Since is launched in 2011, Google+ has been the butt of nearly every joke in the tech industry. A favorite is the idea that the only people who use Google+ are Google employees, being forced to do so to try and show some sort of usage. Of course, there are more users than employees, but not by a huge margin. Over the years Google has done a lot to try and force people to interact with Google+. The most famous of which was
forcing YouTube integration, making users have a Google+ account to comment on videos. None of these tricks worked.
Google has been having an internal debate for several years, whether to continue the fight or walk away. They've walked away from other massive mistakes, such as
Google Buzz, a product that not even Google knew what was for. This week, Google's decision was finally made: walk away. The company has finally decided that the trouble of Google+ is finally more than it cares bare and will begin the process of shuttering the consumer side of the product. If you are one of the very few people who used the platform and has content there that will be lost, Google has created an export process.
The stated reason for the shutdown, however, doesn't have anything to do with incredibly low usage. Instead, the company claims that the shutdown is caused by a security bug that was patched earlier in the year. The bug, which is similar in nature to
Facebook's recent issue, in that the company claims that they have no evidence that any data was exposed incorrectly, only that it could have been. In Google's case, however, it was more than API keys that were available: it included name, email, gender, job, and age; enough to do some real-world damage.
The bug was introduced into the software in 2015 and discovered early in the year, being patched in March. Unfortunately for users, Google decided that it didn't need to disclose the issue publicly. This is contrary to the way they treat other companies, however. If Google discovers a bug like this in someone else's software, they give
90 days to fix it before disclosing it themselves. It apparently doesn't apply to their own software, though.
The issues were
disclosed by , followed by Google's announcement about the future of the product. As one would expect, users are not happy about the lack of disclosure and have Wall Street Journal filed a proposed class action against the company. The suit claims negligence, invasion of privacy, and more. Attorney Joshua Watson wrote, Worse, after discovery of this vulnerability in the Google+ platform, Defendants kept silent for at least seven months, making a calculated decision not to inform users that their Personal Information was compromised, further compromising the privacy of consumers' information and exposing them to risk of identity theft or worse.
Even the government is unhappy about the scenario. Three US Senators sent
a letter to Google, in part saying, Please describe in detail when and how Google became aware of this vulnerability and what actions Google took to remedy it.
Why did Google choose not to disclose the vulnerability, including to the Committee or to the public, until many months after it was discovered?
Are there similar incidents which have not been publicly disclosed?
This is similar in nature to what happened after the Cambridge Analytica breach at Facebook. It is liklely that, in addition to the class action suit, someone from Google is going to be speaking in front of Congress soon.
It has long been known that Microsoft was working on an Azure-powered Xbox streaming platform. At E3 this year, the project was confirmed, with a promise of further details to come. Following
Google's Project Stream going into beta last week, Microsoft has made good on that promise, with new details released this week.
The project is currently known as Project xCloud, likely a combination of Xbox and Azure Cloud, being as those are the platforms being combined to make it possible. The project represents the next generation of Microsoft's Play Anywhere initiative, which brought Xbox games to PC, and vice versa. That feature required a game to be built using Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform, which is a platform designed to allow software to run on a variety of devices, including PC, Xbox, Hololens, embedded systems (like an arcade cabinet), and more, or have a special relationship with Microsoft. UWP has its limitations, though, and has not gotten complete buy-in, which has meant that the catalog is not huge.
The thing that makes Project xCloud a step forward is the fact that developers need to do absolutely nothing special to make their games compatible with the platform. Any game that can run on the Xbox One can be streamed to devices. That means that the catalog at launch could be massive: far larger than any other game streaming platform.
Another thing that sets Project xCloud apart is the platforms that it will support. In essence, if the device can pair a Bluetooth Xbox controller, it is likely going to be able to stream games. Microsoft is also testing touch input, so that could expand the lineup of devices. This means that nearly any phone or tablet, provided it has enough resources, will be able to play any of the games. This is because of the way game streaming works: the game does not actually run and render on the device but instead is run and rendered on a server, and only the video is streamed to the device. This has been a technological concern for other companies that have tried it, but Microsoft has ideas to overcome the downfalls.
Developers and researchers at Microsoft Research are creating ways to combat latency through advances in networking topology, and video encoding and decoding. Project xCloud will have the capability to make game streaming possible on 4G networks and will dynamically scale to push against the outer limits of what's possible on 5G networks as they roll out globally. Currently, the test experience is running at 10 megabits per second. Our goal is to deliver high-quality experiences at the lowest possible bitrate that work across the widest possible networks, taking into consideration the uniqueness of every device and network.
Being as Microsoft has Azure datacenters across the globe, they might be the first company that can actually overcome the biggest issue: latency. Pressing a button on your controller and having to wait an extended period of time to see a result prevents quick action gaming, which is required for most big titles. The fact that they are already working to eliminate the problem on only a 10Mbps connection (just barely above 1 MB per second) is impressive.
Microsoft will begin public trials of the technology in 2019, testing capabilities, stress and more. As the tests get closer, we will make sure to keep you updated on the development.
Anyone who is unaware of Facebook's privacy and security violations does not live in the same century as the rest of us. Between major controversies like Cambridge Analytica and their
recent data breach, faith and trust in the company is not in a great place. All of that makes this week's announcement even more surprising: Facebook is launching Portal: an Alexa-powered smart display and video chatting device.
These new devices, dubbed
Portal and Portal+, are, on the surface, pretty standard fare. They have a screen, a camera, and a microphone array. They respond to a voice command, in this case, "Hey Portal," and theoretically ignore all other content. They have video calling built-in, using Facebook Messenger, and use the microphone array to minimize background noise. Even the body of the base device looks nearly identical to an Echo Show Gen 2.
While the basics are pretty generic, there are some distinguishing features. For example, using some AI features, the camera is capable of some interesting tricks. As people move around in the frame, or people enter and exit the frame, the field of view can be adjusted automatically. It's like having a director of videography living in your kitchen. This is far from the first consumer product to offer a feature like this - even Skype offers a version - but none of them work quite as seamlessly as the Portal.
The really interesting aspect of the Portal has nothing to do with the product, and more to do with the timing and marketing. With such a low level of trust in the company and their handling of data, bringing out what amounts to a spy device right now has created an interesting scenario for the company: getting people to want a Portal in their home. They've gone to a lot of trouble in their marketing material to create a feeling of privacy. In fact, more of their website is dedicated to privacy than any other feature. Privacy seems to be the only feature that has a
sub-page on the domain.
From little things like a camera cover to big things, like locally-running AI, they are talking a lot about privacy. They make one claim that others have made in the past, "Facebook doesn't listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you're calling." Usually, when other companies have made a big deal about this, it has turned out to be misleading at best, and an outright lie at worst. Facebook's track record makes me lean more to the latter than the former.
Are you interested in a Facebook Portal? Let us know in the comments.
When Netflix started its transition from DVD to streaming (and finally making their name make sense), they were really the only game in town. That meant that any studio that had content they wanted to make available only had a single choice through which to distribute. It also meant that consumers only had a single place to go to see if a certain piece of content was available to stream. Today, the market is beyond fragmented, with general purpose services like Netflix, Hulu, and
Amazon Prime Video, plus network-specific services like CBS All Access, HBO NOW, and more. In addition, DC just launched a service, and Disney is looking at as many as 3 separate services.
As the number of distribution platforms increases, so does the number of pieces of content that sign exclusivity deals with a particular platform. The platforms believe that locking content in as an exclusivity to their service, it essentially holds consumers hostage to paying for their platform. On
F5 Live: Refreshing Technology, we have discussed several times that the fragmentation of the industry has caused a new problem for consumers: too much cost. For example, if you want to watch Futurama, you have to pay $8 per month. If you also want to watch Disenchantment, also from the same team, you need to also pay $8 per month for Netflix. So, just to watch the two shows, it's $16 per month.
As the cost of streaming options increases, due to too many choices, customers have another choice to make: whether or not to pay. However, the internet generation is not going to be dissuaded from watching the content they want. If you need any proof, ask the music industry how preventing streaming has worked for them (hint: it created Napster). As it turns out, the choice they are making is to pirate the content.
According to a new report from Sandvine titled
Global Internet Phenomena, as streaming availability raised, the use of services like BitTorrent decreased. However, as the industry has continued to fragment, the use of BitTorrent has increased once again. In 2011, the report showed that 52% of all upstream traffic in the Americas was BitTorrent traffic. In 2015, only about 28% of all traffic was BitTorrent. This year, however, usage shows a reversal of the trend, and exclusivity deals are likely a cause.
Unfortunately, this report is unlikely to make any changes in the industry. There is a certain amount of content piracy that is expected and, if the companies are smart, planned for. Until that loss is exceeded, the industry won't look at its behavior and begin to make changes. However, if the wireless industry is any indication, they will eventually discover that exclusivity is not good for business.
It is no secret that 2018 has not been Facebook's year. Between
illegal data collection lawsuits and of course Cambridge Analytica, which landed CEO Mark Zuckerberg in front of Congress, this is almost certainly a year the company wishes it could do over. Unfortunately, last week added to the company's difficulties, this time care of a data breach.
This breach, which affected only about 50 million of the site's 2.23 billion active users (or about 2%), took advantage of a bug in the altered upload process introduced in mid-2017 and a bug in the "View As" profile feature. By using the bug in the View As feature, attackers were able to get access to external access keys, used to connect to applications like Hootsuite and MissingLettr, or for logging into applications via the Facebook login process.
By using these keys, an attacker could, potentially, be able to make whatever changes or access whatever data that key gives access to. For example, if you used to login process, they might be able to access your name, email address and possibly your contact list. If the key was for an application like Hootsuite, they attacker could have access to a ton of data, including all of the pages you manage and would be granted access to post to your profile and pages as you.
Fortunately, once Facebook became aware of the issue, they patched the vulnerabilities and expired every exposed access key, plus keys for another 40 million users who had used the View As feature in the last 12 months. Those 90 million users started their Friday being asked to login to a variety of applications, including the website, mobile apps, Messenger, and more. While it might be an inconvenience, it's better that Facebook revoked all of the tokens rather than leaving it up to the users to figure out some revocation process.
Your next steps, whether or not you were forcibly logged out, should involve a thorough review of the apps that you give access to your information. You might even want to consider not using the Login with Facebook feature in the future, if that is an option. Some popular applications do not allow you to skip the Facebook Login, but most allow you to create a platform-specific login. When that is an option, use it. If you were logged out, you might also want to change your Facebook password, although the company says there is no indication that password information was made available.