The UpStream

A new problem with cryptocurrencies has appeared: losing money to death

posted Saturday Feb 9, 2019 by Scott Ertz

A new problem with cryptocurrencies has appeared: losing money to death

Since the rise of cryptocurrencies, it seems like new ways to lose your money have become more common than new ways to use the currencies. Whether it be through frequent security breaches, major technical mistakes, or constant ransomware attacks, it seems that the problems usually outweigh the benefits. But, if thefts from exchanges weren't enough to be concerned about, this week brought about a new concern for exchanges: death.

The CEO of Canadian cryptocurrency exchange QuadrigaCX passed away unexpectedly this week at the age of 30. While this is tragic for obvious reasons, it is also tragic for far more unexpected reasons. The company, in an attempt to prevent issues like we have seen at other exchanges recently, the company kept a large amount of client funds in cold storage. Keeping the wallet off of the network and away from the outside world prevents hackers from being able to steal the funds through hacking. Unfortunately, the CEO held the only password to the cold storage wallet holding $137 million worth of client funds. That means that, as of right now, those funds are completely inaccessible to anyone, both inside and outside of the exchange.

The company has another $53 million tied up in disputes with a bank and payment processors, meaning that the company currently has $190 million worth of client funds that cannot be returned to those clients. Clearly, this has created a financial situation that is likely unrecoverable, meaning that the exchange is likely to dissolve in the near future. A judge has given the company 30 days to try and recover the currently locked cryptocurrency before the court will allow lawsuits to begin. There is no way that the company can survive those lawsuits, so this likely spells the end of another cryptocurrency exchange.

Once again, this issue highlights a common problem with people involved in the cryptocurrency markets: keep control over your own funds. An exchange is not a bank and is not protected against theft or loss in the way that a bank is. If you are going to experiment in the markets, keep your money in your own cold storage wallet. Only transfer the funds to an exchange if you plan on exchanging those funds for something else (legal tender or another cryptocurrency). Don't put the safety of your money into someone else's hands.

Microsoft to bring Xbox Live to Switch, iOS and Android

posted Saturday Feb 9, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft to bring Xbox Live to Switch, iOS and Android

When Xbox Live first hit the market, it changed the way people played videogames forever. Over the years, the service introduced a whole collection of features, including in-game and cross-game chat, social networking features, a unified matchmaking platform, achievements, and more. With the introduction of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, Xbox Live features expanded from the console to PC and mobile. Even games like Microsoft Solitare, which has been around since the beginning of Windows, had the ability to enhance with achievements.

According to a now sanitized listing for a session at Game Developers Conference, Microsoft is going to expand the reach of Xbox Live once again. The original title of the session was titled, "Xbox Live: Growing & Engaging Your Gaming Community Across iOS, Android, Switch, Xbox, and PC," which can still be seen in the URL for the session. The title gives a lot of information about where Xbox Live will soon be available. However, the original description is much more detailed,

Now Xbox Live is about to get MUCH bigger. Xbox Live is expanding from 400M gaming devices and a reach to over 68M active players to over 2B devices with the release of our new cross-platform XDK. Get a first look at the SDK to enable game developers to connect players between iOS, Android, and Switch in addition to Xbox and any game in the Microsoft Store on Windows PCs.

So, with the release of the XDK, game developers will be able to bring the unified Xbox Live matchmaking system to their mobile games, as well as chat and social features to games on almost all other platforms. There is, of course, one major platform missing: PlayStation. That is likely because of Sony's infamous dismissal of anything cross-platform. Even if Microsoft were to allow XBL capabilities on PS4 titles, Sony would likely prevent publishing those games for the platform. However, Sony's position has shifted slightly in the past few months, with Fortnite accounts no longer being locked to PlayStation, so it's possible that one day XBL will be available everywhere.

Sprint sues AT&T over 5G E false advertising and deceptive practices

posted Saturday Feb 9, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Sprint sues AT&T over 5G E false advertising and deceptive practices

Any time there is a major transition in the wireless industry, at least one of the big players loses their grip on reality. During the 3G to 4G transition in 2010, it was T-Mobile who was all over the place. First, they claimed 4G didn't matter to them or customers, but then a month later they began lying about 4G, claiming that HSPA+, part of the 3G standard, was actually a 4G network, which we dubbed FauxG. By the time anything came of the false advertising and consumer deception, the company had used the money from AT&T's failed acquisition to build a 4G LTE network.

Now that we're on the verge of a 4G to 5G transition, we are experiencing an altered form of deja vu. Rather than T-Mobile lying about their network, though, we are seeing AT&T pull the exact same thing. The company has begun rebranding a large portion of their 4G network, known as LTE Advanced, as 5G Evolution (or 5G E). They have even begun issuing badge updates to phones on the network to make the claim directly to consumers. In addition, there are commercials online and on television making these false claims.

As you would have expected, the lawsuits have begun as well. The first suit to be filed is from Sprint, who is accurately claiming false advertising and deceptive practices. In the complaint, Sprint said,

By making the false claim that it is offering a 5G wireless network where it offers only a 4G LTE Advanced network, AT&T is attempting to secure an unfair advantage in the saturated wireless market. AT&T's false and misleading statements deceive consumers into believing that AT&T now operates a 5G wireless network and, through this deception, AT&T seeks to induce consumers to purchase or renew AT&T's services when they might otherwise have purchased Sprint's services.

This is a more important case that the previous example, with Sprint and T-Mobile preparing to become one network in the near future. With AT&T, one of the two bigger networks, making the claim, it can hurt the smaller guys, and potentially damage the merger before it happens, making it harder for them to survive, even combined. There's no telling exactly what will come of the case, especially since T-Mobile got away with it in 2010, but hopefully, this practice can be put to rest now.

YouTube plans to censor more videos based on their definition of truth

posted Saturday Jan 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

YouTube plans to censor more videos based on their definition of truth

Internet censorship is all the rage right now, and all coming from the companies who fought in favor of net neutrality. Apparently, censorship is not okay, unless you're the one doing it. Two of the biggest offenders of internet censorship have been Facebook and YouTube, who are the two platforms we need more than anyone to not restrict speech. Both of these platforms have long been places where information can get out, whether the information is popular or not. In an age when the official sources of information twist and distort, the people need sources of alternate sides of a story.

This week, YouTube has announced a new plan to cut down on people hearing alternate versions of a story. The company refers to these alternate versions as conspiracy theories and will demote any video that they consider to be conspiratory. Any of these videos will no longer show up as recommended videos, including as recommended videos on other videos and on the homepage. According to YouTube,

We think this change strikes a balance between maintaining a platform for free speech and living up to our responsibility to users.

Unfortunately, that is not how this actually goes. Today, their plans are to demote content around "phony miracle cure for a serious illness, claiming the earth is flat, or making blatantly false claims about historic events like 9/11," but that is not where this ends. Because there is no written standard on what is being demoted, it could easily be adjusted to prevent the easy access to information about recent events. For example, because of the blatant lies told by news networks like CNN and NBC, it was only because of Facebook and YouTube that the truth about the teenagers in DC came to light. But, because it conflicts with the "official story" told by these networks, YouTube could easily demote this content, making sure that people continue to believe their false narrative.

This is a dangerous precedent being set by YouTube, and one that users of the service should be vocally against. The idea that YouTbe will be deciding what is truth and what is not is bad for everyone. False conspiracy theories, like a flat earth, easily prove themselves to critical thinkers as comedy, but these alternate views on information are important for a well-informed and capable people. Being able to hear both sides and make an informed decision is essential.

Thank you, YouTube, for the dumbing down of America and for encouraging the loss of critical thinking and decision making.

The good and bad of Facebook merging messaging platforms

posted Saturday Jan 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

The good and bad of Facebook merging messaging platforms

Over the past few years, Facebook has made a number of high-profile acquisitions. Among those purchases have been a few with messaging capabilities: primarily Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, followed by WhatsApp for $16 billion in 2014. One of the early commitments during these acquisitions was that Facebook would keep their hands off of the operations of these individual properties, but that commitment has never been upheld. In fact, after a privacy policy update, the platforms have been nearly inseparable. The strong hand of Facebook has even forced out the founders of both of these companies, with all leaving over disagreements about the directions of the companies - in particular, advertising strategies.

This week, according to The New York Times, Facebook is planning to integrate its three standalone messaging platforms into a single, unified system. This would mean that someone using Facebook Messenger would be able to message someone on WhatsApp without having to have an account on that platform. According to a spokesperson,

We want to build the best messaging experiences we can; and people want messaging to be fast, simple, reliable and private. We're working on making more of our messaging products end-to-end encrypted and considering ways to make it easier to reach friends and family across networks.

All of this might sound good on the surface, but there is one big problem with the concept: Facebook will never implement end-to-end encryption on all of its messaging platforms. If they were to encrypt all messaging, they would lose their single biggest source of advertising information within their ecosystem. What you post on Facebook and Instagram helps, but not nearly as much as that personal and direct communication between friends. To encrypt that would mean that all of that information is lost to their algorithms.

A foundational principle of WhatsApp is that all communications are encrypted, but the other two have no such promise with their users. That means that, if a single gateway is created between the three platforms, it will need to be an open gateway, leaving any message that leaves WhatsApp unencrypted. With an open gateway, it leaves new vulnerabilities into the WhatsApp system, and will ultimately create confusion for WhatsApp users about what is and is not private communications.

The idea of a unified messaging system sounds good at first, but the reality is not nearly as rosy.

Nintendo takes top crown in a big recovery year for console gaming

posted Saturday Jan 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo takes top crown in a big recovery year for console gaming

2017 was thought to be a year of decline for the console industry. That perception was based almost entirely on the fact that the console manufacturers stopped reporting detailed numbers, which usually indicates a major drop in sales. However, in early 2018, NPD released their sales data for 2017, showing that it was actually a pretty good year for console and console game sales. 2018 has ended in the same way, with sales being far higher than expectations and shows that it was actually a pretty good year.

In the console wars, Nintendo has the crown, with their Switch console continuing its strong sales, leading to top hardware sales and top revenue. This was driven by a number of factors, likely the largest factor being the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which took the #5 spot in total game sales for the year, despite being released on December 7. The release of a banner game like that will always drive console sales to holdouts waiting for that title to arrive.

Another factor is the return on Nintendo's risks taken on the hardware. Unlike Microsoft and Sony, who focus their hardware on core gamers, Nintendo built a console that could appeal to everyone. It works at home and on the go and offers a couple of unique color options for the controllers, including neon. The game options are far wider, ranging from the more casual titles to AAA games.

Nintendo wasn't the only growth for the year, though. Microsoft and Sony both saw sales increases over 2017, as well. In fact, overall hardware sales grew 8 percent in the US, which is over top of the massive 27 percent increase in 2017. Mat Piscatella, an NPD analyst, said through a statement,

Console, PC, and mobile platforms all saw significant growth, while developing portions of the market like subscription and streaming services gave us a peek into a future full of possibilities for the industry and gamers.

2019 will likely not see the same growth as the past 2 years, but growth of any type this far into a console generation suggests that it could continue.

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