The UpStream (Page 28)

Apple hits another snag with original content, cancels film premiere

posted Saturday Nov 23, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Apple hits another snag with original content, cancels film premiere

While the release of Disney+ has seen its share of difficulties, including missing features and system availability, it's been the release of Apple TV+ that has been the real disaster. Disney has almost a century worth of content to fall back onto, but Apple is just getting started with content, and that content has been its downfall thus far.

The company put a lot of money and marketing efforts behind its original series. Unfortunately, critics and consumers alike have met these projects with indifference at best and disdain at worst. The flagship series, The Morning Show, has been the hardest hit. Of the reviews I've seen, the nicest comment called it boring, and it got worse from there.

On the heels of the challenges presented by their lackluster series productions, Apple now has a new issue to overcome. The premiere of one of their first major films, The Banker, has been canceled and the release has been postponed indefinitely. The move does not come because of a lack of confidence in the content itself, but instead because of behind the scenes issues.

The release's pause comes after sisters Cynthia and Sheila Garrett alleged that Bernard Garrett Jr. sexually assaulted them for nearly a decade. The incidents happened in the 1970s, and are semi intertwined into the actual story of the film itself. The movie, set in the 1950s, centers on two land developers, one of which is Bernard Garrett Sr. Adding to the controversy, Garrett is the half-brother of the sisters in question. Apple said in a statement,

Last week some concerns surrounding the film were brought to our attention. We, along with the filmmakers, need some time to look into these matters and determine the best next steps.

While Samuel L. Jackson has been discussed as a potential long-shot nomination for an Oscar, Apple has made it clear that promoting a film produced by an accused rapist is not on their holiday wish list. The future of the film is definitely in question, though the likeliest outcome is stripping Garrett's producer credit.

US government looking for international support against encryption

posted Saturday Nov 23, 2019 by Scott Ertz

US government looking for international support against encryption

The government has long had a complicated relationship with data security. On the one hand, Congress held hearings with top-level executives of Facebook, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, over the handling of user data, spurred on by the Cambridge Analytica issues. On the other, the Justice Department has campaigned against encryption, wanting a "backdoor" into encrypted data. The tech world has continued to fight against the idea of an easily broken encryption system because that undermines the entire concept of encryption.

This week, the government has begun trying to rally an international coalition against secure encryption. A draft resolution, written by members of the FBI, was presented at INTERPOL's child protection meeting in Lyon, France. The draft stated,

The current path towards default end-to-end encryption, with no provision for lawful access, does not allow for the protection of the world's children from sexual exploitation. Technology providers must act and design their services in a way that protects user privacy, on the one hand, while providing user safety, on the other hand. Failure to allow for Lawful Access on their platforms and products, provides a safe haven to offenders utilizing these to sexually exploit children, and inhibits our global law enforcement efforts to protect children.

While attendees of the meeting claimed that the resolution would be published shortly, INTERPOL representatives have stated in no uncertain terms that the draft would not be addressed. Part of the draft that likely raised concern was the massively false statement that "technologists agree" that backdoors are a good thing. The reality is that almost no one in the technology field believes that backdoors are a good idea and, instead, believe that it could be the end of security as we know it.

One of the most ardent and vocal defenders of encryption has been Apple. The company famously fought a court order demanding that they decrypt a device that law enforcement locked down due to carelessness and negligence. The company's argument has been the same as in all encryption arguments: once a hole exists, it will be exploited forever.

There is no way that the Justice Department stops fighting for their terrible idea, but hopefully, the rest of the world will continue to respond with the same indifference towards their outbursts.

Half-Life and virtual reality get a boost from new Valve game

posted Saturday Nov 23, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Half-Life and virtual reality get a boost from new Valve game

It has been over 12 years since the latest entry in the Half-Life franchise was released. It was Half-Life 2 Episode 2, released in October 2007, part of the Orange Box, which also included the undisputed game of the year, Portal. In the subsequent decade, players have hoped that Valve would release the third chapter in that story, Episode 3, but to no avail. In its absence, the existence of Half-Life 3 has become the constant joke of the Internet.

This week, Valve announced neither Half-Life 2 Episode 3 nor Half-Life 3. Instead, they announced details about an entirely new entry in the franchise: Half-Life: Alyx. This previously known game, but with no details, will live between the first and second games and will tie together the gap between the stories. The idea of being able to re-enter the chaotic world of Black Mesa has excited fans of the franchise.

While the excitement over the new entry is a big announcement from Valve, there is something potentially more exciting about the new game. Half-Life: Alyx will be a AAA title released as a virtual reality game, and a flagship title for the Valve Index headset. One of the biggest limiting factors for the success of VR has been the lack of a truly killer title for any VR platform. By bringing the most demanded franchise in gaming into the world of VR could finally represent the tipping point for VR.

In addition to the excitement over the title, there is another reason to be excited. Valve plans on bundling this AAA title with the headset. That means that anyone who owns the Valve Index will get Half-Life: Alyx for free. As we have seen with other gaming platforms, giving games for free is a huge incentive for people to use it. However, this is a big move from Valve to increase the value of the Index. Half-Life: Alyx will be available in March 2020, assuming no typical Valve delays.

But that's not all Valve had to say about the franchise. Valve's David Speyrer told The Verge that people inside of Valve have been excited to have returned to the franchise and that, assuming success on the new title, the company could spend more time working within that universe. Maybe finishing the current story, maybe starting an entirely new one. Either way, fingers crossed for continued content.

The US Government will not pay for new Chinese network hardware

posted Saturday Nov 23, 2019 by Scott Ertz

The US Government will not pay for new Chinese network hardware

There has been a lot of questions over the validity of Chinese hardware existing in the West, led by the United States. The worry comes from the close relationship between some of the big tech companies and the Communist government that controls China. This concern has covered everything from $200 phones and laptops to million-dollar cellular network hardware. While the future of the relationship between US and Chinese companies is still in question for consumer goods, the Federal Communications Commission has decided on network hardware.

The FCC has voted unanimously to ban Huawei and ZTE hardware from being purchased under the commission's Universal Service Fund (USF). This fund is used to subsidize installations to provide service to low income and hard to serve areas, which would likely never turn a profit on their own. The ban currently prevents companies using this fund from purchasing hardware from the two named companies, but also provides a mechanism for evaluating other manufacturers for future bans. It could also require the removal of existing hardware from these manufacturers in the future.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said of the decision,

(Huawei and ZTE) have close ties to China's Communist government and military apparatus. Both companies are subject to Chinese laws broadly obligating them to cooperate with any request from the country's intelligence services and to keep those requests secret. Both companies have engaged in conduct like intellectual property theft, bribery, and corruption.

While the move is entirely about the security of voice and data transmitted across networks built using government subsidies, at least one Commissioner is concerned that the topic could get pulled into the greater story of global trade with China. Jessica Rosenworcel said,

When the United States government pursues action against Huawei or ZTE, its objective should be security. But in Washington right now, I fear these issues can easily get swept up into broader trade matters. Despite our actions today, we have to grapple with the fact that at any moment the administration could trade away our security objectives for some momentary advantage in bilateral trade negotiations. I hope that does not occur, but let's be honest, it has happened before, when this administration reversed course on banning ZTE from doing business in the United States. If it happens again, it will have serious consequences for our credibility.

The credibility of the FCC, especially in security matters, is an important one right now. With the greater security threat from China growing, and the topic of data security and privacy at the forefront of everyone's mind, standing strong on security is essential. Hopefully, Commissioner Rosenworcel's fears won't be realized.

Netflix will restrict its apps on some Samsung and Roku devices

posted Sunday Nov 10, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Netflix will restrict its apps on some Samsung and Roku devices

One of the biggest concerns about cloud-powered software services is the longevity of those platforms. With standard software, you can use it for as long as you want. Take, for example, Photoshop. If you purchased a copy of Photoshop from Adobe in 1989 and continued to have a computer on which you could use it, it would continue to operate today, 30 years later. However, if you subscribe to Photoshop CC today, that version may be terminated from operation at any moment.

The most common way that consumers interact with cloud services is through their streaming video services. This week, the software as a service retirement issue is going to hit home for some Netflix users, as their devices will be officially unsupported. It's not going to apply to modern or highly popular devices, but it will apply to some high profile devices, including Samsung and Vizio TVs and Roku set-top boxes. According to a Netflix representative,

On December 2nd, Netflix will no longer be supported on a small number of older devices due to technical limitations. We've notified all impacted members with more information about alternative devices we support so they can keep enjoying Netflix uninterrupted.

Netflix has claimed that the move is because of the technical limitations of these older devices. As Netflix has continued to improve the features of its platform, it would make sense that older devices might produce some new challenges. When the company introduced the choose your own adventure story Bandersnatch, it was only made available on certain platforms. This created a user experience issue, as well as a technical issue, having to limit the reach of a particular media item. The introduction of the ability to skip political jokes in the new Seth Meyers standup special could have brought this technological divide back to light.

While this might be an immediate disappointment to those who own these devices and use them to stream Netflix, continued development for older devices is an unnecessary expense, especially if there are issues with the capabilities of those devices in general. For those affected, there are some inexpensive solutions to the problem, including the Roku Premiere, which is currently $30.

Former Twitter employees charged with spying for Saudi government

posted Saturday Nov 9, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Former Twitter employees charged with spying for Saudi government

For the first time, the American government has charged Saudis for spying within the United States. The charges come against two former Twitter employees who are accused of using their positions within the company to collect information and send it back to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The indictment specifically cites that these individuals acted as unregistered agents and submitting falsified documents to the Federal Bureau of Investigations to support their continued activities within the United States.

Three individuals were named, though only two were charged. The first is US citizen Ahmad Abouammo, who left Twitter in 2015 of his own accord. The second is Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi citizen, who was confronted by Twitter about his activities and put on leave from the company. He fled the country the next day, sending a letter of resignation to Twitter from the flight home. The third is Ahmed al Mutairi, also a Saudi citizen, who acted as an intermediary for the "invisible hand" of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The way it worked is that starting in 2014, Abouammo and Alzabarah, working for Twitter, collected information about users at the behest of Al Mutairi. While many of those who were investigated were Saudi citizens, others were simply critical of the Saudi government or Bin Salman himself. The collected information included the standard email addresses and IP addresses but also extended to browsers and device information. With this combined data, the Saudi government could potentially be able to track the movements of these people via their computers and mobile devices.

This issue highlights several issues in the technology industry. The first revolves around the amount of data that employees of software companies can have about the users of that software. If this exact scenario had happened in a company like Uber, the government could have tracked the movements of those they considered dissenters. On the other side, it also brings up the issue of hiring people with strong ties to foreign governments, especially those with a history of violating its citizens' privacy.

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