In the 28th episode of the Freezenet official podcast, “Free Market for Me, but Not for Thee”, we take a look at the news and reviews we covered in February 2021.
Welcome to the public version of episode 28 of the Freezenet official podcast for February 2021. This month’s episode is entitled “Free Market for Me, but Not for Thee” after the drama surrounding the SubReddit, WallstreetBets and the Gamestop stock.
In addition to that, we also cover the escalating tensions surrounding the link tax in Canada and Australia. Also, we cover Joe Biden continuing Trump’s efforts to have Julian Assange extradited.
In addition to that, we also cover all the usual music and video game reviews as well as how the game Chess became violent racist content in the eyes of algorithms. All this and more on this months podcast!
You can check out our official podcast on Anchor. Alternatively, you can take a listen below:
Edit: This episode is now publicly available on Patreon.
What follows is a transcript of this month’s episode:
Free Market for Me, but Not for Thee
Hi, I’m your host, Drew Wilson. Welcome to episode 28 of the Freezenet official podcast for February, 2021. Here are your top 3 headlines:
The Top 3
Lawsuits and Subpoena’s Fly After GameStop Stock Soars
Link Tax Debate Intensifies After Facebook Shutter’s Australian News Feeds
… and Biden Administration Rejects Human Rights and Vows to Appeal Assange Case
We begin this month’s podcast with a story that has absolutely dominated headlines this month. That is, the saga of subReddit, WallStreetBets, and GameStop. The story started late last month when there were calls on Reddit to buy up GameStop and other meme stocks. The aim from the beginning wasn’t to get rich. In fact, the overwhelming messages included not investing any money you aren’t willing to lose. Instead, it was to make hedge fund CEO billionaire’s “lose their shirts” for shorting the stock. The value skyrocketed by over 1,000 percent. This is a result of a large number of users spending small amounts of money to buy the stock.
The effects spread throughout the entire stock market. The overall indexes in Canada and the US fell by quite a bit. The reason is that the short sellers were pulling money out of other stocks in an effort to shore up their losses. Those hedge fund billionaires lost billions as a result. One even went so far as to remark how crazy it all was that some people on Reddit can use an app to buy penny stocks and ultimately rip his face off after.
Of course, this was only the beginning of this saga. Shortly after people started buying GameStop stocks, Robinhood, one of the apps that was used by Redditors, blocked users from buying the GameStop stock. Instead, the app only offered the option to sell. Rumours circulated that the app took things a step further and even forcibly sold some users GameStop stock.
As a result, Redditors began ditching the app for alternatives. A lawsuit was filed against the company behind the app. The lawsuit says that the freezing of purchases has resulted in revenue losses. Some users even took to the Google app store to publish one and two star reviews in response. Google intervened and deleted all the negative reviews in an effort to protect the app from lowered search result rankings.
Because of all of this, it sparked accusations of collusion between the app and the hedge fund billionaires.
Shortly after, the value of the GameStop stock dropped. Some suggest it was because it became more difficult to purchase the stocks. As a result, demand slowed and caused the value to drop. Various app developers tried to insist that they lifted the freeze on GameStop stocks.
Still, some media outlets responded by trying to say, by February 2nd, that the surge is over. Arguments were made that the value dropped to pre-surge levels and that the common everyday person was left holding the bag. However, on closer examination of the stock value, we found that the value of GameStop was still about two and a half times higher than pre-surge levels. On Reddit, many users were urging each other to “hold the line”.
A week later, media outlets continued to run articles saying that the surge is over and continued to insist that the every day person was left holding the bag. Redditors dismissed these theories and said that, among other things, that they aren’t bag holders, but GameStop stock owners. The value at the time was still well above pre-surge levels.
Of course, all this action didn’t go unnoticed by the American government. Some lawmakers questioned why average every day people were disallowed to buy GameStop stock. This as insiders and establishment traders continued to have free reign on what they can buy or sell. At any rate, virtually every player received subpoena’s. This ranged from famed Redditor, Roaring Kitty, to Robinhood executives and even the hedge fund billionaires. At that point, it was difficult to tell for sure which direction things were going to head. What we did know was that the government is wanting answers as to what was happening here.
More recently, we reported on how Roaring Kitty was on the receiving end of a lawsuit. The lawsuit is trying to argue that Roaring Kitty violated securities laws. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges, Roaring Kitty obscured his financial background and that this investor lost a lot of money by buying the stock in the first place. It was a weird allegation because Redditors were very upfront about what all this was about. Among the key messages is that this isn’t a “get rich quick” scheme nor should you expect to make any money on this. They also were upfront by saying that you shouldn’t invest money you aren’t prepared to lose. Based on what we saw, it’s hard to see how this lawsuit can reasonably gain any traction.
During testimony, Roaring Kitty responded by saying that the notion that he used social media to dupe unwitting investors was “preposterous”. He also said that it is tragic that people did lose money in this and that his heart goes out to them.
Meanwhile, Robinhood defended their actions of freezing the buying of GameStop stock. They responded by saying that government regulations made them do it. Still, he did face tough questioning from lawmakers who questioned whether or not Robinhoods close ties with Citadel Securities represents a conflict of interest. Executives denied this and said that they do apologize to users who were attempting to buy GameStop stocks. It’s unclear how that response will win over critics, though.
While all that was going on, the debate over the link Tax law is heating up in both Australia and Canada. Briefly, a link tax is a proposed law that compels aggregators and social media platforms to pay a tax. If a link is shared on that platform, or is aggregated, then that platform needs to pay a tax for the privilege of linking to that news source. That link, of course, sends traffic to the news organizations. News Corp has been leading the charge to get the link tax implemented in as many countries as possible.
This month, Google threatened to pull their search services out of Australia. It was a sign that things are going from bad to worse. The threat echoed Facebooks threat to pull their news feeds from the country last year. Australian Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, blasted Google for threatening to pull search out of the country. He called the move a “big disservice” and insisted that, no matter what, Google and Facebook are going to pay the taxes anyway.
Meanwhile, Facebook told the Canadian government that implementing a link tax law would be a mistake. A representative said, “Some of the ideas that we’ve seen discussed, such as the ones proposed in Australia where Facebook would be required to pay for links that are shared on our platform that we don’t control, is going to be unworkable, we wouldn’t be able to make that work because that’s just not how things get shared onto Facebook.”
The warning from Facebook mirrors the warning made in Australia. The question many people had at the time is whether or not Facebook would really pull services like they said they would.
It seems that the Canadian media made a huge bet that all of this was just bluster. In response, they coordinated a massive anti-tech propaganda campaign called the “Disappearing Headline”. The arguments within the campaign wound up being a massive misinformation campaign. An example was that social media is stealing the media companies news articles without paying for it. As a result, the campaign demanded, big tech companies need to pay their fair share. Otherwise, media outlets will be forced to close and all that will be left is misinformation to rule the day.
Obviously, this is completely divorced from reality. The reality is that media outlets, themselves, post these links on social media in the hopes of generating traffic to their sites. Additionally, snippets and links easily falls within the realm of Canadian Fair Dealing laws. Also, although media outlets did experience a drop in revenue, the blame largely falls squarely on COVID-19 and the ensuing shutdowns. If a business is closed, what’s the point of advertising?
The propaganda campaign raised serious questions about the objectivity of the media in Canada. Many conclude that many of these outlets are far from being an objective source of information when it comes to technology. While there have been many questions in the past if the media was actually objective about tech news, this latest campaign seemed to be, in the eyes of a number of observers, a more blatant form of anti-tech bias. As a result, the campaign only served to hurt the involved newspapers credibility.
Probably the most surprising development in this whole story this month was the next move Google made. In response to the link tax law proposal, Google unveiled a Google News Showcase service. The service is supposed to be a way for publishers to get paid for linking. Many viewed this as a response to the Australian News Bargaining Code. The move was so surprising, it even took us off guard. The move, on first blush, appears to be a capitulation on the debate. Then the question became, “What would motivate Google into doing this?”
Google reportedly spent $1 billion to put together this product. If one were to look at this development from a competitive standpoint, then there is a possible motive here. What if someone came up with a revolutionary new service that took content search to a whole new level? When Google started, all they had was a couple of servers operated out of a garage. If a new company were to come in, that $1 billion is now a new barrier to entry. The end result is obvious: it further entrenches Google as a dominent player in the market and helps keep competition at bay. It might hurt Google in a minor way now, but the payoff over the long term is potentially spectacular for them. Either way, not a good development for those who are critical of the dominant role “big tech” has these days.
At any rate, the move left some wondering if the large tech companies are going to back down on this fight.
Sometime after that announcement, Facebook then made the headline grabbing move of deleting their news feeds for Australian users. Links to Australian news outlets could no longer be shared. Australian users could no longer view or share news links completely. Australian Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, responded by calling the move “wrong” and “unnecessary”. However, Facebook responded in a lengthy statement saying, in part, “The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content. It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”
Ultimately, the move is being made freely by a private company. As rare as this is, it’s hard to find fault for Facebook’s decision here. The Australian government said that if Facebook intends on allowing links, then they need to pay a tax. Facebook responded by basically saying, ‘fine, we won’t have news links on our platform.’ Not only is the move well within the bounds of the law, but is also perfectly justified. Facebook also added that news traffic makes up less than 4 percent of their overall traffic. However, the value that offered journalism amounts to about 5.1 billion free referrals which is calculated to about 407 million Australian dollars.
That alone highlights another excellent point: publishers need platforms and aggregators far more than aggregators and platforms need publishers. If big publishing intends on biting the hand that feeds it, then the outcome should not be a surprise to anyone.
In response, the Canadian media, and the Canadian Heritage minister, blasted the move. “I must condemn what Facebook is doing,” Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said, “I think what Facebook is doing in Australia is highly irresponsible and compromises the safety of many Australian people.”
Some point out that if a country is dependent on Facebook to protect the security of their citizens, then that country has much bigger problems on its hands.
Canadian media outlets pushed the theory that maybe Canada should move further ahead with the link tax law. The theory being that if every country decided to institute a link tax law, then big tech would be forced to comply. It’s a theory that would be laughable if they weren’t actually serious about it. After all, ditching news is not a big deal for these companies in the first place. So, even if every country did pass a link tax law, those aggregators and platforms can easily just shut down news and still function nicely.
Later on, the Canadian media continued to go even further off the deep end. The Toronto Star ran an opinion piece saying that the proper response to Facebook deleting its news feed in Australia is to immediately institute a link tax law here. Obviously, if your goal is to have the Facebook news feed deleted faster in Canada, then that would be a perfectly reasonable position. Of course, the inherent aftermath is that this is also a position no reasonable person in the media should be taking at all, but here we are.
Navneet Alang said part way through, “The argument from news publishers is thus that, although they do in fact receive the benefit of a readership through social media and search, Facebook and Google’s use of news helps them continue to rake in billions in ad revenue, while news publishers are left — well, pick your adjective — decimated, smashed, wounded, limping.”
In response, we shockingly had to go to the extreme of posting screenshots of both Google and Facebook to show that no ads exist in the news feeds. We didn’t think that such a thing needed to happen, but it is clear from those comments that, at least for that columnist, the experience in using either service is completely lacking. We could spend well over an hour highlighting everything that is either misleading or wrong in that opinion piece, but we’ll spare you the boring details of our spectacular tear down.
Moving on to our third big story: it appears that we are seeing developments in the Julian Assange case. Previously, we left off with how the UK judge rejected the US’s demands to have Assange extradited to the US. With Donald Trump finally out of the White House, the question is, how will the Biden administration handle the case?
Human rights organizations made it clear how they would like the Biden administration to treat the case. In a joint open letter, they called on the Biden administration to drop the case. Among the human rights organizations calling for this move are Amnesty International – USA, Human Rights Watch, Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, Reporters Without Borders, Freedom of the Press Foundation, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The letter says, in part, “The indictment of Mr. Assange threatens press freedom because much of the conduct described in the indictment is conduct that journalists engage in routinely—and that they must engage in in order to do the work the public needs them to do. Journalists at major news publications regularly speak with sources, ask for clarification or more documentation, and receive and publish documents the government considers secret. In our view, such a precedent in this case could effectively criminalize these common journalistic practices.”
In response, the Biden administration rejected those calls. A spokesperson for the United States Department of Justice, Marc Raimondi, said, “We continue to seek his extradition”. The response is seen as a rejection of those human rights calls. As a result, the Biden administration is simply carrying on where the Trump administration left off. It’s yet another instance where both political parties are simply acting out a single agenda.
So, yet another busy month on the news front here on Freezenet. Here are some of the other stories making news this month.
Other Stories Making News
We have a follow-up to a story we brought you last year. Last year, gay dating website, Grindr, faced controversy as it sold personal information to third party service, MoPub – an advertising service owned by Twitter. Of course, since these concerns were being raised in Europe, that means that the General Data Protection Regulation (or GDPR) could come into play. Well, come into play, it did. Grindr is now facing an $11.7 million fine from regulators in Norway. For Norwegions, the fine is 100 million Norwegian krone. The fine represents 10% of Grindr’s annual global turnover and is made possible thanks to the GDPR laws.
The Canadian government has added Proud Boys to the list of terrorist organizations. The move comes after the organizations involvement with the January 6th terrorist attack on the Capitol buildings in Washington. As a result, people will find it more difficult to legally associate with them. While it’s not necessarily illegal to be a member, doing things like paying membership dues, buying merchandise, or hosting meetings in a physical location can open members up to criminal liability.
The very next day, members of the media seemed to express shock that the group didn’t disappear overnight. Global News quickly ran an article pointing out how the groups web pages remained online and how social media companies didn’t immediately return requests for comment. In response, we pointed out that, well, duh, a Canadian decision doesn’t necessarily mean change magically happens overnight. At that stage, at best, different people affected by the decision are now seeking out legal advice and are looking for reliable legal consultation. At any rate, it’s going to take time for this change to trickle down.
Last month, we offered some thoughts on what a Joe Biden presidency could mean for digital rights. Among the predictions are: the restoration of network neutrality, hostility towards Section 230, and a potential continuation of the war on encryption. Last month, that first prediction started to come true with the nomination of Jessica Rosenworcel to the FCC. She seemingly made it a mission to restore network neutrality.
This month, the predictions are proving to be accurate to an uncanny level. Democrats have now introduced the SAFE TECH Act. The legislation would greatly altar Section 230. It says that Section 230 protections will be afforded to anyone online so long as money doesn’t change hands at any point along the way. This means that if you receive donations, get ad revenue, rent server space, pay for a domain name, or sell subscriptions, then Section 230 does not apply to you. In short, it pretty much applies to no one. It’s not a full outright repeal, but it’s about as close as you can get to one.
Mike Masnick of Techdirt commented on this, saying that he might have to shut down his website entirely because of this law. His comments reads, in part, “That certainly looks like it applies to all paid content. And, even worse, to things like web hosting. Or if Facebook or Twitter ever offered accounts where you pay to remove ads. Or, [heck], to us on Techdirt, where some of our community have paid to support us, and we provide them extra features. Based on this, if any of our financial supporters (a key source of revenue for us) says anything that we get sued over, we can no longer claim 230 protections against it. That’s ludicrous. Not only would we have to shut down our comments, we’d likely be unable to let people support us directly any more (meaning we’d likely shut down entirely).”
We noted that we could theoretically survive this thanks to being located outside of the country, but it would require significant restructuring of the site. We’d survive, but it’ll hurt a lot to stay alive. I’ll say this right now: Sometimes, I hate being right.
Later on, another prediction that I didn’t make first, but I more or less agreed with, also came true. The Biden Administration has said that it no longer intends on pursuing a ban on TikTok. The administration says that they are taking a step back and going to reassess China’s influence on different apps across the board. Still, the demand that TikTok be US owned or face a ban is effectively dead now.
Last month, we brought you word about how Parler was struggling to remain online. This after Amazon shut down its AWS services to the site, noting concerns about extremist material remaining unmoderated. Briefly, it sought refuge on a Russian DDOS protection service. However, complaints about how the service operated saw the IP address used by Parler become vulnerable. Now, we are learning that Parler is now largely back online. After the CEO was fired, the site is now said to be operating on “independent technology”.
Meanwhile, as TikTok is finally seeing the threats of a US ban in the rear view mirror, the platform is facing a new threat. Consumer rights organizations operating in 15 European countries, are filing privacy complaints against the network. Among the complaints is a failure to protect children, and a failure to adequately inform users about how their personal information is collected and for what legal reasons – a violation of the GDPR law. It’s unclear at this stage how regulators intend on responding. As we previously noted, violations of the GDPR law can result in a fine of 10% of the sites global annual turnover.
While the Canadian Liberal Party is actively considering a link tax law, they are apparently not alone. The Federal Canadian Conservative Party is also proposing a law similar to the link tax law. In the legislation, the bill says that if a platform uses a substantial portion of the news article, then the platform needs to pay a license fee to the original publishers. The response from us, and others, is a general collective facepalm. As we previously explained at length, sites like Facebook and Google simply post small snippets, a link, a thumbnail, and the headline. All of this falls under fair dealing and is perfectly legal. As a result, the legislation does exactly nothing – except maybe demonstrate how lawmakers have a critical lack of knowledge on how the Internet works to this day. It’s unclear if this legislation even has a chance of passing.
So, quite the eventful month this month, that’s for sure.
Video Game Reviews
Now, let’s see what we’ve been up to this month in the realm of entertainment.
Before we get into the video game reviews, I wanted to tell you about the first impression video’s we’ve made this month.
The first video we posted shows us playing the first person shooter game, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! This represents our third stint into the Borderlands franchise. You can check it out via our site or directly on YouTube.
After that, we played our first Playstation 3 game, Ridge Racer 7. This video adds to our racing game inventory on our YouTube channel. It also represents our 20th video we’ve posted as well. You can check out the video directly on our site or via YouTube.
As always, if you want to keep up with our video’s, you can keep tabs on our site or subscribe to our YouTube channel.
Now, here are video games we’ve reviewed this month:
We kicked things off this month with Mario Golf for the Game Boy Color. A game with some minor issues with practice rounds, but also sports some impressive features. This includes the ability to improve your characters statistics and a great difficulty curve. Overall, this game gets an impressive 88%.
Next up is Galaga: Destination Earth for the Game Boy Color. A game taken from the mid 80’s, given a minor makeover, and passed off as a brand new game. Ultimately, it failed to impress with a 40%.
After that, we played Frogger 2 for the Game Boy Color. A game that takes an old idea and transforms it into a, at the time, modern portable gaming experience. So, this one gets a solid 72%.
Finally, we tried Uno for the Game Boy Color. A somewhat flawed experience, though a surprisingly enjoyable game all around. So, a game that gets a solid 70%.
As for music we’ve listened to this month, we’ve got…
… and finally, The Spiritualist – Jupiter Sunrise
Picks of the Month
And in other news…
Sometimes, snow shovelling can be a real chore. It can be even more annoying when you have a dispute with a neighbour. In Canada, you might expect a story like that to end with the cracking open of a case of beer, a polite debate, and a compromise of where to pile the snow from now on. Since this happened in America, or Plains Township Pennsylvania to be more precise, it ended with firearms, three people dead, and a police investigation. … Americans…
Algorithms and AI have a bit of a past which involves messing things up in spectacular ways. An example is identifying pictures of sand dunes as pornographic images. Another example is misidentifying a performance of public domain classical music pieces as pirated works. So, yeah, there are a number of fun filled problems that AI has run in to. Well, we can add another hilariously bad chapter to the mix. Apparently, YouTube has been blocking a multitude of Chess channels. No explanations for the blocking were given for the most part, but one YouTuber said that his channel was blocked over dangerous and harmful content.
Observers believe that the channels are being targeted by mistake in an effort to crack down on racist content. Phrases like White, Black, attack, and threat are all common words used to describe the playing of Chess. Of course, AI may or may not recognize this and might misconstrue this as racism and block it from the platform. I’m not trying to white knight racism here, but have you ever felt like YouTube is treating us all like pawns? I feel like resigning to the fact that stuff like this is going to continue unchecked into the foreseeable future. Alright, I’ll stop now.
There’s not a lot of people out there that truly enjoy going to work. Some people might even take to the extreme measure of simply skipping out on a day or two here and there. One Arizona man decided to take things a step further. He wound up faking his own kidnapping. He told police that he was struck in the back of the head, put into a vehicle, driven around for a bit, had a bandana shoved in his mouth and was tied to a water tower. Police tried to find evidence to corroborate his story, but found nothing. You bet there were charges laid against him. Probably better off saying he was worried he caught COVID-19.
Before we close out this month’s podcast, we got a couple of announcements to make.
This month, we were able to add our podcast to Amazon Music! With this added network, it should be more easy than ever before to listen to our podcast. In theory, this should make it easier for Amazon’s Alexa to find our podcast as well. We hope you enjoy this added feature. We look forward to adding even more to our overall podcast network arsenal!
In addition to that, we have been quite busy with our Wiki this month. First of all, we posted our January Wiki content patch. In these patch notes, we noted that we have continued our archiving of the V Recordings podcast. In all, we got a total of 62 episodes archived. In addition to that, we updated the archives for the Random Movement Podcast, Resonation, and Fables.
After that, we posted our first mini wiki update in a while. In that announcement, we pointed out that we have completed the V Recordings Podcast archive. In all, we have everything we could find posted for all 104 episodes. This represents over 208 hours worth of added content. We hope you enjoy this 8th show we managed to archive. We also look forward to adding even more content in the future.
Also, huge shoutout to Nolan for providing mixing services.
If you’d like to get your hands on some behind the scenes stuff, exclusive content, and early access material, you can check out our Patreon page at Patreon.com/freezenet. Through this, you can help make Freezenet just that much better all the while getting some pretty cool stuff in the process. That’s Patreon.com/freezenet!
Alternatively, you can simply buy us a coffee via ko-fi.com/freezenet!
…and that’s this months episode for February, 2021. I’m Drew Wilson for Freezenet. Be sure to check out our website at freezenet.ca for all the latest in news and reviews. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Thank you for listening and see you next month.