The UpStream (Page 2)

FTC files antitrust suit against Facebook with support of 47 states

posted Sunday Dec 13, 2020 by Scott Ertz

FTC files antitrust suit against Facebook with support of 47 states

In the year 2020, there are very few things that are generally agreed upon. The United States seems to be split down the middle on nearly every topic, except one - Facebook is a problem, though we cannot agree on the exact problem. Some see Facebook's actions as allowing "hate speech" to thrive, while others believe that the platform censors viewpoints it disagrees with. No matter the reason, it seems that most everyone believes that the platform has too much power over the spread of information in the country.

As evidence of this unusual cultural agreement, a pair of antitrust lawsuits have been filed against the company. The first was filed by the Federal Trade Commission, and the second was filed by a coalition of 47 out of the 50 States. In particular, the two suits allege that the company has gone out of its way to ensure that any competition is eliminated, often through acquisition.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, speaking for the States, said,

By using its vast troves of data and money, Facebook has quashed or hindered what the company perceived as potential threats. In an effort to maintain its market dominance, Facebook has employed a strategy to impede competing services.

That suit is asking that the States have approval over any new acquisition valued at over $10 million. That number is far below the level that the government usually gets involved with but is intended to stop the practice of purchasing and shuttering services that could cause them trouble in the future.

FTC Bureau of Competition Director Ian Conner, speaking for the FTC, said,

Facebook's actions to entrench and maintain its monopoly deny consumers the benefits of competition. Our aim is to roll back Facebook's anticompetitive conduct and restore competition so that innovation and free competition can thrive.

The FTC is hoping to pull apart the company into some of its individual pieces. For example, it looks like a win for the FTC would end with Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp being three independent, unrelated corporations. This split would require an unbelievable amount of disintegration internally, as internal features have been completely merged, potentially in an attempt to prevent just such a move from the US government.

Both of these cases will be long and arduous, though they seem to have far more general support than many of the previous antitrust cases brought against tech companies, including Microsoft and Google.

Xbox Cloud Gaming is finally headed to PCs and iOS this Spring

posted Sunday Dec 13, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Xbox Cloud Gaming is finally headed to PCs and iOS this Spring

Since Microsoft first launched its Xbox Cloud Gaming preview, the testing strategy has raised questions. While the service was available to test through Apple's TestFlight system on iPhone and iPad to a limited number of users, Apple's App Store policies prevented the service from launching on those platforms. While that can be excused as a misunderstanding of the policies, which have been slightly amended, it's still not enough.

In addition, there has been one major and surprising omission - Windows. Though the game streaming from a console first launched on Windows through the Windows 10 Xbox app and is expanding to other platforms now, Xbox Cloud Gaming is still completely missing from the Windows 10 app. Fortunately, in Spring 2021, both of these issues will be solved. The move was revealed by Jerret West, who is responsible for Microsoft Gaming, in an Xbox blog post, saying,

In Spring 2021, we will take the next step in our journey to reach more players around the world by making cloud gaming as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate available on Windows PCs through the Xbox app and browser, and iOS devices through mobile web browser. By adding over a billion devices as a path to playing in the Xbox ecosystem, we envision a seamless experience for all types of players; whether it's playing Minecraft Dungeons with your Xbox friends using touch controls on an iPhone, or jumping into a Destiny 2: Beyond Light strike on a Surface Pro when you have a break between meetings.

For iOS, running inside of the web browser is not an ideal solution, but one that has worked for Google Stadia already. The irony of this is that it both reverts development for the iPhone to the early days before the App Store, and provides additional evidence that Apple's policies are anti-competitive.

For Windows, it's about time. The company's development tools should make building for and testing on Windows 10 far easier than the other platforms, yet here we are. It will be interesting to see if the inclusion of Windows on the platform will also bring Windows games to the platform, or if we will continue to only have access to Xbox games on the PC.

Early iPhone app store, Cydia, sues Apple over monopolistic behavior

posted Friday Dec 11, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Early iPhone app store, Cydia, sues Apple over monopolistic behavior

Apple is often credited with creating the integrated app store for the iPhone, but it's not really an accurate remembrance of history. In reality, the iPhone launched without the ability to use 3rd party apps. All that was available were Apple's small number of built-in apps, and 3rd party developers were encouraged to build mobile web apps that would run in Safari. However, users looking to upgrade their iPhone from a media device (the initial categorization for the iPhone) to a smartphone quickly learned how to jailbreak their devices. This allowed for app stores, such as Cydia, to be installed onto the iPhone, bringing app installations to the platform.

Cydia was available long before the official App Store and made it possible to install additional apps onto the iPhone and iPod Touch. Once the App Store launched, Cydia continued to evolve, adding the ability for users to customize their lock screens and home screens in ways that Apple did not allow but the operating system did. Over the years, Apple has implemented some of the features from Cydia, like a quick launch for the camera, all while preventing users from using officially using Cydia.

Following the trend in the industry, Cydia has sued Apple, claiming that the practice of preventing the alternate app store from being installed on the company's devices, despite being fully functional and popular, is illegal anticompetitive behavior. The lawsuit states,

Were it not for Apple's anticompetitive acquisition and maintenance of an illegal monopoly over iOS app distribution, users today would actually be able to choose how and where to locate and obtain iOS apps, and developers would be able to use the iOS app distributor of their choice.

Cydia is not the first to make this claim. Epic Games has made this same argument, stating that Apple is free to prevent apps from entering its own App Store, but only if they make alternates available. Otherwise, blocking any apps, like Fortnite from the App Store can be seen as anticompetitive.

WarnerMedia to run all 2021 films on HBO Max the same day as theaters

posted Sunday Dec 6, 2020 by Scott Ertz

WarnerMedia to run all 2021 films on HBO Max the same day as theaters

Most industries have been hard hit by the global lockdowns, but those that involve being with other people you don't know have had a really rough go of it. Some of these industries have had some recovery, partially because there are no real alternatives. However, movie theaters have struggled because films have delayed their release dates, like Wonder Woman 1984 or moved to streaming services, like Mulan. Things are going to continue to get difficult for theaters, as WarnerMedia has announced that the entire spate of 2021 films will premiere on HBO Max, the company's own streaming service, the same day they land in theaters.

Some of the films that will be releasing this way will be Dune and The Matrix 4. Both of these films have been highly anticipated, despite the history of both franchises. Dune has never produced a good movie, and The Matrix lost its shine after the original. However, these releases, as well as WarnerMedia's other films, could have been a big part of the turnaround for theaters.

This policy came about because of the decision to use this strategy for Wonder Woman 1984, which will finally release in theaters and on HBO Max this Christmas. While the company worked this plan out with theaters ahead of time, they did not consult the theaters about future films. With this announcement, theater owners are not happy. AMC's CEO Adam Aron believes that the move has nothing to do with safety, but instead believes its a business move. He said,

Clearly, Warner Media intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division, and that of its production partners and filmmakers, to subsidize its HBO Max startup. As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We will aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business.

So, expect this move to be fought by AMC, who will have some control over the terms of the release agreement. While this may not be a win for AMC, it could be a win for some consumers. HBO Max costs $15 per month and will not charge extra for the new releases the way Disney+ has with theirs. However, if you were hoping to use a free trial to see Diana Prince, you're out of luck, as HBO Max no longer offers free trials. It is still not available on the Roku platform, meaning the top streaming platform is not able to play.

Salesforce agrees to pay $27.7 billion to acquire Slack platform

posted Sunday Dec 6, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Salesforce agrees to pay $27.7 billion to acquire Slack platform

Over the past few years, the number of chat apps has grown in a way that defies explanation. Part of that industry has been chat and communication platforms intended for groups, particularly in business. Several years ago, the nearly undisputed leader in that space was Slack, a service that mimicked the bulletin board systems of the 80s and 90s, without some of the more popular features. Move forward a few years, and the company has been valued at nearly $30 billion because of the company's sale to Salesforce.

Salesforce is likely hoping to improve its communication offerings. The company's existing product, Chatter, has not received a lot of positive attention. In the growing environment of work from home, the value of communication platforms has become even more important to companies. But Slack has struggled to keep up with demand, so perhaps under the Salesforce umbrella, the service will be able to add features that are wanted to compete with the emerging industry leader, Microsoft Teams.

The sale comes after the brand's lead has diminished, with the bulk of the focus moving to Microsoft's Teams platform. While Slack has struggled to implement simple features that businesses have wanted, Microsoft has been able to adapt to the needs of its customers. Plus, Microsoft's existing relationship with businesses, through Windows, Windows Server, Azure, Microsoft 360, and more, has made the integration easy.

The history of the relationship between the two brands is more complicated. Microsoft offered to purchase Slack several years ago, which the company was not interested in at the time. After the rejection, Microsoft took to retiring Skype for Business and replace it with the newly developed Teams.

Microsoft and Salesforce once had a very positive relationship, though it seems to have diminished over the years. It started to fall apart in 2012, when Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff insulted Microsoft and Windows 8. Now, the companies will be in even tighter competition, since Slack and Teams are going to be at the forefront of both companies' brands within businesses.

Fortnite created challenges for streamers with Nexus War event

posted Sunday Dec 6, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Fortnite created challenges for streamers with Nexus War event

The world of videogame streaming continues to get more challenging. While more people than ever are streaming their own gameplay, and more people are watching others play, the industry is going through industry growing pains. The most recent challenge against the norms in videogame streaming comes thanks to Fortnite, who accidentally created a new challenge for streamers on Twitch and YouTube with the latest event, Nexus War.

For those who do not know, Fortnite regularly runs specialized events. These often involve licensed characters, special music, and run for a limited amount of time. Nexus War, which ran last week, included all of these features. The event saw players battle against the Marvel character Galactus in a ten-minute fight. As part of this fight, players were treated to AC/DC's Demon Fire while on the Battle Bus. For standard players, having music that you recognize played while psyching yourself up for a battle is great, but for streamers, it could be a disaster.

The problem, of course, comes in through the DMCA strike system. While the name comes from YouTube, the concept is universal. The owner of the rights to media, whether it be audio, video, still images, etc., can strike user generated content on platforms like Twitch and YouTube if the use violates their rights. Twitch and its users have long ignored the law, using whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. It ended with users getting emails about deletion, for which Twitch has apologized.

However, this clump of emails signaled the beginning of changes to the way Twitch is looked at from Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). RIAA has begun issuing strikes against streamers for using music in their streams for which they do not have the rights. This will likely include AC/DC's Demon Fire, as Epic Games did not secure streaming rights to the song - only in-game rights. However, Epic Games will not be involved in any violation claims because of the songs - that will come down to the streamers themselves.

We are beginning to see game developers include a "royalty free" music option in their games to make things easier for streamers. Epic Games is not yet one of those studios, meaning that streamers either cannot play Fortnite, have to mute part of the game's load process, or risk strikes. None of these options are great for small streamers who may not know about the laws that restrict their ability to stream the first 60 seconds of a game.

All industries see growing pains, but in this case it's the customers that are in peril - not the providers. This is a problem that will need to be solved quickly if Twitch wants to maintain its growth and streamer interest.

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