, and DMCA handling are due to copyright laws that worked when gate-keepers were controlling and limiting what was published, but which cause real problems when everybody can publish via a cheap or free to use service.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: There's also the matter that Google has access to a database of all its user's private info.

The reason this degree of power is even palatable is because they have a strict no-humans-allowed policy when it comes to third parties (including Google employees) accessing that data. With the exception of the individual users accessing their own data, the bulk can only look at statistics after the data’s been anonymized, filtered and sorted via algorithms.

Of course there’ve been missteps, including Google employees stalking loved ones and the NSA looking at the bulk upstream (which is why it’s now encrypted).

But the business model presumes that human operators would be too tempted to abuse their position, and algorithms may be stupid but they’re much less corruptible.

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