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:
- Matthew Lush registers his YouTube name “Lush” in 2005.
- He spends years building up a massive following.
- 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.
- 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.