The UpStream

Disney is under fire for filming Mulan in vicinity of prison camps

posted Sunday Sep 13, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Disney is under fire for filming Mulan in vicinity of prison camps

Based on the response to previous Disney live-action remakes, there was going to be a lot of trouble with Mulan, but what actually happened had nothing to do with the actual content. Instead, controversy arose when the ending credits rolled and the company openly thanked the Publicity Department of CPC Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Committee. If you are unfamiliar with this segment of the Chinese government, you would not be alone. They are responsible for the propaganda against the Uyghur Muslims, which has been used to force over 1 million into re-education camps. Those camps are where scenes from the movie were filmed.

In addition to the re-education, which the Chinese Communist Party claims is part of battling religious fundamentalism, those detained in the camps are also forced to work for little to no money. They are also compelled to learn Mandarin. The offenses that can lead to being imprisoned in these camps can be as simple as growing a beard or praying.

Christine McCarthy, Disney's head of finance, had to address the controversy at the Bank of America virtual conference, saying,

The real facts are that Mulan was primarily shot -- almost in entirety -- in New Zealand. In an effort to accurately depict some of the unique landscape and geography of the country of China for this period drama, we filmed scenery in 20 different locations in China. It's common knowledge that, in order to film in China, you have to be granted permission. That permission comes from the central government. So, in our credits, it recognized both China and locations in New Zealand. I would just leave it at that, but it has generated a lot of issues for us.

Congress has asked for a better explanation from the company, sending the company a letter, saying,

Disney's apparent cooperation with officials of the People's Republic of China (PRC) who are most responsible for committing atrocities -- or for covering up those crimes -- is profoundly disturbing. The decision to film parts of Mulan in the XUAR, in cooperation with local security and propaganda elements, offers tacit legitimacy to these perpetrators of crimes that may warrant the designation of genocide.

While Disney officials do notn believe that cooperating with this group is a big deal, the trouble for the company seems to have only just begun.

Amazon plagued by price gouging and defective product claims

posted Sunday Sep 13, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Amazon plagued by price gouging and defective product claims

This week has not been a good one for Amazon. Since the beginning of the lockdown, price gouging has been a huge problem with online marketplaces. However, Amazon has worked to prevent third-party sellers from using the site to take advantage of shoppers. They have removed over a million listings and 10,000 sellers from the platform for price gouging. But, it turns out that Amazon's first-party prices are also out of control.

Consumer watchdog organization Public Citizen released a new report showing that Amazon has raised prices on some of its first-party products up to 1000% above their normal prices. They point out two products, in particular: face masks which raised to $40 instead of $4, and corn starch which raised to $9 from $0.90.

It is troubling that so much effort was put into blaming third-party sellers, but so little effort was made to stop the price increases-including on the products sold by Amazon directly. Amazon is not merely a victim in the price gouging on its marketplace. It is a perpetrator.

But first-party pricing isn't the only issue plaguing the platform. First-party products from the AmazonBasics line are seeing a huge number of serious defects. The company has previously had issues with products still being listed and sold on its platform after serious defects or even recalls, but those came from third-party sellers. It's a challenge for the company to regulate every listing, but when it comes to its own products, they seem to ignore issues.

Experts at the University of Maryland, as part of a CNN investigation into over 1500 consumer reviews about seriously faulty products, were able to replicate some of the issues. The most dangerous was an AmazonBasics microwave which has a tendency to spark, which could lead to a fire. Amazon disagrees with the report's use of consumer reviews but ignores video evidence of the issues.

Apple changes App Store rules, but doesn't go far enough for Microsoft

posted Sunday Sep 13, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Apple changes App Store rules, but doesn't go far enough for Microsoft

While Apple may still be fighting against Epic's challenge to the App Store policies, it appears that the company is trying to make nice with the other group of companies who dislike the policies: streaming game brands. Previously, streaming services like Xbox Game Streaming (Project xCloud) and Facebook Gaming were not allowed on Apple's mobile devices because the content could not be individually moderated by Apple. However, since Microsoft and Facebook called them out publicly, Apple seems to have worked to make it possible.

This has been accomplished through changes to the App Store policies, made official this week. The big change is that game collection apps can now operate within the App Store, but with some heavy rules that could make it difficult to accommodate. The easy part is that all games within the catalog must follow the rules of the store. The app must provide metadata for each individual game available to Apple, to allow for full content search indexing.

On the other hand, all in-game purchases will need to be made through the App Store, just like other apps (including the 30% fee that Apple charges). Each individual game will also be required to go through the same app approval process that all games on the App Store must go through. This means that each game will be individually listed in the Store, making the management of the streaming services incredibly difficult.

This process is significantly different from that of streaming music or video services. Netflix does not need to get approval from Apple for each movie or TV episode that they list, and they do not have to list each piece individually in the store. Instead, Apple trusts that the content being provided will be acceptable to the platform. If it does not follow the rules, Apple can remove the entire app until it comes into alignment with the policies. However, they are really flexing their muscle in the gaming realm. However , the end result here will likely be an entire emerging market of gaming entirely off-limits to Apple users.

TikTok deadline is possibly here and a sale is unlikely to be finalized

posted Sunday Sep 13, 2020 by Scott Ertz

TikTok deadline is possibly here and a sale is unlikely to be finalized

Since the original executive order was issued, the deadline for TikTok's sale or closure has been a little confusing. The executive order set a September 15, 2020 deadline for a US company to purchase the US operations or face a complete ban within the country. Later, a second order was issued, giving a deadline in November. However, comments from President Trump this week suggest that the original deadline of this Tuesday will stand.

Last month, a deal was said to be close to closing, however, China threw a variety of issues into the process. The first was a match to US law that disallows uS companies form exporting encryption and security technology. China put a similar regulation into effect, preventing the export of some of TikTok's core matchmaking technology. Without this aspect of the platform, there is far less value to the purchase.

This past week, however, China added a new wrinkle, with officials saying that they would prefer that US operations be terminated than let ByteDance sell part of its operations. They also said that they would be intimately involved in any sales negotiations with Western companies. This will take the form of approval or denial of any sale of technology or operations.

Of course, all of these added challenges are going to make it so that Western companies will be less interested in negotiations. That is most likely the purpose of adding the hurdles to the process - the Chinese authorities are challenging the US government to see if a ban will actually be implemented and maintained. Essentially, it seems they are trying to call the President's bluff. They have even begun a ground game, with a spokesperson saying,

TikTok is loved by 100 million Americans because it's a home for entertainment, self-expression, and connection. We're committed to continuing to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform for many years to come.

The mistake is that Trump is not one to be called out and back down. If the sale is not completed, there is little doubt that the app will be banned. It seems we won't have long to wait to find out.

DC Comics announces service shift while showing off new projects

posted Sunday Aug 23, 2020 by Scott Ertz

DC Comics announces service shift while showing off new projects

DC Comics might be in a difficult position, with a large portion of its staff being laid off, but that hasn't stopped the company from making waves at its DC FanDome virtual event. From changes to the business to first looks at new films and games, DC seems to still be excited about its own future.

First, the company has announced that DC Universe, the company's self-branded streaming service, would be making way for the larger HBO Max streaming service, also owned by parent company WarnerMedia. All of the DC Universe exclusive content, as well as the rest of the DC content, will move over to HBO Max, though DC Universe will not be going away. Despite that change, DC still has a lot of content in the works. While some projects will be coming to HBO Max going forward, others are coming to theaters (assuming they ever reopen properly) and gaming consoles.

Suicide Squad

This franchise has a number of new products in the works. First is the next Suicide Squad film, helmed by James Gunn. During FanDome, James Gunn announced the lineup of characters, including Idris Elba as Bloodsport, Nathan Fillion as TDK, and John Cena as Peacemaker. A full character reveal reel was released, showing the entire character cast. Gunn has said that "It's going to be different from any superhero movie ever made" and, based on the behind the scenes video, it looks like it will be a good combination between the grit of the original film and the comedy of Guardians of the Galaxy.

In addition to the film, DC showed off a trailer for the new Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League! videogame. The game, which is from developer Rocksteady, will allow you to hunt for the characters you usually play as in a DC game - Batman, Superman, and the like.

Justice League

While the Suicide Squad game might have you hunting the Justice League members, HBO Max will be showing you anew side of the team. While the Justice League film came out in 2017, there has been a lot of interest in seeing the original film, directed by Zack Snyder before he left and handed the project over to Joss Whedon. HBO Max announced that it would release the Snyder Cut, and we've gotten our first look at what to expect, and it looks great.


The next film in the Batman franchise will show us a new Bruce Wayne in Robert Pattinson. There has been some concern over what his performance might look like. But, to be fair, there was concern over how Ben Afflec would perform in the role several years ago, and he turned out to be a great choice for the casting. Now, thanks to DC FanDome, we have our first look at the new version of the character. As Bruce Wayne, he looks a little too much like emo Peter Parker from Spider-Man 3, but as Batman, he seems a good fit. The car, however, looks sad.

Batman's allies also get some screen time, but on the small screen. Gotham Knights is a new co-op game in which Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, and Red Hood have to work together to fight the Court of Owls and others, after Batman's apparent death. This game gives us another chance to play in a known environemnt while playing as characters that we do not normally get to play as.

Wonder Woman

The only character with an upcoming film that we've seen before is Wonder Woman. We've seen trailers for the next installment, Wonder Woman 1984, but DC wanted to make sure she got attention at FanDome as well. Because of that, we got a new trailer for the film, and it looks like it will return the character to the epicness of her first film, and not the relative blandness of her appearance in Justice League (though that could change with the Snyder Cut). The movie is currently scheduled for October 2, 2020, but that is likely to change again thanks to COVID-19.

Internet Explorer is finally seeing the sunset after 25 years

posted Sunday Aug 23, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Internet Explorer is finally seeing the sunset after 25 years

In August 1995, Microsoft entered the web browser space with Internet Explorer. At the time, it was based on the same browser technology everyone was using - Spyglass. After the browser took off, the company put more resources than 6 team members behind it and made it an integral part of the Windows operating system. While that move brought on the famous antitrust investigations across the globe, it also led to Internet Explorer owning the web for years.

When Google introduced Chrome, that began to change - Microsoft began to lose market share and the joke of Internet Explorer only being used to install Chrome became the norm. With Windows 10, Microsoft took a new direction with its browser development, mostly retiring Explorer and moving to Edge. Since then, Edge has changed its own direction, abandoning the Edge rendering system and taking on the Chromium renderer.

Now, all of Microsoft's browser ambitions are finding a single path going forward. Internet Explorer 11, which was released in 2013 and was the last major version, is coming to an end for Microsoft's own products. They will stop officially supporting the operating system in Teams November 30, 2020, and the rest of the Microsoft 365 suite will lose support on August 17, 2021. Microsoft said,

Customers will have a degraded experience or will be unable to connect to Microsoft 365 apps and services on IE 11. For degraded experiences, new Microsoft 365 features will not be available or certain features may cease to work when accessing the app or service via IE 11.

While web product support is ending for Internet Explorer, the browser is not going away. It continues to exist to ensure older corporate web projects can continue to operate for companies that rely on them. However, while product support is ending within Internet Explorer, Edge Legacy, which is the pre-Chromium version, will see the end of all support on March 9, 2021. This is in line with the announcement that modern Edge, the Chromium version, will be automatically installed as part of Windows Update, and will be a permanent replacement for Legacy Edge.

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