Pierre Trudel’s column: remote control censorship

The remote controls of connected televisions allowing access to the various broadcast broadcasting services are now preconfigured in such a way as to give privileged access to the platforms which have concluded agreements with the manufacturer. Access to music and dramatic works from national cultures now depends on the decisions of the companies that configure these objects.

The viability of musical or audiovisual works increasingly depends on the configuration of remote controls, home screens and other devices through which content is accessed. Screen manufacturers, such as Samsung, LG, Roku, Philips or Sony, offer their remote controls with buttons bearing the logos of a particular service – Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Disney +. The object maker “sells” visibility to programming services in exchange for compensation.

A few large platforms are thus at an advantage, while national programming services are at risk of being overlooked from the interfaces from which individuals make their choices. The European Commission as well as the French National Assembly have resolved to closely examine the practices of manufacturers of connected devices. Such initiatives echo the need that the devices through which cultural content is accessed do not lead to unfair practices. The default configurations should also not make it difficult to access our creators’ works and Canadian platforms.

The blackout of programming services that have no connections with the manufacturer is also reflected on the home screens. When you turn on a connected TV, you access a screen full of promotions for content that the manufacturer has chosen to favor. More and more, voice assistants like Alexa or Google Home will supplant these devices. Access to connected services will increasingly depend on default configurations.

Settings that censor

It is true that the default configurations can be changed by the user. Whoever has the patience and the skill is free to modify the configurations preinstalled on the object he has just acquired. But in reality, few people have the instinct or the patience to change what’s preinstalled. That is why it is dishonest to claim that users are free to make their own choices. Without state regulation, it is the trade agreements concluded between “business partners” which, by default, delimit our freedoms to choose.

These default settings give an advantage to dominant programming services; those who have the means to acquire the privilege of being engraved in the remote controls or the other configurations by default. Everything happens as if connected objects were loaded in favor of certain content. In music, we learned that 64% of recommendations on YouTube are aimed at videos with more than a million plays against 5% for those with less than 50,000 plays. A situation which obscures the local and French-speaking content. However, an artist who is not found in the recommendations of the platforms can become practically invisible.

Such a trend constitutes a stinging denial to those who ridicule the demands of groups of creators and users in favor of the establishment of more rigorous legislative measures to promote the promotion and the discoverability of works by creators here. For example, in a Radio-Canada report published at the end of November, it was argued that “Canadian content is not difficult to find on platforms like Netflix as anyone can type Canada in the search bar and will find a series of Canadian works ”.

For some, the fact that the default settings tend to obscure Canadian works as well as those emanating from minority cultures is not a problem as long as there is a search engine somewhere that can read the word “Canada”. ! This is a vision marked by systemic ignorance of the conditions imposed on members of minority groups. This Anglocentric vision fuels hostility to measures intended to set up a regulatory framework ensuring the promotion, visibility and discoverability of productions from all walks of life.

Imposed choices

In a world of online platforms where virtually everything is available, it is true that all works are theoretically available to users. But the technical configurations and the default settings induce censorship effects with regard to productions from minority communities. The default settings reflect the commercial alliances of the companies and the preferences of the linguistic majority. It’s up to individuals to figure out how to change the settings to find out what interests them. The efforts that users must make to find works that emanate from our creators act as a barrier. It shouldn’t be necessary to have a computer science degree to detect a Canadian programming service on a remote control or on a home screen.

Default configurations increasingly govern our access to cultural content and other resources in the connected world. It is therefore false to claim that it is the “free choice” of the public that explains the invisibility of our creators on the various distribution platforms. Laws must force companies that configure items sold here to prioritize services and content from our companies and our creators. It is on this condition that it will be possible to claim that consumers have real freedom to choose.

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