Thursday 6 September 2018

Google News versus Apple News

My ten-year-old laptop died some eight weeks ago. I replaced my Macbook with an Apple tablet. (I hopefully will review the product at a later date - but I am exasperated at how bad so many apps are! Thankfully one can still use sites via a browser.)

Over nigh on a decade, due to the politicisation and propaganda out-put of the once-highly-trusted BBC, I have had to find alternative sources of news (I am non-partisan: examples can be found elsewhere on this blog of some of Auntie Beeb’s failings). For myself these other sources have included facebook, twitter, UK newspaper sites, foreign newspaper sites (the only way to find out about some news items on occasion due to blanket silence in the UK), blogs, and specific websites (such as Reuters and medical ones). However, I was never privy to Google News nor Apple News until the purchase of the tablet: the latter was already downloaded and so I sourced the former.

After two months of usage I cannot say I am impressed with either app. Neither gives access to foreign-language media, and often no access to their English-language versions. If it is not in English, you have had it. This surprises me, for as I understand around half of US Americans speak Spanish. I can read the news in Spanish, German and French without too much difficulty, and to some extent Dutch and Italian news where I have sufficient context. I already keep track of some European media, such as Wiener Zeitung from Vienna, Austria and El País from Spain. Even trying to opt in to publications & websites proved impossible (an explanation follows later). It had been my hope and expectation that I might be able to use either or both Google News and Apple News as a central hub for the news stories in which I am particularly interested. This has transpired to be impossible.

Both news sites give one the option to select topics of interest, but neither gives you the ready ability to opt out of subjects at the inset. Apple News is the better here, for at least one can opt out of subject matters if &/or when such appears in one’s personalised news-feed. For example I was able to opt out of American Football fairly early on. Google News however, fails to let one opt out of football/soccer news and, despite clicking every time such has appeared in my feed on the “show fewer news items like this”, it is still putting soccer in my top five news items each & every day. I have read criticisms elsewhere about this issue, so Google are more than aware of it, but for some reason do not wish to alter their algorithms or prefer to annoy users out of intransigence or pertinacity. Perhaps interestingly, it appears I have had more success in opting out of so-called celebrity news or, alternatively, there has been a dearth of such stories.

When one obtains a weekend newspaper, the first thing one does is separate the different sections. At this point the sports news goes straight into my recycling bin. In a similar fashion, one ought to be able to opt in and out of various news sections prior to reading either news service. This is a personalisation service that then avoids time-wastage and irritation. I personally, as just one example, would want to opt out of royalty news but opt in to constitutional affairs and UK politics, so mention of the royal family would only appear in my news-feed if it was in connection with one of these other related areas. The UK newspapers The Independent and The i already act likewise in their actual reporting.

Both services permit one to choose the media from which one would like to receive news, but in both cases the media sources are extremely limited. As stated above, foreign-language and indeed the European English-language versions of such sources are excluded. Both sites exclude left-wing (European political terminology not US definition here and henceforth) media, although Apple News does share stories from the left-of-centre The Spectator. Indeed, the vast majority of sources appear to be centre-right. This automatically restricts the perspectives one receives in the news-feed. Whilst much but by no means all of my personal politics is left-of-centre, I still wish to know what others are thinking and suggesting. This assists in challenging one’s own beliefs and thoughts and either strengthens them or causes one to alter one’s opinions. This I believe is the nub of liberalism. (For US readers, in Europe this means open-mindedness and a willingness to listen and learn, and the term should not be confused with Liberalism - with a capital - as this latter is a political/philosophical/economic stand-point.)

It should also be pointed out that neither site gives access to news from medical websites. Google News does not permit one to opt for feeds on specific conditions, Apple News on the contrary does do so. However, in all the instances I have seen, and I covered a variety of conditions, news is at best high-level and at worst uninformative and in some cases merely an excuse to advertise a specific product or service without overtly stating that it is some kind of product-placement. My advice is to stick with the sources one already follows for up-to-date information on research, treatments and possible medications for illnesses & specific impairments.

Similarly to the lack of medical website access, there is no entry to blogs, no matter how big or influential.

Whilst Apple News does permit one to opt for news about certain subjects, it is only from a pre-determined list. I was surprised that even then, there were zero items listed under some of these topics. It certainly is not due to there being no news on such matters, simply a failing by Apple to seek out &/or provide such news. I find this deeply disappointing and slightly troubling. It certainly has reduced my trust in brand Apple.

Both news sites only give abbreviated headlines, and in the vast majority of instances this renders them meaningless and thus useless in aiding one identify whether a story will or will not be of interest to the reader. One either has to take a chance that an article will actually be of interest or just decide to move on. This situation is absurd from apps which are supposed to be guiding one to the news one wants!

In the UK approximately 1:5 individuals have some kind of impairment or disability. In the USA this figure stands at 1:4. Thus we are discussing vast numbers of people. As an advocate - and previously an activist - for disability rights issues, I am fairly aware of the situations disabled folk find themselves in both in the UK and the USA, as well as many other places around the Globe. Additionally, I keep abreast of current happenings and issues. I can honestly state that both news sources totally fail to convey the reality of disability in our respective countries. For example under the topic “Disability and Poverty” there is only one item from nearly a year ago.

Just a few screenshots of the many I have taken to back up my assertions.

So, perhaps you may be interested in my final evaluation: my advice is to ignore both of them and continue to obtain news from wherever one already does so; neither Apple News nor Google News is likely to add to the sum of one’s knowledge nor expand one’s horizons. Given that both are huge international businesses, these pathetic offerings shame them, in my opinion of course. However, you do not have to take my word: please do try them. I should love to hear your experiences and view-points. For example, the reader is at liberty to use the comments section below or email me privately if you should so prefer.

Happy news-gathering!

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