For many years, Google has had a complicated relationship with data access. The company generally believes that all data should be available to them in order to present the most complete search results. However, they have also gotten directly involved in the content aggregation and display space, often taking content from other companies and displaying it without ever requiring the user to visit the site from which the data came. Without that visit to the site, the companies cannot generate revenue, meaning creating the content is less valuable.
While the most public disagreement
came from Yelp, the biggest disagreement has certainly been over news. In the EU, a number of fees have been created specifically targeting Google, commonly known as a Google Tax. One was created by Spain, which wanted Google to pay to index each news article in its systems from publishers in the country. As a result, Google shut down news in Spain. While the service has since been returned, the battle over the way news and Google work together has never stopped.
Two major legal challenges have been going on recently across the globe - one in Australia and one in France. While both are surrounding Google paying for access to news content, the company's response has been different to each.
In Australia, regulators are considering forcing Google to pay news sites for the privilege to link to their content. Obviously, this is fundamentally against the concept of the web, as expressed by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee. He said of the move,
To my knowledge, there is no current example of legally requiring payments for links to other content. The ability to link freely - meaning without limitations regarding the content of the linked site and without monetary fees - is fundamental to how the Web operates.
The idea of forcing a company to pay to link to a page is patently insane. Google agrees with the assessment,
announcing that, if the law is passed, the company would shut its search engine down entirely within the country. This seems like a reasonable response to Australia trying to break the basic framework of the web. Their stance could be challenged, however, because the company has also announced that it has agreed to a framework within France to pay for access to news content within the country.
The big difference here is that, rather than paying for the ability to even link to an article, France wants Google to pay for the ability to index the content. While this is not necessarily a much better scenario, it is very different. The company could, potentially, still offer links to the content without indexing or displaying any of the article itself. In Google's defense, they did shut down the news snippets on its site for French publishers until an agreement was reached.
All of this comes back down to a topic that Avram Piltch, host of
Piltch Point and Editor-in-Chief of Tom's Hardware, has raised repeatedly - the majority of news site traffic comes from Google. By punishing Google for indexing or linking to news content, publishers are only punishing themselves. Discoverability is harder today than ever due to increased competition, and Google is still the best way to raise that discoverability.
Valve, through its Steam Store, and five major PC game publishers - Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home Interactive, Koch Media, and ZeniMax - have been fined by the European Commission for anticompetitive behavior. The total fine is €7.8 million (or about $9.5 million) and revolves around pricing and game availability within the European Union.
EU's statement says that the publishers worked with Valve to limit the availability of certain games within specific areas of the European Economic Area (EEA). In particular, the antitrust regulators found that the publishers had agreements with Valve to prevent the activation of games purchased in Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, but activated outside of these countries.
The EU has rules preventing geo-locking of digital goods within the Union, meaning that these rules violated the EU's Digital Single Market. The intention of the Market is to allow citizens of member states to be able to price shop across borders to find the best available price. Essentially, the EU is looking for companies to prevent offering better prices on digital goods to citizens of countries with lower disposable incomes.
As a result of the violation, all of these companies have been fined individually. But, because each company played its own unique roll in the scheme, each has its own amount to pay. Bandai Namco was fined €340,000, Capcom was fined €396,000, and Koch Media was fined €977,000. The other three companies will have to pay significantly more, with ZeniMax being fined €1,664,000, Valve being fined €1,624,000, and Focus Home Interactive loses the game with the biggest fine of €2,888,000.
While the five publishers all cooperated with the regulators' investigation, they have received reduced fines. Valve, on the other hand, did not cooperate, and will be assessed the full amount. It is clear that the EU has put its foot down here, indicating that the fairly standard practice of geo-locking videogames will not be tolerated within its borders.
Near the end of 2020, a massive hack was uncovered in the network management system, SolarWinds. The attack came from a Russian state-sponsored organization, named Cozy Bear, and was administered via a compromised update. Through this update process, Cozy Bear was about to distribute code allowing them backdoor access to the systems of those who installed it. We recognized at the time that the full implications of the attack were unknown, though we did learn some of the many companies and organizations affected. Malwarebytes was not one of those companies, but Microsoft was. However, Malwarebytes has announced that it was breached by Cozy Bear as well.
This newly discovered breach was not through Malwarebytes software, nor was it through SolarWinds, as the company does not use the software. However, it came in through elevated access to the company's Microsoft Office 365 account. They were alerted to the attack by Microsoft Security Response Center, who noticed an attack method that closely resembled the SolarWinds attacks.
The company has said that, since their systems were not directly compromised, their software is still "safe to use" but that their customer information may have been accessed. They said the attacker "only gained access to a limited subset of internal company emails" and they "found no evidence of unauthorized access or compromise in any of [its" class="UpStreamLink"> internal on-premises and production environments." The attack came through a dormant email protection product that was still in their Office 365 installation.
This is a good reminder that any software that you are no longer using should be considered for uninstallation. Dormant or inactive apps and tools can often be ignored for update, meaning that attack surfaces are not removed. This leaves systems vulnerable to outside attack. If the big security companies can get hit by this type of attack, so can you.
As the number of video streaming services increases, so does the need for those services to cement themselves into the daily life of their users. Each has taken a different tactic, with some focusing on original programming while others have focused on unique business models. The one thing that has continued to come up as a driving factor for continued usage and engagement is the availability of the platform. Quibi learned this too late, and
the service did not survive. HBO Max learned this lesson, too, but has had an issue executing their plan - until now.
The company has announced that the holes in its distribution model are being plugged quickly. First, the app is officially available for the PlayStation 5. That makes the app available on almost all gaming consoles, with the exception of the Nintendo Switch. As the Switch has never been a major streaming platform, its exemption from the platform isn't going to be a long-lasting problem.
While getting onto the PlayStation 5 was important, the other gap was far more important to fill - Roku. Roku devices account for the vast majority of US streaming usage, and HBO Max has been entirely missing from the platform since launch. This is despite the fact that previous HBO streaming platforms have been available to Roku users. That has been resolved, as December 17 saw the HBO Max app finally arrive on Roku devices. It is replacing existing HBO apps on the platform, as it has in the company's business model.
The timing could not be more important, with
all WarnerMedia films coming to the platform, starting with Wonder Woman 1984 this Friday. For the very risky business move to be a success, the company needs to have as many eyeballs on the film as possible. If not, investors might give in to the pressures from AMC to stop the rollout plans.
One of the truths of the world is that the internet is a dangerous place. Even things that are supposed to be safe and easy can turn into unmitigated disasters. For example, when an update for a network management system is compromised by hackers, adding in a backdoor that allows those hackers to enter the systems that download those updates. That is exactly what happened several months ago when an update for network management software developed by SolarWinds was compromised and distributed to tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of networks.
The compromise was made by the innocuous-sounding hacker collective Cozy Bear, a Russian state-sponsored organization, and
revealed by FireEye. The revelation is a huge problem, as users of SolarWinds range from the likes of Microsoft to the US Department of Defense. The government has recognized a "significant and ongoing hacking campaign", the scope of which is unknown.
There are a number of high-impact aspects of the hack. The first and most important is that it could take decades to unravel the details of the hack and what data might have been compromised. Currently, what is known is that the malware gives the hackers a broad reach into the infected systems. As the total scope within the government's systems is unknown, the DOD will need to operate under the premise that the Russian government knows anything and everything - creating a national security disaster.
On the second front, the depth of the SolarWinds software within networks could mean that the servers that have been infected could be unsalvageable. There's talk that any server that has been infected by the malware might need to be replaced, at a great cost to the government and the thousands of other clients of SolarWinds.
This hack brings back to the forefront a few tenents of IT security that have been lax or entirely ignored over the past few years. Unproven software, which SolarWinds product is, should never be installed on mission-critical systems. A company like SolarWinds needs years of successful track record before it can be trusted on major networks. The second is that updates should not be installed until IT has tested them as safe, both in terms of security and compatibility. Third, large central systems are never a good idea. Cloud systems have been showing us this vulnerability with
AWS outages taking down everything from websites to Netflix, but even internal central systems create a bottleneck that can destroy an organization.