The UpStream

Fortnite is officially a high school sport, robotics still isn't

posted Friday Jan 24, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Fortnite is officially a high school sport, robotics still isn't

There is no doubt that eSports is quickly growing into an American classic. Platforms like Twitch and Mixer have made it easy for regular home players to watch the pros and learn how to play at a higher level. They have also made it easier for new players to be discovered. In the US, though, the most common recruiting tool for professional sports is through high school competition. Because of that, the announcement that Fortnite is officially recognized as a high school sport could bring that recruiting process to a popular eSports title. Competition will begin in Spring 2020, with infrastructure already in place.

How does a game become an official school sport, though? It is done through an organization called the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the governing body of school sports. Outside of the traditional sports, like football, soccer, and lacrosse, NFHS recognizes Speech, Debate & Theater and eSports as non-traditional sports. eSports works differently from most of the others, in that competition does not take place on a traditional field. To make the process easier for schools, they have partnered with a company called PlayVS, which provides the infrastructure for competition and tournaments.

This brings up a constant topic within our organization - why does the NFHS not recognize robotics as a sport? Videogame titles are fleeting, but engineering is not. FIRST has hosted robotics competitions since 1992 (Maize Craze) and has likely led to more students becoming professionals in the field than all other sports combined. This is because science and engineering are the only sport that any student can go pro. Yet, NFHS does not recognize FIRST or its competitor VEX as an official sport. This distinction prevents students from counting competitions as excused absences and making funding a difficult process. Hopefully, NFHS will fix this because students participating in these activities deserve recognition.

Don't believe the hype - Apple doesn't care about your privacy

posted Friday Jan 24, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Don't believe the hype - Apple doesn't care about your privacy

For the past few years, Apple has constantly talked about their focus on privacy and security. However, their behavior has inconsistently lined up with that claim. Sure, they very publicly denied the FBI's request to decrypt an iPhone that could have contained information about the San Bernadino shooting. The company claimed that once a process for decrypting a device existed, it was a bottle that couldn't be recorked. They also pointed out that the device was encrypted because they made a mistake.

On the other hand, the company recently announced during their first appearance at CES in decades, ironically during a privacy roundtable, that iCloud device backups were not encrypted and, in fact, the company regularly scans those backups. While they tried to justify the behavior by hiding behind the auspices of looking for child exploitation content, it doesn't change the fact that the company is scanning your files. Technologically, for Apple to be able to scan for any particular content, they have to create an index of all of the searchable content. That means that they are indexing your emails, photos, files, and more, whether you like it or not.

It is important to note that the argument made, searching for child exploitation content, is the same argument regularly made by the Justice Department when they talk about wanting to outlaw encryption. This is important to note because a new report from Reuters suggests that the company had been working on encrypting device backups but abandoned them because of a complaint from the FBI. The complaint was that encrypting the data on the device and the cloud would place Apple in violation of warrants, especially in cases of "national security" are in question. Of course, a lack of encryption also led to Apple being able to scan and index your data, as well.

This is far from the first time a technology company has lied about its commitment to user privacy. We do live in the age of Facebook, after all. However, the idea that Apple markets itself as a guardian of user privacy and violates it every day is wrong and potential liability for the company.

Sling joins competitors in raising streaming subscription prices

posted Saturday Dec 28, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Sling joins competitors in raising streaming subscription prices

When Sling appeared at CES to first introduce the idea of a cable subscription delivered as a streaming service, it was an attractive alternative to traditional hardline cable subscriptions. You got your cable and local channels, you could choose a la carte options, and all of it was far less expensive than your regular cable options. However, in the years since that fateful CES, the cable and network landscape has changed significantly. Comcast has taken a tighter hold over the NBCUniversal ecosystem, AT&T owns the Time Warner and Turner networks, as well as DIRECTV and the competing streaming service HBO Now.

Since the content providers and service providers have gotten closer together, their interest in helping one another out has lessened. Why would AT&T or Comcast want to help a company that is undercutting its recurring revenue? The short answer is, they wouldn't. As such, we have seen these services forced to increase their prices over the past few years. We have seen YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, and even AT&T TV NOW (previously called DIRECTV NOW) raise prices because of increased content costs.

Now, Sling is falling victim to the success of the industry they helped to create. Several of the company's packages are seeing price increases, including the popular Blue and Orange packages. Each will run $30 per month going forward, with the pair together running $45 per month. For Sling, this is an uncommon practice, with Blue having never been raised, and Orange being stead for 2 years.

The good news is that along with the price increases come new channels. So, at least you aren't just being charged more for the same content. The company is also adding free cloud storage to these subscriptions, making the price changes a little more acceptable for current and new subscribers.

Cox Communications found liable for its users' internet usage

posted Saturday Dec 28, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Cox Communications found liable for its users' internet usage

In 2018, a coalition of more than 50 companies filed suit against Cox Communication for not limiting the actions of its users on the internet. These companies included some heavy hitters, such as Sony, Universal, and Warner. The issue at hand surrounds piracy on the internet and the company's lack of response to the activity on its network. The music companies argued that Cox Communications was legally responsible for selectively preventing access to certain content on its network.

This week, a jury in a Virginia Federal Court agreed with this argument and awarded this coalition $1 billion in damages. The ruling came after three weeks worth of trial and testimony, in which the coalition argued that Cox Communications was liable for around 10,000 compromised recordings and compositions, which were made available freely through their network infrastructure, which simply provides access to the internet.

This ruling sets a terrifying legal precedent for the future of the internet in the United States. Legally, the responsibility for breaking the law has always been placed on the person who commits the illegal act, not those who unknowingly provide a structure that is compromised to commit the act. Never has the federal government been held responsible for someone using a public road to escape a bank robbery, nor has Ford ever been held responsible for the Simpson murders. That's because the government and Ford did not intend to help these activities.

By holding Cox Communications liable for the actions of those who compromise the intent of the network has two major issues. The first and most obvious is the idea that the court system is encouraging a network operator to pay strict attention to what you are doing on their network and either prevent or report certain activities. That goes against the very nature of the internet, which is intended to be an open and universal experience. Luckily, these companies have a lot of examples to follow, from China, Russia, and others.

Sony is shaking up the DUALSHOCK controller design once again

posted Saturday Dec 28, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Sony is shaking up the DUALSHOCK controller design once again

Over the past 4 generations of PlayStation, Sony has not made a tremendous number of changes to the design of the controller. In fact, there is a popular meme that plays on this common knowledge, though the meme is really about Nintendo, the inverse of Sony. However, a new filing from the company might indicate what is potentially the largest usability upgrade to the controller design ever. While the front panel on the DUALSHOCK 4 controllers might be a big visual change, they turned out to be less of an everyday feature.

This filing, which comes to us care of the World Intellectual Property Organization, shows a controller with two new buttons across the back. For PlayStation fans, the design will look familiar, in the form of the DUALSHOCK 4 Back Button Attachment. This accessory adds two buttons to the back of the current controller, but any time you have an accessory, you have limited support. If a developer cannot guarantee a piece of hardware, they tend to ignore it.

This filing is, in no way, suggests that this design is the official design for the DUALSHOCK 5 controller. However, the idea that Sony might be bringing additional buttons to the next generation controller is exciting. However, the really exciting aspect is the use of these buttons. Rather than being a new set of semi-supported controls, like the touch sensors on the current controls, these new buttons are designed to be customizable. That means that you could set them to be the X and O buttons, allowing for an easier and more natural jump and melee access.

Over the next 6 months, between this publishing and E3 2020, the company will likely nail down the final design of the controller. So, for today, take this design filing with a grain of salt, as everything is subject to change.

Messaging is changing, encryption is more important than ever

posted Saturday Dec 28, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Messaging is changing, encryption is more important than ever

This week saw a couple of revelations about the state of messaging services. An announcement from Facebook reversed a previous policy, with the company now requiring that new users have a Facebook account to use the service's Messenger app. Previously, new users could get access to the Messenger service without the need to create a Facebook profile. For many, a Facebook profile comes along with significant privacy concerns, and the ability to use the Messenger service without a full profile was appealing. However, as the company begins to integrate the various messaging platforms, they seem to be looking for tighter control. This will not affect current users who signed up using a phone number, however.

But Messenger is far from the only player in town creating controversy. And, in reality, it's pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of problems online. A newer app, named ToTok, has made the rounds this week after it was revealed to be a government spy app for the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The name should sound familiar it is similar to the Chinese social video app TikTok, which has also been tied to government surveillance and censorship activities.

ToTok gained popularity because, unlike services like Messenger and WhatsApp, ToTok was available in countries that are likely to censor internet traffic, such as the UAE itself. The platform makes claims about a high level of security but does not mention any level of encryption. That's likely because data transferred through the service is sent through a data-mining firm that then hands the valuable data to DarkMatter, a government hacking firm located in Abi Dhabi. DarkMatter is already under US federal investigation by the FBI for spy-related activity. In addition to messages, user location data and contact lists are also tracked through DarkMatter, under the guise of providing customized recommendations.

All of these incidents bring to light the importance of end-to-end encryption, a feature that the US government is vehemently opposed to, going so far as to look for international support. The argument against the government's insistence is that, without the end-to-end encryption that the government wants to avoid, the US government could have the same power to spy on its citizens that it is complaining about other countries doing.

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