Yahoo invites you to "get the look" of Afghan birthday party massacre aftermath

Online marketing fail

Yahoo's feature allowing readers to buy clothing worn by celebrities straight from the site clearly has a few kinks to iron out. Law professor Rebecca Tushnet reported that the site was offering readers the chance to "get the look" of:

A man holding spent .50 calibre shells look[ing] towards the Spozhmai Hotel on Qargha lake on the outskirts of Kabul on June 22, following an attack by Taliban militants.

Apparently a plaid scarf from EXPRESS (just $19.95), as well as a pair of $275 Prada sandals, is what is needed:

Yahoo have since taken the ad down, telling paidContent, who also reported the story, that:

In an effort to enhance the consumer experience with some new image-tagging technology on Yahoo! News, we experienced a mistagged photo. The photo in question was immediately flagged as inappropriate and the tag was removed.

"Immediately" is a moderately strange way of referring to three days. Tushnet first posted the pic on the 22nd, and it was still up when paidContent reported it on the 25th. More worrying, however, is that the process is not yet fully automated.

Computers may be good, but they aren't that good; it remains someone's job to actually link the pictures to the clothes. Between this and previous mishaps, like when readers of the National Inquirer were offered the chance to get the look of Elizabeth Edwards as she revealed that she was dying of cancer:

Or readers of US celeb mag Star were offered the chance to get the look of Nick Hogan, the son of wrestler Hulk Hogan, who had left a friend with serious brain damage following a car crash:

One would think that maybe the humans in the chain ought to be given a tiny bit more discretion. Or at the very least, filter out keywords like "massacre", "cancer" and "traumatic brain injury".

Oh dear, Yahoo. Oh dear.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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You are living in a Black Mirror episode and you don’t care

The Investigatory Powers Bill is likely to become law later this year, but barely anyone is resisting the dystopian surveillance it will bring.

“They’re all about the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we're clumsy,” explained Charlie Brooker when asked to describe the concept behind his science fiction series Black Mirror. When series three was released on Netflix last week, this sentiment was reiterated over and over. “Omg, it’s just like Instagram!!!!” squealed individuals in their masses after watching episode one, “Nosedive”, set in a world where everyone rates one another out of five after their interactions. The parallel with social media is easy, obvious, and intentional, but it doesn’t teach us much. The real ways in which our world is like a dystopian sci-fi are, in fact, much more boring.

There will be no suspenseful songs or dramatic jump cuts preluding the third reading of the Investigatory Powers Bill in the House of Lords next week. The “snoopers’ charter” is likely to become law after it passed through its House of Commons readings with a few amendments, with 444 MPs voting in favour and 69 against. In short, the Bill will give the government unprecedented surveillance powers, allowing them to intercept and collect your communications, collect a list of the websites you visit and search it without a warrant, and force your internet service provider to help them collect your data.

Even though this is highly comparable to the dark visions of the future offered by Black Mirror, no one cares. Though the Bill faced initial resistance when it was announced in 2015, it has passed through its readings relatively unscathed. Black Mirror should provide a prime opportunity to discuss issues around privacy, but people prefer to compare dystopias to things they already hate. Lord help us all if we take selfies or stare at a device which is simultaneously an encyclopaedia, a newspaper, a book, a map, a bank, a radio, a camera and a telephone for more than ten minutes.

Yet the Investigatory Powers Bill does hold many parallels to the last episode of Black Mirror series three, “Hated in the Nation”. In it, the government use autonomous drones shaped like bees to spy on its people, which are then hacked to murder hated public figures. “Ok! The government’s a c**t, we knew that already,” says DCI Karin Parke, moving on to the real issue – not that the government spies on its citizens, but that the spying device can be hacked by those naughty, naughty citizens themselves.

The hacker – Garrett Scholes – has programmed the bees to kill whoever gets the most votes on Twitter via the hashtag #DeathTo. Then, in a Jon-Ronson-worthy twist, he sets the bees on the people who used the hashtag in the first place. The actual, moral, wake-up-sheeple message of “Hated in the Nation”, then, is that we should be careful who we wish death upon on social media. But it is precisely this freedom that we should be protecting. Under the Investigatory Powers Bill, your emails and search history could be used to argue that you really want to kill Katie Hopkins, rather than were just blowing off steam.

Yet it’s hard to blame anyone for ignoring the Bill, which is off-putting not because it’s not an episode of Black Mirror, but because it is long and confusing. Breaking through the terminology is hard, even in the handy fact sheets provided, and the government can claim transparency while using alienating language and concepts.

“Some of the powers in the Bill are deeply intrusive, and with very little possible justification,” warned former MP Dr Julian Huppert last week, “the cost to all of our privacy is huge.” The good news is that you don’t have to worry about metal bees spying on you, and the bad news is that this is because the government will soon have permission to do it the easy way.


Now listen to a review of the new series of Black Mirror on the NS pop culture podcast, SRSLY:

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.