The UpStream (Page 22)

Congress calls Jeff Bezos to testify about Amazon's use of seller data

posted Saturday May 2, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Congress calls Jeff Bezos to testify about Amazon's use of seller data

Last year, as part of its inquiry into the way big tech companies use their market positions to compete with those who rely on these companies, Amazon representatives were asked about their use of data. In particular, Nate Sutton, Amazon's Associate General Counsel was asked about the company's use of seller data on its platform to determine its own product offerings. Mr. Sutton said that Amazon does not use information about its sellers to compete against them. Those words are at the center of a new controversy for the company.

Following a Wall Street Journal report, a bipartisan House panel has requested that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos appear before the panel to answer questions. Those questions, once again, revolve around Amazon's use of seller data to build its own product line. The report, which cites conversations with more than 20 previous employees in the private label division of the company, states that Amazon regularly uses data about sellers on the platform to plan its product moves.

One example cited is a trunk organizer. Employees were urged to research the top seller in the category on the platform, including which features were most important to customers, the best price at which the product sold, and what Amazon's profit was for hosting the product. After this research, Amazon launched its own branded trunk organizer, based on the research conducted.

Congress does not generally appreciate being lied to, which is probably why the concept of perjury exists. If there was any question about whether that's how they feel here, their letter to Bezos makes their feelings clear. They expect that Bezos will appear in front of the panel voluntarily, but are prepared to subpoena him if necessary. If it turns out that the company lied to Congress last year, there could be big problems for the company in the future. The company, however, has continued to insist that they do not use competitor data to develop their own products and take the accusations seriously.

SteamVR for macOS is coming to the end of its very short life

posted Saturday May 2, 2020 by Scott Ertz

SteamVR for macOS is coming to the end of its very short life

This past year has seen a lot of changes to the landscape of the virtual reality market. We saw the end and then open sourcing of Google Daydream. This was followed closely by Gear VR closing shop. This week, another big hit is coming to the landscape, with SteamVR support likely coming to an end for Apple computers. This would include older and current OSX and macOS implementations.

In this age of staying home, virtual reality should be seeing its renaissance. VR offers a way to escape reality and explore an alternate experience without leaving our homes. This would seem the ideal time for people to be experimenting with the technology, and yet, a whole platform is being abandoned instead. This move is not a surprise, as macOS has never been a popular platform for gaming. While it has always struggled to attract game development, the company hurt the momentum even further when they eliminated 32-bit applications, including games, in macOS Catalina.

But, the end of SteamVR for macOS does not signal anything other than Valve's recognition that its efforts to maintain virtual reality on Apple computers is not equaled by the results. The development of anything of value for macOS is a larger undertaking than developing for Windows or Linux. As such, the number of resources required are often higher than these other platforms. However, as Apple has never been a destination for gaming, the higher cost for fewer gamers is not a good investment.

Valve has no intention of moving away from either the Windows or Linux versions of SteamVR, which is good news for gamers since statistically, that's where they are. Eliminating support for macOS will give the company more resources to keep those projects going and, more importantly, keep them fresh. No timeline has been given on the official end of support, but expect it to be a slow retirement.

Clearview AI wants to add facial identification to contact tracing

posted Saturday May 2, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Clearview AI wants to add facial identification to contact tracing

Since the concept of contact tracing was first announced, it has faced privacy and accuracy concerns. While Apple and Google addressed concerns, other firms who have been tapped for additional technologies are still under fire. One of the most recent to draw attention is a company that is used to the negative spotlight - Clearview AI. Many people around the world have been worried about the privacy and accuracy of the technology. These are definitely two topics that should stay as far apart as possible.

However, despite the obviousness of the fallout here, Clearview has been in talks to use its facial recognition technology in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. A lot of people see this as a ploy by the company to get involved in government processes so that they can work their magic in selling their law enforcement products. One of the loudest oppositions to Clearview being involved in this fight is Sen. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who sent a letter to the company asking for information on their discussions and plans. In fact, he demands that the company turn over the names of any agencies they are in discussions with, and any contract terms they are working on or have signed.

The rationale behind this demand is the fear of Clearview's technology. For starters, the accuracy of the technology has been questionable at best, and basing a medically-focused program around dubious tracing could be harmful to people. Using their facial identification in large crowds to determine who has been in contact could inaccurately mark people as sick and spread false panic.

More importantly, however, is the increase in public privacy violations. Clearview stores all images it is sent for analysis indefinitely, meaning that any image captured and processed by this system would be stored forever and used to expand its facial identification system. By installing cameras attached to the system in high trafficked areas, Clearview would have a better idea of who it has NOT identified. This will certainly be contested by more than just a single Senator. Expect privacy and consumer advocacy groups to be right behind.

Your favorite Disney characters can teach you to code for free

posted Sunday Apr 26, 2020 by Daniele Mendez

Your favorite Disney characters can teach you to code for free

Disney Codeillusion is a learning package, which we met at CES 2020, that focuses their attention on teaching students of all ages how to code using HTML, CSS, Javascript, and Processing alongside your beloved Disney characters right there with you. Disney Codeillusion makes a note of recent school closures as well as the importance of motivating students to continue to learn and will be offering free online lessons to students, teachers, and schools for 14 days. This opportunity is a way to learn a new skill or sharpen existing skills with programming practice in a fun and exciting way with help from characters in your favorite Disney Movies.

Check out the press release after the break.

As AT&T's media brands struggle, former media boss takes over as CEO

posted Saturday Apr 25, 2020 by Scott Ertz

As AT&T's media brands struggle, former media boss takes over as CEO

AT&T hosted its quarterly earnings call, during which the company announced the company's premium television subscriber numbers, which include AT&T TV, DirectTV, and U-verse. The brand suffered a net subscriber loss of 897,000, leaving the service with 18.6 million subscribers. This drop represents nearly 5 percent of the total subscribers leaving in only 90 days. As an explanation for the significant turnover, the company said,

897,000 loss due to competition and customers rolling off promotional discounts as well as lower gross adds from the continued focus on adding higher-value customers

AT&T has long been in the media game, but it was never a large player with AT&T U-verse. It wasn't until the purchase of DirecTV that the telecom company's media plans truly began. Unfortunately, the move was not a fruitful one, as indicated in the statistic above. This is not the first quarter in which the distribution business saw a loss. In fact, for the last several quarters, it has been consistent losses, amounting to 3.43 million in 2019. They've gone so far as to consider selling the brand.

Another part of the AT&T media expansion has been the division headed by WarnerMedia. The company joined the AT&T juggernaut after a long process, bringing with it some major media clout. However, the services under WarnerMedia have had some issues, as well. HBO's streaming services have not performed to the company's hopes. However, the company's announced new service, HBO Max, is the next best hope, which will finally launch on May 27.

The service will contain the majority, if not the entirety, of the WarnerMedia catalog. It also is to include original content for the service. The media plans are such a big part of AT&T's future that John Stankey, the current CEO of WarnerMedia, has been named as the next CEO of AT&T.

Facebook Messenger adds Rooms feature to free you from Zoom security

posted Saturday Apr 25, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Facebook Messenger adds Rooms feature to free you from Zoom security

One of the biggest things to come out of this quarantine has been the need to communicate. While there are already a lot of useful communication platforms, it seems that people always want to be the ones using the new thing. That new thing, in this case, happens to be Zoom. Unfortunately for users, Zoom has had a history of security issues which has sent people looking for alternatives.

Other big tech companies have worked hard to answer the call. Skype has changed the way you initiate calls and added customizable backgrounds. Microsoft Teams, Skype's big brother aimed at business users, now has a family version as part of Microsoft 365. But Facebook has made the biggest change to its platform, introducing Facebook Messenger Rooms. This feature will be a replication of Zoom's most loved feature - the camera grid.

Messenger Rooms is available now and is usable with or without a Messenger account. Like Zoom, a Messenger Room is created by a user and a pink, public or private, can be sent to others to join. Those with the link can join the Room, which includes video, audio, and chat. At the initial launch, the number of participants might be limited while they work out the technical details. The plan is to allow for up to 50 participants for an unlimited amount of time at no cost. This is a big difference from Zoom, which limits the length of free calls to 45 minutes.

Of course, Facebook is not without its own issues. Over the past few years, Facebook has come under fire for privacy issues, data breaches, and more. Just this week, a federal judge approved the company's agreement to pay a $5 billion fine over the Cambridge Analytica issues. The company has promised to not listen to conversations or watching the video through the service. The company does collect information about users, though. Whether using a Messenger account or not, the app collects usage data, which they say is intended to help them make the service better.

So, users will now have to make a decision on whether to use a product from a company that has demonstrated a lack of user security or a company that has demonstrated a lack of user privacy. Not the ideal scenario for users.

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