The UpStream

Yahoo! Court Loss Paved Way for PRISM

posted Saturday Sep 13, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Yahoo! Court Loss Paved Way for PRISM

Before Marissa Mayer was made CEO, the name Yahoo had mostly faded from the mainstream. This did not mean that people had stopped using the service; in fact, usage was not down, just not something people talked about. Of course, anywhere people are using a data collecting service, the government takes notice, even when the press does not.

One way the US government took notice of Yahoo in the years before Mayer remade the company's image in the public was in secret, sealed data requests. These requests, and the ones issued to other tech companies, became the basis for a little program named PRISM. PRISM was the program that Edward Snowden, an NSA contractor, sacrificed everything to make public.

What is different about the Yahoo requests is the company's response. When the requests came in, Yahoo declined to turn over the data without an issued warrant; they claimed the warrantless data collection to be "unconstitutional and overbroad," bringing the matter to court. Unfortunately for Yahoo, and the American public, the case did not go well. Yahoo General Counsel said,

Our challenge, and a later appeal in the case, did not succeed. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)... ordered us to give the U.S. Government the user data it sought in the matter.

Despite the court loss, Yahoo still refused to turn over the data, under the same claims of unconstitutional behavior. That's when the government threatened fines: $250,000 per day for non-compliance. They also used the sealed results of the private court case and fines to threaten other companies. When complete, the PRISM program was collecting information constantly from the likes of AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Skype (before and after Microsoft purchase) and YouTube.

All because of Yahoo's loss in court, the US government was able to create the PRISM program, and stock it with data about people all over the world: US citizens and not. It is an interesting notion that Yahoo could have had so much of a secret effect on the globe while having seemingly no public effect.

Marissa would see to it that Yahoo would continue to make a mark in the PRISM case after the Snowden leaks came out. She released a transparency report showing as much information as she was legally permitted to about the nature and targets of the data requests, dating back to 2007. Because of this, other companies on the list also released reports, including Microsoft/Skype.

Microsoft Announces New Xbox 360 Bundles for Holiday

posted Saturday Sep 13, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Announces New Xbox 360 Bundles for Holiday

One of the more interesting pieces of information that came from the Xbox One reveal was Microsoft's commitment to the Xbox 360 platform. In addition to the continued stream of games that would come to the older console, Microsoft also announced a new version of the hardware, helping to solidify the 360's continued existence.

Today we are over a year removed form the announcement of the Xbox One, and nearly a year removed from the release of the console. In the past, this has been the point when a console manufacturer starts to phase out their previous platforms. Not necessarily quickly, but certainly a limiting focus on said platform. The PlayStation 2 had begun to disappear from stores a year after the PlayStation 3 was released; the original Xbox hardware was all but extinct a year removed from the release of the Xbox 360.

So, what about this generation? Well, Microsoft, in addition to the recent white Xbox One, we get to see some other holiday bundles, and the Xbox 360 is front and center. In fact, there are 3 new Xbox 360 holiday bundles, including a brand new color for the console.

First, we have a standard black Xbox 360 4GB Kinect bundle, which comes with Kinect Adventures, Kinect Sports, and Forza Horizon and will retail at Target for $249. Next comes a standard black Xbox 360 500GB console, which will come with Call of Duty: Ghosts and Call of Duty: Black Ops II. The console will also retail for $249 at various retailers. Finally comes the surprise bundle; it is identical to the previous bundle, except it comes in "arctic blue."

The color is bright, vibrant and wonderful, if you are into crazy colored electronics. Myself, I have a bright blue HTC 8Xt and bright red HTC 8X and a red case for my Surface. Because of this, if I was without an Xbox 360 today, I would consider picking up this wonderfully odd-colored Xbox 360 bundle. In addition to the color, this console, as well as the other bundles, all come with a free month of Xbox Live Gold, meaning you could get an additional 2 games through the Games with Gold program.

Are you currently without an Xbox 360? Would these deals, or the crazy color of the final bundle, make you consider adding a 360 to your home theater setup? Let us know in the comments.

New Offline Method to Attack WiFi Routers Exploits Major Flaw

posted Sunday Aug 31, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

With the onslaught of data breaches happening lately, both online and in-store, it almost feels like nothing is safe anymore. You might be feeling a bit skeptical about even stepping foot outside or on the Web, and you might have good reason for feeling that way. This week, a report has come out that could make your palms sweat a little more. Even if you have a secure Wi-Fi password or PIN code for your one-touch WPS option, hackers can still crack the code in under a second.

Swiss researcher 0xcite released a new way to gain entry to those routers with pesky passwords. By simply going around the Wi-Fi Protected Setup button and using offline algorithms and calculations, instead of guessing for a PIN code for hours on end, you can now just take one guess to get in. And usually, you're into the router in the blink of an eye.

How does it work? Well, the presentation in the source link below has the finer details, but the gist of it is that there is an exploit that is found within some similar chipsets used in a lot of routers. The good news is that all routers aren't affected, but those using Broadcom chipsets and ones from another unnamed company can be at risk. The undisclosed company is currently working rapidly on a fix, which is part of the reason it's not being identified.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, the organization responsible for standards and practices in the world of wireless, has said that the vulnerability is probably due more on how a company sets up its wireless networking features and less on Wi-Fi itself. The Alliance has added that users should immediately turn off their WPS setup option and accept that dealing with a secure password might be a better option for now. Wi-Fi Alliance spokeswoman Carol Carrubba explained,

A vendor implementation that improperly generates random numbers is more susceptible to attack, and it appears as though this is the case with at least two devices. It is likely that the issue lies in the specific vendor implementations rather than the technology itself. As the published research does not identify specific products, we do not know whether any Wi-Fi certified devices are affected, and we are unable to confirm the findings.

Broadcom has not commented on the matter yet but 0xcite said they've reached out to both Broadcom and the other company to immediately fix the flaw. Nothing has been stated on a turnaround time for a patch to the problem as of yet, so it's on the user to protect themselves for now.

Hulu Loses Another Company-Owned Series to Netflix

posted Sunday Aug 31, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Hulu Loses Another Company-Owned Series to Netflix

I often wonder if Comcast (NBC), Disney (ABC) and News Corp. (FOX) remember that they jointly own Hulu. It is usually when a company makes an odd decision that helps a service that they are not involved with in a way that hurts Hulu. This week, we discover that Netflix has purchased the rights to stream NBC's 2013 top-rated new series The Blacklist.

This decision comes to us thanks to Sony Pictures TV, who retained the rights for post-season streaming, selling those rights to Netflix for a rumored $2 million per episode. If this number is correct, it would be the most expensive external per-episode series Netflix has ever been involved with. The Walking Dead cost them roughly $1.3 million per episode, Dexter cost them just shy of $2 million per episode, but this would be the first time to breach that $2 million mark.

If you somehow missed the series, NBC placed it in the post-The Voice anchor spot on Monday nights at 10PM, where they also originally launched Revolution, which lost its audience after they moved its night. The series' over-arching storyline and sometimes unpredictable characters released to NBC's largest audience of the season, and ended with the title of No. 1 new program.

In addition to these titles, it also earned another interesting title: most time shifted series of the season. This means that more people watched The Blacklist on DVR or Hulu than any other series. With that title, it is no surprise that Netflix would be interested in getting hold of the rights to this already time shifted series.

With the season 1 successes, NBC is going to try and revitalize Thursday night ratings, moving The Blacklist to ER's old slot at 10 PM after The Super Bowl, which will also be followed immediately by the series. While NBC is making a big broadcast deal about the James Spader led series, Sony Pictures TV is going to try for the same success in streaming on Netflix. If you haven't seen the show yet, you definitely should. It will be available starting September 7th.

Windows Live Messenger is Finally Completely Gone

posted Sunday Aug 31, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Windows Live Messenger is Finally Completely Gone

In 2012, Microsoft announced that it was closing Windows Live Messenger, also known as MSN Messenger, worldwide in favor of its then recently acquired Skype. There was only a single exception: mainland China. While there was no real explanation at the time as to why China was keeping the outdated service which, obviously, would no longer allow out-of-country communication, it was accepted as just another China thing.

As it turns out, the service was operated by a separate company in mainland China, and therefore was not included as part of the abandonment. That Microsoft brand was unable to handle the mobile messaging craze without the support of the parent company, and Chinese users have found more their way over to apps like WhatsApp in exchange for Messenger. Because of this, the final shutdown was inevitable.

The most popular name in the platform for China, though relatively unknown outside, is WeChat, a product developed by Tencent. The product is so popular in China, in fact, that the Chinese counterpart to TechCrunch, TechNode, has a QR code for their corporate WeChat account on the sidebar of their website. If an AOL partner, which still operates AOL Instant Messenger, is using the service over their partner's service, you know the size and scope of the service.

WeChat's developer, Tancent, has a VP who was originally part of Microsoft's MSN service, heading up the Chinese version of MSN Spaces and MSN Shopping. He left in 2006 to build MSN competitors at Tencent. It could explain why WeChat is having the success that they are, having both the backing of a Chinese company and the leadership of someone who knows the inner workings of MSN.

Either way, it is a sad day knowing that the bubbly blue and green icon is officially over worldwide.

Rovio Responding to Market Issues with New CEO

posted Sunday Aug 31, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Rovio Responding to Market Issues with New CEO

First to market is almost never an indicator of overall success in a market. For example, look at the fate of Palm and BlackBerry. Or, where is Myspace today? Mostly relegated to the pages of history. This phenomenon has also affected the casual gaming industry.

As an example, let's look at Zynga, who has not had a successful quarter in what seems like years. Just because they helped to take casual games mainstream doesn't mean they know how to handle the success or to pivot as the industry changes. Another company at the head of the casual trend was Rovio, whose Angry Birds franchise became a worldwide success quickly with sequels constantly coming out. Their early success was so great that even Lucas got involved, licensing Star Wars for one of the many sequels.

Unfortunately, as the casual gaming world has switched from a pay-for-game model to a freemium model, Rovio has had a lot of trouble adapting. Their platform has tried to adjust to this particular change, but they have still had no luck in generating revenue, which has led to a management change at the company. CEO Mikael Hed will be stepping down this year, to be replaced by Nokia veteran and current Chief Commercial Officer Pekka Rantala. Mr. Hed said of his time as CEO (in which he usually wore a red Angry Birds hoodie in public,

It has been an amazing ride. In the coming months, I will be very happy to pass the hoodie to Pekka Rantala, who will take Rovio to the next level.

This change serves to highlight an overall problem in the gaming industry, which has been more prevalent in the new social startups than even the established developers. The issue is an inability to change the thing that made them popular when they got started to adjust to a changing marketplace. While Rovio has had trouble with freemium, Zynga has had trouble backing away from Facebook. Both of these companies will have responded, maybe successfully, by changing the leadership that kept them in the dark.

Big developers have the same issues, often focusing down on a single franchise until it inevitably sinks the ship. Activision had previously focused on Guitar Hero, until ultimately disbanding the brand, only to replace it with Call of Duty. They then purchased Blizzard, which has a soft spot for the franchise, with a particular focus on World of Warcraft. If the revenue from that game were to suddenly disappear, the company would certainly fold.

Unfortunately no franchise can survive forever; people eventually want diversity, and a never-changing game is not the way to achieve it. Hopefully Rovio will be able to figure out how to take advantage of a freemium model with new management.

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