The UpStream

Sony shows off PlayStation 5 games, but loses the thread on design

posted Saturday Jun 13, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Sony shows off PlayStation 5 games, but loses the thread on design

Sony certainly had a goal with its recent Future of Games event for the PlayStation 5: the games. And, if you watched the event, the company succeeded. You knew it was going to be a heavy game-focused event when it opened with Spider-Man Miles Morales and closed with Horizon Forbidden West. In the middle, the company showed off other big names from franchises like Resident Evil. In addition, new games made an appearance, such as Little Devil Inside. The event didn't focus on any single game type, but instead showed off a wide range of games.

But, for an event titled Future of Games, there was very little focus on the future. Instead, the event was very focused on now. Essentially, the event said, "Here's the console that's coming and the games that you will be playing right away." It's a very different approach to gaming from Microsoft, who has shown both the immediate future and their more long run plans. In addition to Xbox Series X, Microsoft has been showing off Project Cloud and the benefits of services like Xbox Live Ultimate. Sony seems to have no plans to play in these spaces.

However, while Sony wanted everyone to focus on the games, the real takeaway was the design of the console. The final design, which has been met with a lot of comedy, fits perfectly into this generation of consoles. While Microsoft has announced that the Xbox Series X is designed after some sort of Borg ship or possibly a mini-fridge, Sony has announced that their inspiration came from a Wi-Fi router. While the previous generation of consoles was designed to disappear into the woodwork, this generation is designed to stand out - for better or worse. These designs have created some of the best internet comedy in weeks - something that was in short supply.

Proposed robocall fine would be largest FCC fine ever uncollected

posted Saturday Jun 13, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Proposed robocall fine would be largest FCC fine ever uncollected

The world may be divided on most topics, but there is one thing we can all come together on: our hatred of robocalls. We've all been close to destroying our phones when the voice on the other end of a call says, "We've been trying to reach you about your car's extended warranty." The FCC has implemented some regulations to try and cut down on the annoyance. Among the regulations are an end to caller ID spoofing and the Do Not Call registry. While the measures may have actually resulted in fewer deceptive calls, some still work around it.

One such pair that ignored all of the rules is John C. Spiller and Jakob A. Mears, who operated a health insurance scam ring. They operated brands such as Rising Eagle and JSquared Telecom, making more than 1 billion robocalls claiming to sell short term insurance options. According to the FCC's proposed fine against the duo,

The robocalls falsely claimed to offer health insurance plans from well-known health insurance companies such as Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, and UnitedHealth Group. For example, one call stated: "Are you looking for affordable health insurance with benefits from a company you know? Policies have all been reduced nationwide such as Cigna, Blue Cross, Aetna, and United just a quick phone call away. Press 3 to get connected to a licensed agent or press 7 to be added to the Do Not Call list." If they did press 3, consumers were transferred to a call center with no affiliation to the named companies, where call center representatives then would attempt to convince the consumer to purchase an insurance product sold by one of Rising Eagle's clients. Rising Eagle's largest client, Health Advisors of America, was sued by the Missouri Attorney General for telemarketing violations in February 2019.

As part of the action, the FCC will be asking for a $225 million fine. The FCC, however, does not have the authority to issue the fine on its own, so it will need to go through a process. Traditionally, an agreement is reached somewhere lower than the proposed maximum. However, the FCC is not known for success in actually collecting on its fines. According to FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel,

Over the last several years the FCC has levied hundreds of millions in fines against robocallers just like the folks we have here today. But so far collections on these eye-popping fines have netted next to nothing. In fact, it was last year that The Wall Street Journal did the math and found that we had collected no more than $6,790 on hundreds of millions in fines. Why? Well, one reason is that the FCC looks to the Department of Justice to collect on the agency's fines against robocallers. We need them to help. So when they don't get involved-as here-that's not a good sign.

So, do these policies work? For some, it may simply be the fear of any retribution that stops them from acting. For others, it appears the knowledge that nothing will happen that keeps the calls coming.

Netflix now owns a historic physical movie theater in Hollywood

posted Sunday Jun 7, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Netflix now owns a historic physical movie theater in Hollywood

The journey for Netflix is a fascinating one. The company started by mailing physical DVDs to subscribers and pivoted to streaming. They were so ready to be done with physical media that they intended to spin the DVD business into Qwikster, a plan that was abandoned. Over the last year or so, the company has had to pivot back towards physical movies to be eligible for academy awards. That pivot has led to the company purchasing a physical movie theater.

The theater in question is the Egyptian Theatre, an iconic location in Hollywood. The theater was home to the premiere of classic films, such as the silent movie adaptation of Robin Hood. The venue was built in 1922 and operated for decades before being closed. A non-profit organization called American Cinematheque renovated and reopened the theater in 1998. Now, Netflix will work with the organization to renovate the theater once again and operate it as a venue for special screenings and events. The intention seems to be to merge the classic and iconic design of the theater with the modern cinema.

After a renovation, the theater will be home to weekly premieres, as well as special events from the company. This acquisition will allow Netflix to more easily bring its streaming content to a theater in order to qualify for awards. It also allows them to have a more direct impact on the film industry by preserving a piece of the industry's history. The company has often been accused of not having respect for the industry, so this could be an opportunity to change the perception.

Of course, this isn't Netflix's first experiment with physical theaters. Last year, the company leased another iconic theater, the single screen Paris Theatre in New York City. This was another closed theater revived by the company in order to screen its originals. There is now a bi-coastal presence, which will help with premieres.

New suit asks for $5 billion over misunderstanding of how web works

posted Sunday Jun 7, 2020 by Scott Ertz

New suit asks for $5 billion over misunderstanding of how web works

If the internet is good at anything, it is distributing information, whether or not it makes any sense. seen everything from people believing articles from The Onion to purposeful disinformation campaigns. However, the most common scenario is people simply misunderstanding how things work. That is the basis behind a new class-action lawsuit alleging that Google has violated the US Federal Wiretap Act. This law protects people from the interception of private communications. Originally intended to protect wireline phone conversations, it has been expanded over the years to include other communications. The suit is asking for $5 billion in damages.

The case alleges that Google continues to track users, even when a browser is set to privacy mode. This includes Edge's InPrivate browsing but focuses on Chrome's Incognito Mode. The claim is that Google offers a private browsing experience that doesn't protect users from being tracked. The suit says that Google "cannot continue to engage in the covert and unauthorized data collection from virtually every American with a computer or phone."

The problem with the suit is that it is based on a false understanding of Incognito Mode. While it does provide added privacy features, those features are not related to external communications. Instead, Incognito Mode is intended to protect your privacy locally. It allows you to visit websites on a computer without maintaining a local record of that browsing history. While the company may not advertise this version of history, this privacy was created to allow browsing adult content without others who might use your computer knowing what you looked at.

Every time you open a new Incognito tab, you are greeted with some information that describes the nature of the feature. "Now you can browse privately, and other people who use this device won't see your activity." It goes on to say,

Your activity might still be visible to:
  • Websites you visit
  • our employer or school
  • Your internet service provider

Clearly, Google intends to fight this suit. With the information provided to all users about how the feature works, it likely won't be a difficult fight.

Epic Games Store could be coming to mobile to fight walled gardens

posted Sunday Jun 7, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Epic Games Store could be coming to mobile to fight walled gardens

It is no secret that Epic Games has a dislike for the status quo. The company recently changed the licensing for Unreal Engine to make it free until a game has made a million dollars. They also recently launched a low-cost publishing service, bucking the industry norm. Even the Epic Games Store has taken an altered approach to the concept, taking a far smaller percentage. However, their biggest fight has been against the walled gardens of the mobile operating systems.

When Fortnite launched on mobile, it skipped the Google Play Store. Part of the reasoning was because of Google's high commission on sales. To avoid those fees on in-app purchases, which are the lifeblood of a free-to-play game, they required gamers to sideload the app. This created a major security risk but also showed Google that they were serious about fighting the powers. The company eventually relented, making the app available in the store, but the attitude towards the store has not changed.

The next phase of the fight could be bringing the Epic Games Store to mobile platforms. There are other distribution platforms available in the store now, for both Android and iOS. One major example is Microsoft's App Center, which allows developers to distribute test versions of their software to devices without needing to go through the closed platform store. It is possible that Epic is planning to follow this same technological process to allow game developers to get their apps to gamers without the need for the store and without the need for Apple and Google's 30 percent commissions.

It would be interesting to see if Apple or Google would allow such a product in the store. There is a big difference between distributing test versions of an app intended for store distribution to a limited number of testers and bypassing the stores entirely for mass distribution.

Some users defend Zoom's decision not to encrypt all meetings

posted Sunday Jun 7, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Some users defend Zoom's decision not to encrypt all meetings

When it comes to privacy and security, Zoome has not been a success story. A year ago, an issue in the software allowed anyone to turn on a Mac's webcam without the owner's permission or knowledge and uninstalling Zoom didn't remove the exploit. This year, we have seen Zoom bombing become the norm, with people joining meetings that they are not invited to. To combat its image, the company has announced that it intends to encrypt meetings from end-to-end, but that new feature comes with a caveat: not everyone gets it.

Unfortunately, only paid Zoom users will be able to use encrypted meetings. However, many of the people who use the software and are at risk are the ones using it for free. The internet has generally not been kind to the company in response to the announcement. The general consensus is that the reasoning behind the decision is to encourage users to pay for the software. It's a fairly common sales plan to make features that are in high demand paid. However, it is not common to hide security behind a paywall.

While most have been unhappy with Zoom's decision, a small group has defended the company's decision. That is because of the bizarre justification that the company'gave for the decision. Rather than saying that it is a sales move, which of course it is, they cloaked it in child protection. By leaving these conversations unencrypted, they will be able to work with law enforcement in instances where child exploitation content is involved.

The biggest issue with this theory is that the only publicly documented cases where Zoom meetings have involved any child exploitation content have been meetings where people have Zoom bombed. That would mean that the lack of encryption would be there to turn over information about the end result of the company's own security flaws. Either way, it's not a good look to have known security flaws in your product and only offer a partial patch to some people.

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