The UpStream

UK Plans to Create Google Tax, an Inappropriately Named Tax Dodger Punishment

posted Sunday Dec 7, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Right now, Internet taxation has become all the rage. Several countries, the world over, have considered or implemented taxes on Internet purchases, sometimes with huge public backlash. The United Kingdom seems to have taken the concept and expanded it, planning to punish companies that generate revenue in the UK, but divert the profits to other countries where taxation is lessened.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced what is being called the "diverted profit tax" but is better known as the "Google tax," despite the fact that its intended audience is not necessarily even Internet companies, nor is it exactly a tax. He said at the announcement,

Today I am introducing a 25 percent tax on profits generated by multinationals from economic activity here in the UK which they then artificially shift out of the country. That's not fair to other British firms. It's not fair to the British people either. My message is consistent and clear. Low taxes; but taxes that will be paid.

First, this is not exactly a tax, so much as a tariff. The British government looks to impose a fee on the exportation of profits, not on the actual revenue generated through business, which would be a tax. It is, ironically, very similar to what they did once before, and is today known as the Intolerable Acts which ultimately sparked the American Revolution. Once again, this tariff is targeted at the former colonies, as most of the affected businesses are US in origin.

Second, this is not about Google, so much as it is about foreign interests. Google, however, has been a major target of European regulation lately, so it makes some sense for them to associate the act with the search giant. In addition to Google, Amazon and Starbucks are also major targets, as they have been well-known to divert profits to other, international divisions instead of realizing them in the UK.

While this coercive act might work to their advantage, it is more likely that it will backfire. In 2010, Google proved to the world that they were not afraid to leave a market over a government disagreeance. It is far more likely that Google would shut down UK operations than bow down to a 25 percent tariff, whose only purpose is to force payment of a tax which is clearly higher than that from other countries. Perhaps, if the UK would like to see their economy not collapse like Greece, they might try lowering the percentage a foreign entity pays rather than trying to extort more money out of them. If it was financially reasonable for these companies to pay taxes in the UK, they would - it is not an inexpensive task to divert profits to other divisions.

Rovio to Lay Off 110 Employees and Close Studio, Proves That Fame is Fleeting

posted Sunday Dec 7, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Rovio to Lay Off 110 Employees and Close Studio, Proves That Fame is Fleeting

If ever there was a company that embodied the ideals of fame, it is Rovio. When their hit game Angry Birds hit the scene, it was a near instant success. Everyone was playing it on every platform - it even made its way to webOS. Then, almost as quickly, came the merchandise, both official and not. You couldn't go to a fan convention or comic shop without a vendor selling plushies, shirts, etc.

However, as Rovio has discovered this year, the old adage "fame is fleeting" is always true. Their userbase has declined heavily, leading to a major crash in profitability for the company. The company has also had trouble finding something that isn't Angry Birds to publish, ironically leaving all of their eggs in one basket.

As a result, the company will lay off 110 employees and close its Tampere studio. The publisher plans to consolidate its Finnish operations at their headquarters in Espoo. The layoffs are lower than first expected, leaving about 20 extra employees with jobs at the company.

Rovio was once considered the face of a new gaming industry, and looked to be headed to a large, successful IPO. Unfortunately for the company, it is the face of a new gaming industry - one that includes Zynga, which has had nearly identical issues since filing its IPO, and King. This new industry is populated by individuals or small teams who have a marketable idea, receive intense amounts of funding and stall out. It takes a lot of talent, and certainly more funding that these companies receive, to be able to milk a franchise the way Activision does, and for as long.

Verizon Begins Process of Retiring 3G Network

posted Sunday Dec 7, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Verizon Begins Process of Retiring 3G Network

In the world of cellular technology, everything comes to an end. Eventually analog networks gave way to digital. First generation gave way to second, and so on. Sometimes the transitions are easy, like retiring analog years after all phones in the wild supported digital radios. Sometimes they can be difficult and expensive, like when Cingular shut down their TDMA network, requiring many customers to make the switch from phones they liked, some being nearly new.

Verizon, the largest US carrier, followed by AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, has begun the latest process of network retirements, with a plan to transition all customers to LTE-only. Unfortunately for Verizon, this transition requires a lot of preparations. For example, like with Cingular, all customers will have to have devices that support LTE, which is not necessarily the case today. While it may seem like all phones support LTE today, they don't. Think about your last family gathering where you saw a flip phone. That device does not support LTE and will be completely useless after this transition.

But it's not just LTE that these devices need to support; they also need support for Voice over LTE (VoLTE). What devices currently support this technology? Well, a number of the top-end Windows Phones, Android phones and the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus from Apple. If you just upgraded your phone to an iPhone 5s, you will not be able to use that handset after this upgrade completes. There are also many other devices not compatible - it is a far easier list to find all compatible handsets.

Secondly, Verizon needs to ensure that all of its network is LTE compatible, and that they won't cut off customers who can currently use their phone if they do retire 3G. For example, at our former office in Tampa, we had no access to LTE coverage on Verizon. No matter the handset, 3G was the best we could hope for in the area. Turning off the 3G network today would leave that area without Verizon coverage of any sort.

The good news here is that this transition will not happen any time soon. Verizon has not officially announced their intentions; they have simply begun running tests in markets like Manhattan. One user discovered that their 3G access had vanished and, several hours later, was replaced by LTE running on the same spectrum. The fact that Verizon has not made this process public yet is an important indicator to the timeline. When Cingular turned off TDMA, they made their plans known well over a year before the transition began.

Additionally, Verizon's plans do not call for the launch of an LTE-only device until 2016. While that may not be entirely indicative of their timeline, it does help. An LTE-only phone would not necessarily help Verizon in this process, or even be related. Even if Verizon does not support 3G going forward, removing the radio from the handset would serve to limit the phone's roaming capabilities, both domestically and abroad. It might actually be a mistake for them to attempt an LTE-only device at all.

Once a transition like this is complete, Verizon can use the spectrum currently dedicated to supporting older technology to help them feed the need for LTE spectrum, which will ironically only increase with the transition. LTE, however, is far less spectrum-hungry than its older counterparts, which required separate spectrum for data and voice, but ran on a single radio. This means that they can get more out of the spectrum once converted to LTE.

Lizard Squad Takes Down Xbox Live Twice

posted Sunday Dec 7, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Lizard Squad Takes Down Xbox Live Twice

If you were trying to connect to your Xbox 360 or last week but were unsuccessful, it wasn't because of your Internet connection. Instead, Lizard Squad, the same group behind the PlayStation Network outage last month and for calling in a fake bomb threat on an International flight, has taken claim for the attacks on Xbox's networks.

A Microsoft spokesperson has commented on the matter, only saying that service was interrupted.

On December 5, 2014, some of our customers experienced an Xbox service interruption. We worked quickly to resolve and address the issue and services are being restored to normal.

It should be pointed out that Xbox networks were also down on Tuesday the 2nd. The group's Twitter account, upon Xbox Live having connection problems, simply wrote, "Xbox Live #offline." Shortly after, however, Lizard Squad said that.

Unlike Santa, we don't like giving all of our Christmas presents out on one day. This entire month will be entertaining. #LizardSquad

Lizard Squad has even said that Christmas Day should be an "entertaining" time as well, then went on to take down a Steam server seemingly just for fun. Of course, all of this has sparked outrage within the gaming community, with users creating petitions on the White House website to stop the "infamous" Lizard Squad.

I think the real kicker is how all of this came to be. Based on the Twitter account, the group asked what the next target should be, and a follower responded with, "Xbox." I think this further proves that we should never rely on random Twitter users for ideas for anything.

Sony Pictures Data Breach Worse Than Expected

posted Sunday Dec 7, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Sony Pictures Data Breach Worse Than Expected

Last week, Sony Pictures had their servers attacked again, with hacker group Guardians of Peace walking away with other 100 terabytes of data. While the 40 GB sample that GOP released contained an large amount of highly-sensitive information, including unreleased movies and scripts, the entire backlog of data was released shortly after and its contents are remarkable.

On the surface it didn't seem like the end of the world. Sure there were Outlook .pst files, internal financial reports and passwords to the payroll, FTP and security services for many countries, but the release of the entire package makes this go from bad to worse. In its entirety, the data grabbed also holds background checks, salary consideration letters, doctors' letters, other medical records and social security numbers. It would appear the simple days of taking usernames and passwords of customers are over.

With the nature of the attack so severe, there is a lot of speculation as to who is actually behind all of this. Rumors floated around that it could've been internal or that North Korea could somehow be involved, but now investigators might have gotten closer to the source. New information has come in that has led officials to believe the Sony Pictures data breach originated from a room at the St. Regis, a five-star hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. Further, the individuals responsible are said to be tied with DarkSeoul, a hacker group based out of North Korea. It is unknown at this time whether or not this was carried out from a common area or a guest room, but web traffic logs point to St. Regis' Wi-Fi.

Could James Franco and Seth Rogen have really caused this level of outrage within North Korea, to the point where the country hired cyber assassins to take out Sony? So far North Korea has publicly denied all allegations but called the act a "righteous deed" and that it may have been done by "supporters and sympathizers (sic)" of the country.

Cheap Tablets Purchased on Black Friday Contain Severe Security Vulnerabilities

posted Sunday Nov 30, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

If you ever needed another reason to avoid the cheap $40 tablet from a drug store, here's one that should put your desire to own shoddy hardware to bed. Researchers at Bluebox Labs picked up twelve different budget tablets on Black Friday and have discovered that most of them shipped with exploits, vulnerabilities and security bugs.

The devices purchased were:

$49.99 DigiLand from Best Buy

$39.99 RCA Mercury from Target

$39.99 Mach Speed Xtreme from Kmart

$49.99 Polaroid from Walgreens

$49.99 Zeki from Kohl's

$39.99 Mach Speed JLab Pro from Staples

$49.99 Craig 7 from Fred's Super Dollar

$49.99 Pioneer 7 from Walmart

$49.00 Nextbook from Walmart

$49.99 Ematic from Walmart

$69.99 RCA from Walmart

$47.32 Worryfree Zeepad from Walmart

Bluebox Labs posted its findings on the company blog,

Bluebox Labs purchased over a dozen of these Black Friday 'bargain' Android tablets from big name retailers like Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Kmart, Kohl's and Staples, and reviewed each of them for security. What we found was shocking: most of the devices ship with vulnerabilities and security misconfigurations; a few even include security backdoors. What seemed like great bargains turned out to be big security concerns. Unfortunately, unsuspecting consumers who purchase and use these devices will be putting their mobile data and passwords at risk. We recommend that you avoid conducting online banking, making purchases or storing sensitive data on these devices - if you do, you will be putting your data at risk.

Essentially, these things should be used for two purposes: Bing searching and as a paperweight. So what's the details in the security leaks? Well, according to the results, some of the tablets contained little flaws, like sending information that's supposed to be encrypted as unencrypted. Others, however, still shipped with the Heartbleed vulnerability. Bluebox says that there is a free guide you can use to help fix some of the issues in these cheap tablets, but it won't solve devices that are completely insecure, like the Polaroid tablet at Walgreens.

In the end, so goes the old addage, "you get what you pay for." Did you buy any of these tablets on Black Friday or in the past? Are you planning on still giving them out as gifts or are you heading back to the store for a return? Let us know in the comments section.

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