When we talk about the streaming wars, we are usually talking about Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and the rest. However, the battle has been heating up over on the gaming side of things, with Twitch losing some ground to Mixer, Facebook, and YouTube. This week, an announcement from Activision brings that divide a little closer because of a new partnership with Google.
The two companies have signed a multi-year deal in the eSports market. Activision will use Google Cloud as its backbone for competition systems, but that is far from the most interesting part of the agreement. The significant aspect of the deal is that all Activision eSports competitions will stream exclusively on YouTube (with the exception of China). This means that YouTube, which has had trouble gaining traction in game streaming, will become the only place to watch official
Call of Duty, Hearthstone, and Overwatch tournaments.
This move comes at a time when YouTube has been
mired in controversy around the data it collects about children. A non-trivial percentage of game streaming viewers are under 13, meaning that this could bring that issue to a head once again.
The company seems less concerned about the negative consequences. The company's head of gaming, Ryan Wyatt, said,
Both the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League are the quintessential examples of world class esports content. As a former Call of Duty esports commentator myself, I couldn't be more excited for Activision Blizzard to choose YouTube as its exclusive home for the digital live streaming of both leagues. This partnership further demonstrates our dedication to having a world class live streaming product for gaming.
Call of Duty League season started today, January 24, 2020, with 12 teams battling it out in Minnesota. The Overwatch League season will kick off on February 8, 2020. Both events are available exclusively on each league's official YouTube channel.
Last year, Google made what seemed like a fairly simple change to its mobile search results: it added the favicon of the domain to some results. The favicon is the icon that you see on the left of a browser tab, and usually shows the site's branding (like the green icon you see on our website). It appeared that Google was trying to make a small visual change that could help better identify the website on the other side of the result.
The company decided that, because the response was so positive on mobile, that they would bring the feature to the desktop search experience. That seemingly simple change backfired on Google when users noticed something about the new markers: they were the same size as the ad marker. This makes it far more difficult for some users to casually determine which results are legitimate and which are paid.
This minimized distinction was immediately met with claims of deception, with people claiming that Google did this on purpose to confuse users and drive additional ad clicks. As advertising is Google's primary business model and users have become more and more observant of which results are ads, it would not be surprising for the company to want to enhance its returns. In this case, however, it truly does appear to be just a case of a bad design decision. The design has since been removed, with
a statement, saying, While early tests for desktop were positive, we are always incorporating feedback from our users. We are experimenting with a change to the current desktop favicons and will continue to iterate on the design over time.
So, we will likely see a return of the favicons to search results on the desktop experience in the future, it will only be after solving the perception issue this design created. Favicons still appear on Google News posts, but News does not display ads.
There is no doubt that eSports is quickly growing into an American classic. Platforms like Twitch and Mixer have made it easy for regular home players to watch the pros and learn how to play at a higher level. They have also made it easier for new players to be discovered. In the US, though, the most common recruiting tool for professional sports is through high school competition. Because of that, the announcement that
Fortnite is officially recognized as a high school sport could bring that recruiting process to a popular eSports title. Competition will begin in Spring 2020, with infrastructure already in place.
How does a game become an official school sport, though? It is done through an organization called the
National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the governing body of school sports. Outside of the traditional sports, like football, soccer, and lacrosse, NFHS recognizes Speech, Debate & Theater and eSports as non-traditional sports. eSports works differently from most of the others, in that competition does not take place on a traditional field. To make the process easier for schools, they have partnered with a company called PlayVS, which provides the infrastructure for competition and tournaments.
This brings up a constant topic
within our organization - why does the NFHS not recognize robotics as a sport? Videogame titles are fleeting, but engineering is not. has hosted robotics competitions since 1992 (Maize Craze) and has likely led to more students becoming professionals in the field than all other sports combined. This is because science and engineering are the only sport that any student can go pro. Yet, NFHS does not recognize FIRST FIRST or its competitor VEX as an official sport. This distinction prevents students from counting competitions as excused absences and making funding a difficult process. Hopefully, NFHS will fix this because students participating in these activities deserve recognition.
For the past few years, Apple has constantly talked about their focus on privacy and security. However, their behavior has inconsistently lined up with that claim. Sure, they very publicly denied the FBI's request to
decrypt an iPhone that could have contained information about the San Bernadino shooting. The company claimed that once a process for decrypting a device existed, it was a bottle that couldn't be recorked. They also pointed out that the device was encrypted because they made a mistake.
On the other hand, the company recently announced during their first appearance at CES in decades, ironically during a privacy roundtable, that iCloud device backups were not encrypted and, in fact, the company regularly scans those backups. While they tried to justify the behavior by hiding behind the auspices of looking for child exploitation content, it doesn't change the fact that the company is scanning your files. Technologically, for Apple to be able to scan for any particular content, they have to create an index of all of the searchable content. That means that they are indexing your emails, photos, files, and more, whether you like it or not.
It is important to note that the argument made, searching for child exploitation content, is the same argument regularly made by the Justice Department when they talk about
wanting to outlaw encryption. This is important to note because a new report from Reuters suggests that the company had been working on encrypting device backups but abandoned them because of a complaint from the FBI. The complaint was that encrypting the data on the device and the cloud would place Apple in violation of warrants, especially in cases of "national security" are in question. Of course, a lack of encryption also led to Apple being able to scan and index your data, as well.
This is far from the first time a technology company has lied about its commitment to user privacy. We do live in the age of Facebook, after all. However, the idea that Apple markets itself as a guardian of user privacy and violates it every day is wrong and potential liability for the company.
When Sling appeared at CES to first introduce the idea of a cable subscription delivered as a streaming service, it was an attractive alternative to traditional hardline cable subscriptions. You got your cable and local channels, you could choose a la carte options, and all of it was far less expensive than your regular cable options. However, in the years since that fateful CES, the cable and network landscape has changed significantly. Comcast has taken a tighter hold over the NBCUniversal ecosystem, AT&T owns the Time Warner and Turner networks, as well as DIRECTV and the competing streaming service HBO Now.
Since the content providers and service providers have gotten closer together, their interest in helping one another out has lessened. Why would AT&T or Comcast want to help a company that is undercutting its recurring revenue? The short answer is, they wouldn't. As such, we have seen these services forced to increase their prices over the past few years. We have seen YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, and even AT&T TV NOW (previously called DIRECTV NOW) raise prices because of increased content costs.
Now, Sling is falling victim to the success of the industry they helped to create. Several of the company's packages are seeing price increases, including the popular Blue and Orange packages. Each will run $30 per month going forward, with the pair together running $45 per month. For Sling, this is an uncommon practice, with Blue having never been raised, and Orange being stead for 2 years.
The good news is that along with the price increases come new channels. So, at least you aren't just being charged more for the same content. The company is also adding free cloud storage to these subscriptions, making the price changes a little more acceptable for current and new subscribers.
In 2018, a coalition of more than 50 companies filed suit against Cox Communication for not limiting the actions of its users on the internet. These companies included some heavy hitters, such as Sony, Universal, and Warner. The issue at hand surrounds piracy on the internet and the company's lack of response to the activity on its network. The music companies argued that Cox Communications was legally responsible for selectively preventing access to certain content on its network.
This week, a jury in a Virginia Federal Court agreed with this argument and awarded this coalition $1 billion in damages. The ruling came after three weeks worth of trial and testimony, in which the coalition argued that Cox Communications was liable for around 10,000 compromised recordings and compositions, which were made available freely through their network infrastructure, which simply provides access to the internet.
This ruling sets a terrifying legal precedent for the future of the internet in the United States. Legally, the responsibility for breaking the law has always been placed on the person who commits the illegal act, not those who unknowingly provide a structure that is compromised to commit the act. Never has the federal government been held responsible for someone using a public road to escape a bank robbery, nor has Ford ever been held responsible for the Simpson murders. That's because the government and Ford did not intend to help these activities.
By holding Cox Communications liable for the actions of those who compromise the intent of the network has two major issues. The first and most obvious is the idea that the court system is encouraging a network operator to pay strict attention to what you are doing on their network and either prevent or report certain activities. That goes against the very nature of the internet, which is intended to be an open and universal experience. Luckily, these companies have a lot of examples to follow, from China, Russia, and others.