With every major company, there is always a change for a security exploit or data breach to creep up. How the company reacts to it usually defines its culture and character. This week, Microsoft accidentally leaked some sensitive data that could expose Xbox users to identify theft issues.
In an advisory posted this week as part of the usual security updates, Microsoft said that private keys and security certificates to Xbox Live were "inadvertently disclosed." The company did not specify how it happened, however the good news is that Microsoft swiftly took care of the problem.
The team has since revoked the trusted certificate, rendering it useless to any would-be attacker. If this hadn't occurred, any person with malicious intent could have set up a website to act like xboxlive.com, thus intercepting a secure connection to the real site. From there, unaware users could have given the fake website username and password information, which runs the risk of being opened up to identify theft. Microsoft says that it is not aware of any issues or attacks surrounding the leaked data, and as mentioned, moved quickly to solve the problem.
This matter proves not only as a reminder to users to be careful with what websites they visit and programs they download, but also reminds users to place their trust in companies that take data security seriously. In the past, other tech giants have not reacted as rapidly, while others chose to simply ignore the issue like it never happened. While some may pick and poke at Microsoft, the security team at the Redmond-based software company issues a dozen or so updates per week in order to protect its millions of users from new flaws as soon as they sprout up. That is a culture that cares for its users and is a character that can be respected.
In what feels like something out of the blue and completely unlike the organization, the United States Department of Transportation has issued a challenge to cities across the country with the goal of redefining the nation's transportation system. The DOT has partnered with Vulcan Inc in order to launch the Smart City Challenge.
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced this week that the DOT wants cities from all ends of the US to come up with a plan that uses data, technology and creativity, and then implement those things into a newly-envisioned transit ecosystem. The winning city will be given $40 million from the Department of Transportation itself, which will allow the city to take their ideas from paper to real life. Vulcan Inc also announced that it will throw in another $10 million to the victor.
Back in February, the US DOT submitted a Beyond Traffic report that showed how inferior our current transportation system is, especially in mid-sized cities. In the report, the Department said that it sees an old infrastructure that is not smart nor efficient, and new regions in the country are not equipped to handle an increasing population. The DOT's move to partner with a private company is one that the two teammates hope will demonstrate a push for new ideas and calculated risk-taking. The agency sees the competition as not only awarding one city $40 million, but will also give other cities the ability to learn from each other to improve their own networks.
In the announcement, Foxx said,
This is an opportunity for the winning city to define what it means to be a 'Smart City' when it comes to transportation. We encourage cities to develop their own unique vision, partnerships and blueprints to demonstrate to the world what a fully integrated, forward-looking transportation network looks like. America can remain the global leader in maintaining the safest, most efficient system in the world: I am looking for Mayors who share that belief to join us in pushing the boundaries of what is possible.
The Smart City Challenge is already underway, and cities can submit their visions until February 4th, 2016. The DOT will then pick five finalists in March, with those cities competing for the $40 million, which will be awarded to the winner in June. The Smart City Challenge winner will then showcase its ideas to the nation.
In order to qualify for the Challenge, interested cities must meet certain criteria.
The Department of Transportation will be streaming a Smart City Forum on December 15th, which will outline the Challenge in greater detail, along with requirements, the selection process and answer any questions cities may have.
- Mid-sized city with a population between approximately 200,000 and 850,000 people within city limits as of the 2010 Census
- A population density typical of a mid-sized city using 2010 Census data
- Represents a significant portion (more than 15%) of the overall population of its urban area using 2010 Census data
- An established public transportation system
- An environment that is conducive to demonstrating proposed strategies
- Leadership and capacity to carry out the demonstration throughout the period of performance
Disney's Fan-Hammer is well documented. They have gone after fan art of all types over the years with strong legal actions. The most surprising of these was their takedown notice against a Florida preschool that had painted a mural with Disney characters in their school. Disney made them remove it, which they did with the help of Universal artists who replaced it at no cost.
This week's story of Disney legal action falls into a similar level of insanity. Justin Kozisek, a member of podcast Star Wars Action News, posted a photo he took of a product he purchased on Facebook. He was excited, because the product was an action figure of Rey from the next Star Wars film, one he had never seen before, either in person or in photo. Shortly after posting the photo, it was shared wide and far, as fans of the podcast were just as excited about his Wal-Mart find.
Nearly as quickly as the photo went viral it also caught the attention of Disney/Lucasfilm's legal team. They immediately issued a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) notice to Facebook, demanding the photo be removed for violating copyright, since the product was neither public nor even announced. Show runner Marjorie Carvalho responded to Disney explaining exactly what had happened, and her efforts were rewarded with an email from Facebook stating, "The Walt Disney Company has retracted their intellectual property report." Carvalho told Ars Technica,
All we did was write a letter, and a few hours later, it was retracted. It pays to take the high road and get your facts in order, rather than overreacting. I feel good about it, and it's nice that they're recognizing they made a mistake.
Unfortunately, she spoke too soon. Within 10 minutes of the phone interview concluding, the entire post was removed, not just the photo. Disney had issued an identical DMCA notice, this time asking that the post be removed. It is possible that Disney's intentions were to remove the entire post, but couldn't because the infringing image had already been removed from it, hence revoking their initial request only to up the ante. In addition to the takedown, Facebook punished Kozisek personally, blocking him from any posts on the social network for 3 days.
The problem for Disney is that the image is now everywhere, including several eBay listings for "pre-order" products, as well as copies that have continued to spread over social networks, either out of excitement or protest against the takedown notice. It would seem that Kozisek has a good position for fair use, considering it is a personal photo of a legally purchased product that he now owns. He didn't sign an NDA before purchasing the figure from Wal-Mart, nor did he promise not to photograph it. He simply paid retail price and walked out of the store.
Has Disney and/or Lucasfilm overstepped their legal authority here? What is your take on the way they handled things? Let us know in the comments.
While one might see Microsoft over the past few years as a company who has made some unpopular decisions, I prefer to see them as the company in the tech world that is best at listening to its customers. When they announced the always-on requirement of the Xbox One to allow for the power of always-on worlds, Sony convinced gamers that this was a scary scenario despite the fact that reports suggest the PS4 was intended to have the same feature. When the feedback came to Microsoft, they listened to what their customers were saying and removed the feature before launch.
Personally, I think it is great to see a company as large as Microsoft so interested in what their customers think. Responding to the Xbox situation or implementing the Insider program for Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Office and even Solitaire all show a company completely dedicated to producing products that people are interested in using.
Last month, Microsoft made another unpopular announcement: the removal of several OneDrive capabilities, effective soon. Even diehard Microsoft fans were shocked and disappointed in the decision to remove the unlimited storage option, as well as the storage bonuses that many regular users had accumulated for being dedicated customers. Once again, Microsoft heard their customers and will be making changes to their plans before they are implemented.
In this case, OneDrive users who have accumulated bonuses on their accounts for things like auto-syncing their photos can keep those bonuses as well as their 15GB basic storage, but only if you act now. To keep your storage bonuses, you will need to go here and claim your bonuses for Microsoft to allow you to keep them. I would, of course prefer that all customers automatically retain these capabilities, but something is better than nothing. Implementing it this way will allow them to still revoke those bonuses for customers who do not use their accounts regularly, while still making regular users happier.
A number of years ago, I wrote about the problems with crowdfunding, and over the following 3 years we have seen a lot of crowdfunded projects go down the dark path of failure. Once a project is funded, there is no real guarantee that it will succeed as a business with your money. Even if the company does end up producing the product or service, there is no guarantee that it will be as expected.
This leads us to an announcement on a popular Kickstarter project for the Japanese indie game Project Phoenix. The campaign was run in 2013 and funded with a total of $1,014,600 from 15,800 backers. With that much money, you would expect a AAA-quality game, but this is an indie title with the PROMISE of a AAA title. The game was slated to be released mid-2015, but that date came and went with no game.
The company, Creative Intelligence Arts, announced in September that it was having trouble finding and/or keeping talented game designers and programmers to actually produce the game. That, of course, meant that the game was not close, since it suggested that the game hadn't really been started. So, what is this indie studio with AAA aspirations planning to do?
Announced this week, the game is delayed until AT LEAST 2018. That means that the 15,800 backers who gave their hard-earned money to Creative Intelligence Arts have nothing to show for it except an announcement that the company is in over their heads and have not started developing the product that was supposed to have already launched. Scenarios like this do not inspire confidence in the concept of crowdfunding for legitimate companies, like Double Fine.
This is part of the reason why only qualified investors were legally permitted to get involved in legitimate corporate financing, until recently. Regulations were in place to prevent the general populace from getting fleeced on larger amounts of money than are involved in a general Kickstarter campaign. It is time that the companies that facilitate these campaigns, namely Kickstarter and Indiegogo, start creating scenarios to protect their customers, the backers, from getting fleeced on campaigns like this one or the Kreyos Meteor.
Although many do not know this, electric vehicles have a very long history. Electric vehicles first hit the scene in the mid-19th century and was actually the preferred method of propulsion for quite a while. The internal combustion engine took over the market in consumer vehicles about 100 years ago, but electric has continued to hold a major stake in other types of vehicles, such as trains.
For consumer vehicles, electric came back into fashion at the end of the 20th century, when Saturn released the EV1. It was never mass-marketed, nor was it mass-produced. It did create mass buzz, though, generating enough interest in the state of California that Ford, Toyota and more got into the market as well. As the companies started producing the vehicles, the state got excited with the technology and created legislation demanding the mass production of these vehicles. The companies responded by stopping all production and revoking the leases in the wild.
The companies were able to crush the vehicles, but they couldn't crush the market interest in them. Eventually, these same companies began releasing hybrids, which began to ease the vehicles into the market. Over time they began releasing electric vehicles again, and new companies like Tesla got into the market, pushing the technology quicker.
This week, Ford has announced that they will dedicate $4.5 billion into electric vehicles over the coming 5 years. The company will use the investment to enhance their existing electric vehicles, as well as adding 13 new EVs to the lineup. Their first enhancement will be changing the charging process in the Focus Electric, allowing it to rapid charge to 80% in 30 minutes. That 80% will give drivers about 100 miles of drive time, easing some of the fears GM, Ford and Toyota tried to instill into the public during the last round.
Are you excited about Ford making 40% of their vehicles electric over the next 5 years? Let us know in the comments.