The UpStream (Page 15)

HBO Go is being retired, leaving some customers without access

posted Saturday Jun 13, 2020 by Scott Ertz

HBO Go is being retired, leaving some customers without access

With the official release of HBO Max, the confusion over the brand's streaming strategy has expanded. The expanded lineup became HBO Go, HBO Now, and HBO Max. For customers and potential customers, the question over which service was which and who got which features was difficult to keep straight. In fact, in our last conversation about the topic on the show, even we weren't able to keep straight which was which. But, it's about to become far simpler.

The HBO Go app is the way that existing subscribers to the traditional HBO TV service can stream current and past HBO programming on their mobile devices, web, and smart TVs. As of the end of July 2020, the HBO Go platform will be retired in favor of the other two platforms. When HBO Go goes away, HBO Now will be renamed to simply HBO, but its features will remain unchanged. Replacing HBO Go for existing customers is HBO Max, which contains the existing content, plus new licensed content.

While getting HBO Max instead of HBO Go is a theoretical win, for some users it's going to be a major loss. Those users are owners of Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices. If you're keeping track of streaming statistics, you'll know that these two platforms represent 70 percent of streaming devices. Why is this going to be a loss for 70 percent of streaming devices? Because, while HBO Go is available on both platforms, HBO Max is not available. So, if you are a subscriber to HBO and reply on one of these devices to access your streaming content, you are about to lose part of your subscription.

To add insult to injury, the reasoning for sunsetting Go is that Max is "widely available." But, can the app be considered "widely available" if it is missing 70 percent of the streaming device market? We'll see if the company manages to get the app to these platforms before the end of July, but I wouldn't hold your breath.

Internet Archive shuts down National Emergency Library early

posted Saturday Jun 13, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Internet Archive shuts down National Emergency Library early

When the lockdown began, it created a ton of problems for nearly everyone. From food shortages to lost jobs, it affected everyone. But, one of the most visible things was the closure of schools and libraries, creating real problems for students. In an attempt to rectify the situation, the Internet Archive decided to clear out the waitlist for its ebook loaning program. They called the altered program the National Emergency Library, which made the ebooks in the library available to everyone for free, regardless of the availability of the titles. Now, that decision is having expected repercussions for the organization.

The Internet Archive did not get licensing to loan these books without restriction, in violation of the existing licensing agreement for these titles. As a result, four publishers (Hachette Book Group, Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and Penguin Random House LLC) filed suit against the organization for copyright infringement. The suit asks for an injunction against the Internet Archive from sharing copyrighted content and statutory damages, in an amount that could be as high as $150,000 per infringement. If that fine was to be levied, it would almost certainly end the organization.

Recognizing the potential cost of the suit, the organization has decided to shut down the program two weeks early. The Internet Archive sees the suit differently, claiming,

This lawsuit is not just about the temporary National Emergency Library. The complaint attacks the concept of any library owning and lending digital books, challenging the very idea of what a library is in the digital world.

This isn't quite reality, though, as libraries actually follow the law. The digital content that is lent through proper libraries is licensed through special programs for digital lending, whereas the Internet Archive decided to scan physical books and make them available to anyone for free without restriction. This will be an uphill battle for the organization if the publishers decide to follow through, now that the program is shut down.

Sony shows off PlayStation 5 games, but loses the thread on design

posted Saturday Jun 13, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Sony shows off PlayStation 5 games, but loses the thread on design

Sony certainly had a goal with its recent Future of Games event for the PlayStation 5: the games. And, if you watched the event, the company succeeded. You knew it was going to be a heavy game-focused event when it opened with Spider-Man Miles Morales and closed with Horizon Forbidden West. In the middle, the company showed off other big names from franchises like Resident Evil. In addition, new games made an appearance, such as Little Devil Inside. The event didn't focus on any single game type, but instead showed off a wide range of games.

But, for an event titled Future of Games, there was very little focus on the future. Instead, the event was very focused on now. Essentially, the event said, "Here's the console that's coming and the games that you will be playing right away." It's a very different approach to gaming from Microsoft, who has shown both the immediate future and their more long run plans. In addition to Xbox Series X, Microsoft has been showing off Project Cloud and the benefits of services like Xbox Live Ultimate. Sony seems to have no plans to play in these spaces.

However, while Sony wanted everyone to focus on the games, the real takeaway was the design of the console. The final design, which has been met with a lot of comedy, fits perfectly into this generation of consoles. While Microsoft has announced that the Xbox Series X is designed after some sort of Borg ship or possibly a mini-fridge, Sony has announced that their inspiration came from a Wi-Fi router. While the previous generation of consoles was designed to disappear into the woodwork, this generation is designed to stand out - for better or worse. These designs have created some of the best internet comedy in weeks - something that was in short supply.

Proposed robocall fine would be largest FCC fine ever uncollected

posted Saturday Jun 13, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Proposed robocall fine would be largest FCC fine ever uncollected

The world may be divided on most topics, but there is one thing we can all come together on: our hatred of robocalls. We've all been close to destroying our phones when the voice on the other end of a call says, "We've been trying to reach you about your car's extended warranty." The FCC has implemented some regulations to try and cut down on the annoyance. Among the regulations are an end to caller ID spoofing and the Do Not Call registry. While the measures may have actually resulted in fewer deceptive calls, some still work around it.

One such pair that ignored all of the rules is John C. Spiller and Jakob A. Mears, who operated a health insurance scam ring. They operated brands such as Rising Eagle and JSquared Telecom, making more than 1 billion robocalls claiming to sell short term insurance options. According to the FCC's proposed fine against the duo,

The robocalls falsely claimed to offer health insurance plans from well-known health insurance companies such as Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, and UnitedHealth Group. For example, one call stated: "Are you looking for affordable health insurance with benefits from a company you know? Policies have all been reduced nationwide such as Cigna, Blue Cross, Aetna, and United just a quick phone call away. Press 3 to get connected to a licensed agent or press 7 to be added to the Do Not Call list." If they did press 3, consumers were transferred to a call center with no affiliation to the named companies, where call center representatives then would attempt to convince the consumer to purchase an insurance product sold by one of Rising Eagle's clients. Rising Eagle's largest client, Health Advisors of America, was sued by the Missouri Attorney General for telemarketing violations in February 2019.

As part of the action, the FCC will be asking for a $225 million fine. The FCC, however, does not have the authority to issue the fine on its own, so it will need to go through a process. Traditionally, an agreement is reached somewhere lower than the proposed maximum. However, the FCC is not known for success in actually collecting on its fines. According to FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel,

Over the last several years the FCC has levied hundreds of millions in fines against robocallers just like the folks we have here today. But so far collections on these eye-popping fines have netted next to nothing. In fact, it was last year that The Wall Street Journal did the math and found that we had collected no more than $6,790 on hundreds of millions in fines. Why? Well, one reason is that the FCC looks to the Department of Justice to collect on the agency's fines against robocallers. We need them to help. So when they don't get involved-as here-that's not a good sign.

So, do these policies work? For some, it may simply be the fear of any retribution that stops them from acting. For others, it appears the knowledge that nothing will happen that keeps the calls coming.

Netflix now owns a historic physical movie theater in Hollywood

posted Sunday Jun 7, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Netflix now owns a historic physical movie theater in Hollywood

The journey for Netflix is a fascinating one. The company started by mailing physical DVDs to subscribers and pivoted to streaming. They were so ready to be done with physical media that they intended to spin the DVD business into Qwikster, a plan that was abandoned. Over the last year or so, the company has had to pivot back towards physical movies to be eligible for academy awards. That pivot has led to the company purchasing a physical movie theater.

The theater in question is the Egyptian Theatre, an iconic location in Hollywood. The theater was home to the premiere of classic films, such as the silent movie adaptation of Robin Hood. The venue was built in 1922 and operated for decades before being closed. A non-profit organization called American Cinematheque renovated and reopened the theater in 1998. Now, Netflix will work with the organization to renovate the theater once again and operate it as a venue for special screenings and events. The intention seems to be to merge the classic and iconic design of the theater with the modern cinema.

After a renovation, the theater will be home to weekly premieres, as well as special events from the company. This acquisition will allow Netflix to more easily bring its streaming content to a theater in order to qualify for awards. It also allows them to have a more direct impact on the film industry by preserving a piece of the industry's history. The company has often been accused of not having respect for the industry, so this could be an opportunity to change the perception.

Of course, this isn't Netflix's first experiment with physical theaters. Last year, the company leased another iconic theater, the single screen Paris Theatre in New York City. This was another closed theater revived by the company in order to screen its originals. There is now a bi-coastal presence, which will help with premieres.

New suit asks for $5 billion over misunderstanding of how web works

posted Sunday Jun 7, 2020 by Scott Ertz

New suit asks for $5 billion over misunderstanding of how web works

If the internet is good at anything, it is distributing information, whether or not it makes any sense. seen everything from people believing articles from The Onion to purposeful disinformation campaigns. However, the most common scenario is people simply misunderstanding how things work. That is the basis behind a new class-action lawsuit alleging that Google has violated the US Federal Wiretap Act. This law protects people from the interception of private communications. Originally intended to protect wireline phone conversations, it has been expanded over the years to include other communications. The suit is asking for $5 billion in damages.

The case alleges that Google continues to track users, even when a browser is set to privacy mode. This includes Edge's InPrivate browsing but focuses on Chrome's Incognito Mode. The claim is that Google offers a private browsing experience that doesn't protect users from being tracked. The suit says that Google "cannot continue to engage in the covert and unauthorized data collection from virtually every American with a computer or phone."

The problem with the suit is that it is based on a false understanding of Incognito Mode. While it does provide added privacy features, those features are not related to external communications. Instead, Incognito Mode is intended to protect your privacy locally. It allows you to visit websites on a computer without maintaining a local record of that browsing history. While the company may not advertise this version of history, this privacy was created to allow browsing adult content without others who might use your computer knowing what you looked at.

Every time you open a new Incognito tab, you are greeted with some information that describes the nature of the feature. "Now you can browse privately, and other people who use this device won't see your activity." It goes on to say,

Your activity might still be visible to:
  • Websites you visit
  • our employer or school
  • Your internet service provider

Clearly, Google intends to fight this suit. With the information provided to all users about how the feature works, it likely won't be a difficult fight.

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