In the crowded field of social media, one brand we did not expect to be talking about in 2020 is Google+. The service ran from 2012 until 2019 when Google shut it down following poor consumer reception and, acting as the final nail in the coffin, was a revealed data breach. Because of that breach, a small number of affected users came together to file a class-action suit against Google, a move that was almost inevitable. While the case has gone on for the past year, a settlement has finally been reached.
If you had a Google+ account between January 2, 2015, and April 2, 2019, and entered any private information into your profile, you are entitled to a portion of the class settlement. For your troubles, your piece of the pie will be a whopping $12. To add insult to injury, the $12 is only available once per person, regardless of how many Google+ account you might have had during that period. To file your claim, you can head to the class action claim page.
The suit and subsequent settlement were focused on the issues with Google's API. Profiles had the ability to list public and private information, however the API's security was not setup to support that security profile. The API exposed the private information through a public endpoint, which allowed anyone to retrieve that information, no matter the user's settings. The issues existed for several years, but was not revealed to users until just before the announcement of the service's termination.
What added difficulties to Google's reputation, and likely their court case, was the forced integration of Google+ into other services. Google tried to force people to use Google+ by using it as the commenting system for YouTube, terminating Google Photos and moving it into Google+, and more. This meant that the number of people with a Google+ profile was even higher than it would have been, entirely because of Google's heavy hand.
One of the emerging videogame industries is game streaming. While OnLive may have been ahead of its time, Sony has PlayStation Now, Google has Stadia, and Microsoft has Project xCloud, which will soon be released publicly as Game Pass Game Streaming. While Microsoft has been running a limited test of xCloud on iOS through TestFlight, it turns out it is a feature that will never be because of Apple.
Apple's App Store policies apparently prohibit apps from providing access to content that Apple does not have 100% control over. Apple wants individual approval over each game available on its devices and wants to be able to individually list each one. That is not how game streaming services work, as the game catalog is managed remotely and are only listed through the streaming service itself. It seems like Apple is looking at these services as external app stores that bypass Apple's walled garden.
As a result, companies that are affected by this decision have begun to speak out on the topic. Microsoft said of the conflict with Apple,
Apple stands alone as the only general-purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass. Unfortunately, we do not have a path to bring our vision of cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to gamers on iOS via the Apple App Store.
While this a big disappointment to owners of iPhones, it is far from the first service to be affected by the decision. Google Stadia, which released in late 2019, is available across multiple platforms, including Android and Chrome browsers. However, the platform is only marginally available on iOS. You can browse and buy but cannot play on the device.
Facebook just launched its Facebook Gaming Marketplace, but, like Google Stadia and Xbox Game Pass, it has been neutered by Apple. The marketplace on Android allows you to play games within the app, but on iOS, that feature is missing. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, said,
Unfortunately, we had to remove gameplay functionality entirely to get Apple's approval on the standalone Facebook Gaming app. We're staying focused on building communities for the more than 380 million people who play games on Facebook every month -- whether Apple allows it in a standalone app or not.
The heat against Apple and their famous walled garden has been heating up in recent months. Epic Games famously skipped Apple for releasing Fortnite on mobile. ProtonMail has taken swings at Apple, saying,
Apple has become a monopoly, crushing potential competitors with exploitative fees and conducting censorship on behalf of dictators. We know this because we have quietly tolerated this exploitation for years.
Most importantly, there are several antitrust suits in the EU, including one filed by Spotify in March 2019. The EU has taken these complaints seriously, with an active ongoing investigation into Apple's business practices. Eventually, either the EU's research or the growing rift in customer experience between iPhone and other platforms is going to catch up with the company and a change will need to be made.
Last week, President Trump told a group of reporters that he was looking to ban TikTok in the coming days. The ban is over national security issues after it was revealed the company was copying data from users without letting users know. This comes after months of companies and governments around the world banning the app in various forms. Many companies have banned the app from corporate phones. The US and others banned its use on government phones and, in some cases, banning employees and the military from using it entirely.
This week, the Executive Order, which comes under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, was signed. It gives ByteDance, the owner, 15 days (until September 15) to sell at least their US operations to a US company or face an outright ban in the country. This will obviously affect Google and Apple, who both distribute the app through their mobile stores. Both stores would likely be forced to remove the apps from the store, and access would be closed.
In an unexpected twist, President Trump also wrote a similar order against WeChat, another Chinese-owned communication platform. While not particularly popular in the US, the service does feature an option to transfer money between users. Unfortunately for WeChat, and parent company Tencent, money transfer in the US is highly regulated and WeChat falls outside of that regulation. As a result, the company is in a similar position to ByteDance - sell the brand or get out.
That is a noticeably short period of time for such a big deal to be finalized, especially for WeChat, who likely did not see this coming and had no time to prepare. For TikTok and ByteDance, they have been in discussions for a short while, trying to decide what their future might look like. They've been actively in discussion with Microsoft, but also Twitter, according to The Wall Street Journal. While Twitter has more experience with consumer-facing social media, Microsoft has done great things with LinkedIn.
The interesting aspect of all of this is on the WeChat side of things. The surprise of including WeChat in the ban has likely been even stronger for the company itself. However, this could be a bigger issue than it looks Tencent is a controversial investor with its fingers in a lot of pots. These include Epic Games, Activision, Universal Music, and Tesla. As tensions heat up with China, shining a spotlight onto Tencent through WeChat could be the beginning of the company's troubles in the US.
If Tencent is forced to divest from its US holdings that could potentially involve national security, there could be massive results. For example, Tesla has a large hand in artificial reality, which could potentially come under fire.
Last year, Patreon kicked comedian Owen Benjamin off the platform because they didn't enjoy his comedy. The company claimed that his comedy violated their terms involving "hate speech." In response to the termination of his account, Benjamin encouraged his fans to sue Patreon for violating the contract between the site and its users, which promises that content, which is paid for, will be available for those who paid.
These suits would create a logjam for Patreon because the company's terms of service allowed for each suit to be litigated individually under California's JAMS arbitration scheme. In addition, Patreon would be required to pay the cost of arbitration upfront for each individual case. In some cases, the fees could be a few thousand dollars, while others could cost tens of thousands of dollars. As a result, Patreon changed its terms of service to say,
You may not bring a claim against us for suspending or terminating another person's account, and you agree you will not bring such a claim. If you try to bring such a claim, you are responsible for the damages caused, including attorneys fees and costs.
While changing policy is a normal process, the way Patreon did it was not. Rather than letting affected users know that a change was coming and giving them a chance to read the changes before they took place, Patreon made the change publicly and then claimed that by using the site, you had accepted the new terms. That meant that people were theoretically under the new terms and could then not participate in the suit under the rules that existed when the violation took place, simply because they had gone back to the site.
Last month, a judge ruled against Patreon, agreeing that the move was not acceptable. The judge said that the change of Terms of Service was tantamount to changing the rules in the middle of the game. The result was revealed this week, and it is going to create a huge problem for Patreon. In fact, the legal fees as a result of this collection of suits is likely to reach as high as $20 million this year alone.
Over the last year, the company has lost market share, care of both its policies against content that the management team doens't like, as well as a huge group of competitors. Because of this, a $20 million legal bill is going to cause additional issues to the brand. The ruling also opens Patreon up to additional suits from the fans of other creators who have been bounced from the platform.
Another week, another piece of the Twitter hack details are revealed. Last week, the company revealed that internal employee tools were used to access the affected accounts and that, for some, DMs were also accessed. The questions remained: who did this, and how did they gain access to the tools set they used?
The question of how was also answered by Twitter. The company says that a sophisticated "spear phishing attack" was used in order to gain access to the corporate network, allowing the hackers to learn about the internal processes. From there, they targeted the correct employees to gain access to the tools required to tweet the Bitcoin scam information, which ultimately led to $113,500 being stolen from people who fell for the trick.
This attack relied on a significant and concerted attempt to mislead certain employees and exploit human vulnerabilities to gain access to our internal systems. This was a striking reminder of how important each person on our team is in protecting our service.
The answer to who was also answered this week, care of the US Attorney's Office of the Northern District of California. According to the information shared by the Justice Department, 3 individuals have been charged with the hack. Mason Sheppard, a 19-year-old from the United Kingdon, Nima Fazeli, a 22-year-old from Orlando, Florida, and an unnamed 17-year-old (later identified as Graham Clark by local NBC Affiliate WFLA) from Tampa, Florida.
While the team is young, the youngest is claimed to have been the mastermind behind the attack. According to WFLA, Clark has had 30 felony charges filed against him,
one count of organized fraud, 17 counts of communications fraud, one count of fraudulent use of personal information with over $100,000 or 30 or more victims, 10 counts of fraudulent use of personal information and one count of access to computer or electronic device without authority.
As the release of the Xbox Series X creeps closer, Microsoft has been releasing more information about the console and its accompanying games. Of course, like all Microsoft hardware, one of the most important game franchises will be Halo. For the Xbox Series X, the first title will be Halo Infinite, which was shown off during the Games Showcase a few weeks ago. With people seeking more information about the games from the showcase, online stores have created game listings for this title. However, one such listing might have accidentally confirmed a rumor we have been following for a few weeks.
The game's listing contained some new, unrevealed information about the multiplayer aspect of the upcoming title, saying,
The legendary Halo series returns with the most expansive Master Chief campaign yet and a groundbreaking free-to-play multiplayer experience. Enjoy up to 120 FPS and greatly reduced load times creating seamless gameplay with Xbox Series X.
This passage, which has since been removed from the page, makes a big deal about two new features: 120 FPS and free-to-play multiplayer. Now, there are two ways to interpret this reveal - both being a major turn of events for the franchise. The first is that it will not require paying for Xbox Live to play the game. It could also mean that part of the game will be available to players without buying the game, similar to how Fortnite works. Either way, this is a major change for Halo and the revenue model for games and services on Xbox Series X.
Since the beginning of Xbox Live, there have been two tiers: Silver and Gold. The Silver tier has been free and offered some basic capabilities. Over the years, the capabilities for Silver have increased, but not by much. Gold has been a pay-for feature and opens up all of the Xbox Live capabilities. However, based on some information from the Microsoft Store, Xbox Live Gold will soon be free.
The first hint came when Microsoft discontinued the 12 month subscription. This was interpreted by some as a money grab from Microsoft, as the price per month is lowest for the 12 month option. However, we maintained that is was an indication that Xbox Live would go free with the Series X. Microsoft did not confirm nor deny this possibility. The listing for Halo Infinite has potentially added more fuel to our theory.