Friday Five: RIP iTunes and animals in AR

Zone’s Matt Blackwell handpicks and shares the five best stories on new digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. North Face marketing stunt goes south

OK, so technically this happened last week, but the backlash from outdoor clothing brand The North Face meddling with Wikipedia to improve its Google ranking still rumbles on. In case you haven’t heard, the brand’s Brazilian office edited the pages of popular outdoor destinations to include pictures of models in North Face gear.

The marketing stunt erodes trust in both the brand and Wikipedia, so no one wins here. I find it interesting that language such as ‘digital vandalism’ and ‘defacing’ has been used to describe what’s happened. Wikipedia has come a long way since the early days, growing to become a trusted source of information staffed by 250,000 volunteer editors that is clearly valued by many. Not cool, North Face, not cool.

2. Apple plays the Last Post for iTunes

iTunes is dead. Long live iTunes. Apple announced this week that its next update, macOS Catalina, will see the app (born in 2001) divided into three separate entities: Apple Music, Apple TV and Apple Podcasts. And I can’t decide how I feel about that.

Admittedly iTunes has grown unwieldy over the years, adding functions in a piecemeal fashion and morphing from a straight-up digital jukebox to incorporate videos, books, podcasts and the entire contents of your iPhone, so perhaps the time is right to shake things up. But it’s taken me the best part of 10 years to build a music library comprising thousands of songs, and I really can’t be bothered to go through that entire process again on a streaming platform like Apple Music or Spotify. Sigh.

3. It’s time to talk about gender bias in tech

There’s a new chatbot on the block, and she’s challenging AI bias in voice assistants. F’xa is the brainchild of Feminist Internet, a collective of artists and designers dedicated to advancing equality in all things digital, whether online or in the workplace.

Accessed via smartphone, the conversation follows a linear structure, providing you with a number of predefined questions and responses. However, when you consider that a UN study has recently found that the likes of Siri and Alexa are reinforcing gender bias, any tool to raise awareness and effect change should be celebrated.

4. Hate speech no longer welcome on YouTube

YouTube has announced it will not tolerate language “alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status”. I’ve just checked and yep, it’s 2019, so the main question is: what took you so bloody long?

YouTube’s archaic policies hit the headlines recently after a compilation of the sustained abuse and insults suffered by journalist Carlos Maza went viral. The platform initially stated that while the language used was “clearly hurtful”, it did not violate any of the site’s rules. Cue massive public uproar, and three days later YouTube miraculously publishes an update to its hate speech policy. About time.

5. Walking and talking with animals

Here’s a bit of fun. Google Search now lets you interact with a life-sized 3D image of your result in AR. The feature, which was first teased at Google’s I/O developer conference last month, only works with a small number of animals for now and you’ll need an AR-enabled phone to get in on the action.

Beyond the novelty effect of having a giant panda sit next to your mate’s desk at work, there is huge potential to use this kind of thing as an educational tool in the classroom. Alternatively, it could come in handy when shopping online, as it would give you a better idea of what a product looks like before you buy it. Like.

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