The UpStream

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.

Apple's ever-evolving Project Titan loses 200 staffers

posted Saturday Jan 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Apple's ever-evolving Project Titan loses 200 staffers

Over the past few years, Apple has been building a team to develop autonomous driving technology. The goals of the team have been ever-shifting, as have the members of said team. Originally, the company had planned to develop and launch their own Apple-branded car. The team has had cars on the roads around their California headquarters with a very unique sensor array on the roof. However, these cars are not Apple designed but are instead merely test vehicles for the technology being developed within Titan.

Despite the original intentions, the overall plan for Titan has changed more than once. In 2016, it was revealed that the company had scrapped its plans to build their own car and had shifted the focus of Titan into building technology to support the self-driving cars of others. They would design the sensor array and software and license it to car manufacturers to enhance their own vehicle plans. In 2018, however, Apple brought back a former executive, Doug Field, who had left for Tesla for a few years. Field was reintroduced to Apple to lead Project Titan.

While rumors have swirled that Titan may be back to its original plans under the former Tesla helm, there has been no confirmation of these plans. This week, Field made a big move, shifting around 200 employees out of the Titan project and into other parts of the company. An Apple spokesperson said,

As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple.

It is not unusual for a company like Apple to move employees around between various initiatives based on their skill set. It is unusual to move between 5% and 10% of an initiative's workforce at once unless there is a major change in direction in the works. After a data breach in 2018, Apple acknowledged that around 2,700 employees have direct access to the project, and around 5,000 employees have intermittent access.

NBC planning to release its own streaming service in the next year

posted Saturday Jan 19, 2019 by Scott Ertz

NBC planning to release its own streaming service in the next year

The list of contenders in the video streaming market is about to get a little larger, as NBCUniversal has announced that they will be entering the fray. The new service will be similar to the current offering from NBC, including the ability to login with your cable or satellite subscription account and get access to the service for free. Unlike the current offering, however, non-subscribers will be able to access the service, as well. This is obviously an attempt to court the cord-cutter community, which is growing slowly, but steadily.

Details on the service are not quite solid yet, but we do know some of the important highlights. For example, the service is intended to launch in Quarter 1 of 2020, meaning that in just over a year we should have access to the updated service. The yet unnamed service will also feature both NBC shows and specials and Universal movies, according to knowledgable sources. It is unknown if there will be any original programming intended specifically for the service, but if the competition is any indication, you can expect at least some.

While not official, it is rumored that the service could run $12 per month for those who are not pay-TV customers already. This would be double the current cost of CBS All Access, which is definitely the service that NBC is trying to compete against with this new offering. CBS has seen some success with their All Access service, but they've got a couple of things going for them that NBC does not. For example, NBC offers their programming on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and the joint Hulu venture. While CBS offers some programming outside of All Access, it is far from the full catalog.

CBS is also the only major broadcaster to not be involved in Hulu. NBC's 30% ownership in that company means that they have a vested interest in not excluding their programming from that platform, which they have committed to, even with the launch of their own platform. Add to that parent company, Comcast, and their Xfinity platform, NBC is being pulled in a number of directions. Perhaps the service will offer some original content, or perhaps revive some shows that didn't work on TV but did work online, such as Timeless.

It is far too early to know for sure, but there could be some hope for this service, especially among those who have cable or satellite.

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