The UpStream

Google Play Movies & TV to move to YouTube on smart TV platforms

posted Sunday Apr 18, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Google Play Movies & TV to move to YouTube on smart TV platforms

In 2018, Google began the transition from Google Play Music to YouTube Music. While the Play brand stuck around for a while, it was clear that its days were numbered. This week, Google began the next version of the Google Play brand shift by announcing that Google Play Movies & TV would be leaving most smart TVs this year (Roku, LG, Vizio, and Samsung). In the announcement email sent to customers, the company said,

Starting June 15, 2021, the YouTube app will be your new home for movies and shows on Roku, Samsung, LG, and Vizio smart TVs. The Google Play Movies & TV app will no longer be available on these devices.

To access all of your previous purchases, log into the YouTube app using the account you use on Google Play Movies & TV, navigate to the "Library" tab, and click on "Your movies and shows."

So, once again, the YouTube brand is eating part of the Google Play brand - a name that was created because the Android Marketplace was offering media content as well as apps. But, the move should not come as a surprise following last year's related announcement about Google TV (the new one, not the old one) becoming Google's central hub for media. For most users, this signaled the eventual end of the Google Play Movies & TV brand. So, the idea that Google would be working on a transition plat on non-Google-powered TVs is perfectly natural.

If you are an Apple user, you can likely expect a similar announcement in the near future for the iOS and Apple TV apps. Those two are a little less important, though, as you cannot make purchases in the apps because of Apple's much disliked payment restrictions.

The real surprise here is the concept that Google is going to transition the sales of digital media in the age of streaming video to the service that made streaming video a household name. Will people be interested in puchasing access to movies and TV episodes through YouTube when they can easily subscribe to a service like Peacock or Hulu? YouTube Red's lack of success, along with the existing lack of interest in YouTube rentals, would suggest no, but we'll see in time.

Google is struggling to win support for FLoC, browsers won't support

posted Saturday Apr 17, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Google is struggling to win support for FLoC, browsers won't support

Google has been working to remove third-party tracking cookies from Chrome. The company has received a lot of negative feedback, including from the advertising industry, which does not feel confident in the company's new approach to the Privacy Sandbox. Now, additional criticism is coming in for Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), the approach to tracking users' interests, and it comes from a scary place: browsers and search engines.

Several privacy-focused brands, including browsers Brave and Vivaldi, as well as search engine DuckDuckGo, have pushed back on FLoC. While Google claims that it is intended to improve user privacy, these companies claim that it is actually worse than cookies. The selling point is that advertisers no longer get individual reports, but instead target based on common or shared browsing history.

Privacy advocates, however, point out that this requires a more detailed browsing history tracking than cookies ever did. To build a complete model of a user's browsing to determine interests, the system needs a lot of detailed information. While Google claims that these profiles and interest groups are built locally, that would require every browser to track, build, and report this history to Google. We know there is little chance that Microsoft is planing to report any tracking data to Google, so how can this concept possibly work?

The clear answer is, "Not well." The assessment comes from the announcement that Brave and Vivaldi will not be implementing the technology in their browsers. This comes as Google has begun testing the technology in Chrome for a number of users, without their knowledge or consent.

In addition, DuckDuckGo will block the technology by default. When it comes to privacy, it's clear that these companies are putting their money where their mouths are by standing up for the privacy concerns they see in Google's new offering.

It's not just you - your Twitch follow count really did go down

posted Saturday Apr 17, 2021 by Scott Ertz

It's not just you - your Twitch follow count really did go down

Twitch has always had a love/hate relationship with bots. Some are welcomed and encouraged, such as those that maintain decorum in chat. Others, however, are against the service's terms of service - such as those that create false conversation and false viewership. This week, the company has announced that it has rooted out over 7.5 million of these bots and removed them from the service entirely.

As a result of these account closures, streamers might see a major reduction in numbers. The most obvious change that this could produce for streamers is fewer followers. With that many accounts being removed, it is likely that even smaller accounts could have one or more of these bots on their follower lists. Over the next few streams, people might also notice less fake engagement, as well as fewer viewers who are silent in chat.

For those of us who spend time on Twitch, we've likely all seen those nonsense accounts that come in, post an advertising message in chat, and then leave. Hopefully, this change will also help reduce those annoying "engagements." However, since Twitch is free to join, it is easy enough to create a new account and run the software all over again.

Of course, using machine learning, the company should be able to improve its operations going forward. If all goes well, this means that the system may be able to sniff out these accounts early on, preventing their unrealistic impact on numbers. It's always disappointing when you believe you've built something up only to have that perspective changed, but it's also better for everyone to have an accurate view of reality. Hopefully, this spree will help make the Twitch community a little closer and a little more engaging. Maybe it will even help streamers feel like they've got a better handle on their channels.

Global chip shortage is not going to get better any time soon

posted Saturday Apr 17, 2021 by Scott Ertz

A global chip shortage has been affecting product production and availability for nearly a year now. For those who had hoped that perhaps the fabrication plants might be getting close to having a handle on the problem, we've got some bad news. According to executives at all of the major foundries, we can expect these shortages to stay around for years.

The semiconductor bottleneck

The majority of major chip manufacturers use semiconductors produced by one foundry: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC). The company produces for brands like Apple, Broadcom, Nvidia, and Qualcomm (though not exclusively) - none of whom have any chip fabrication capabilities internally.

This means that any delays at TSMC will mean major delays for products from these companies. And we have seen exactly that, with shortages in videocards from Nvidia, and chip shortages from Qualcomm. Even Apple's ability to source display technology has been affected.

The timeline to normalcy

TSMC says that they expect these delays to continue well into 2023. This delay comes because the company is already running its operation at over 100% of capacity. Producing a new facility to improve performance is not easy, as it can take years to build a facility and months to configure a new line.

So, two full years of technology at a near standstill, all because we rely on a single manufacturer for many of our chip components. And the company's affect will be far and wide in those two or so years. 45 percent of the company's revenue comes from smartphone component manufacturing and 35 percent comes from high-performance computing components. So, mobile and stationary computing are in trouble.

Automaker GM recently announced that it would have to idle some of its factories because of the shortages. While changes were made to the plans, it is still a dark situation for the automaker. Though they believe they have solved the problem in the near-term to get back up and running, the long-term effects are still murky.

The competition is stuck

But, if you were hoping to avoid the problems by switching form AMD (for whom TSMC manufactures the 7nm silicon) to Intel, who manufactures its own silicon, there is some equally bad news. Intel has also famously been affected by their own semiconductor manufacturing slowdowns. It's part of the reason why the company's chips are still not running at 7nm, while AMD has been there for a while.

New Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger recently told The Washington Post,

We do believe we have the ability to help. I think this is a couple of years until you are totally able to address it. It just takes a couple of years to build capacity.

The conclusion

Whether you're making them yourself or outsourcing the components, producing semiconductors is a challenge right now. And, w're going to be feeling the pressure for the next few years. So, if you were hoping to get a new Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, patience is going to be of the utmost importance.

Brand Safety Score, coming to Twitch, rates channels for advertisers

posted Saturday Mar 27, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Brand Safety Score, coming to Twitch, rates channels for advertisers

Twitch has had some issues over the past year or so. Most notably, the brand has had trouble being open with its community of content creators about what they are working on behind the scenes. Most notably, they came under fire when they deleted videos with little to no explanation. Later, the company apologized for how poorly they handled the situation, which surrounded a large influx of DMCA requests. Now, a new feature is coming, for which there was once again no communication - Brand Safety Score.

In fact, the only reason why information about the score is available at all is that it was exposed, either purposefully or accidentally, through the platform's internal API. Twitter user tayariCS showed off the documentation, exposing the new fields that would be added to the profiles in the future. The idea appeared to be a score that was either automatically generated or manually entered (there was evidence for both theories), that shows how advertiser friendly the channel is.

Of course, there are other indicators already available, such as whether or not the channel is set top mature content. The Brand Safety Score seems to revolve around violations of the already nebulous community standards. In fact, the documentation shows the current relationship with Twitch (active, suspended, banned, etc.), reason for suspension/ban, and past issues. It also includes custom data points which might be of value to potential advertisers.

After word hit the street of this potential change to the way channels are evaluated, Twitch responded with a statement saying,

We are exploring ways to improve the experience on Twitch for viewers and creators, including efforts to better match the appropriate ads to the right communities. User privacy is critical on Twitch, and, as we refine this process, we will not pursue plans that compromise that priority. Nothing has launched yet, no personal information was shared, and we will keep our community informed of any updates along the way.

So, as of right now, Brand Safety Score is a feature that is being considered, not one that is being implemented. However, if the API endpoint is already stood up, then the likelihood is that this is coming soon er rather than later. Having a way for advertisers to determine the value proposition for their interaction with a channel is a good thing. However, any time a company that relies on user generated content starts creating policies with dark data about its users, things are about to get complicated.

People are too lax with giving permission to their mic and camera

posted Saturday Mar 27, 2021 by Scott Ertz

People are too lax with giving permission to their mic and camera

Data breaches happen all the time, companies misuse the data they have access to, and hackers want access to everything you do. Because of all of these threats, personal privacy and security should be a major focus of people online. However, a lot of people don't put any thought into their security or privacy online, and those who do, leave major holes in their plan. This has been made even more apparent thanks to the Kaspersky Consumer IT Security Risks Report 2021.

The report highlights a number of issues. This includes 80% of people using personal computers for business purposes, which can give your employer access to your personal data and expose proprietary data to the open internet. In addition, 53% of people who are victims of ransomware paid the ransom, and 17% of those people still didn't get their data back.

More importantly, though, is the major difference between thoughts and actions on access to users' cameras and microphones. 60% of users are concerned that access to their webcam and microphone could be gained by nefarious actors, or could be used outside of their intended purposes. However, 23% of all online users grant access to their webcam and microphone in every case it is requested. Even when using platforms you expect to be safe, they can expose your webcam without permission. With Zoom, external access to your cam was available even after uninstalling the software.

But, for those who are always giving access, they are asking for trouble. Very few apps and websites require access to your mic or camera. If you're not there to share your cam or mic, don't share your cam or mic. The same applies to location access - if it isn't going to give you a benefit, don't grant access. And, on your webcam, you should cover the lens when it is not in use. It might sound like a conspiracy theory, but it's true. Even Mark Zuckerberg, who is often portrayed as the bringer of the end of privacy, covers his camera with a sticky note.

The takeaway: stay vigilant online and protect your privacy and security by thinking about the permissions you give to apps and cameras.

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