The UpStream

Blizzard is quickly throwing away all of their consumer confidence

posted Saturday Oct 19, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Blizzard is quickly throwing away all of their consumer confidence

In the past few weeks, Blizzard has made some decisions that have caused not just consumer, but international backlash. It started a few weeks ago when a professional Hearthstone player, Ng "Blitzchung" Wai Chung, made a pro-Hong Kong protest comment after a competition. The company stripped him of his tournament win and banned him from professional play for a year. Consumers responded swiftly, with people across the globe canceling their Blizzard game subscriptions. As a result, Blizzard seemed to disable the ability to cancel a subscription, claiming technical difficulties. After backlash, the company reinstated his win, as well as reducing his ban to six months instead of twelve.

Blizzard hoped that this would be the end of the controversy, but it seems to be just the beginning. This week, Blizzard decided to cancel a big event at Nintendo World in New York City, which was to be part of their much-anticipated release of Overwatch for the Switch. While Blizzard had not given a public statement about why the event had been canceled, many believed it was in response to a request from the Chinese government. There was an almost guaranteed chance that there would be protesters at the event, and their message would have been broadcast internationally with the Blizzard and Overwatch logos behind them. China has been flexing its muscles lately in regards to the Hong Kong protests, threatening to end business relationships with companies that even indirectly present an image of supporting the protests. Many companies have kowtowed to these requests for fear of losing access to the lucrative market.

Consumers are not the only ones concerned about Blizzard's relationship with China. A group of US Congresspeople who share almost no political positions, came together this week to express their concerns. A letter was sent by Republicans Marco Rubio and Mike Gallagher, Democrats Ron Wyden, Tom Malinowski, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to the company. They cite consumer response, employee response, and concerns over the reasoning behind these moves.

Blizzard and other companies have been put into a sticky situation when it comes to Hong Kong. The Chinese market can be a big one for these companies, but only if they play the government's games. Hong Kong has been China's first real flex outside of internet censorship. In addition to Blizzard, Apple was seemingly forced to remove an app from their store that allowed protesters to communicate. Apple also received harsh criticism and government questioning.

This could be the event that finally re-ignites the rift between the West and the Communists of China.

Is phone-based VR finally dead? Google and Samsung think so.

posted Saturday Oct 19, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Is phone-based VR finally dead? Google and Samsung think so.

At the resurgence of virtual reality in this decade, many companies saw using your phone and its screen as the basis for VR systems as the best solution. Samsung and Oculus built the Gear VR platform. Google created the Cardboard and then the Daydream platforms. A variety of other companies, including Monster, got into the game. All of these used your phone as the center of the VR experience, rather than creating dedicated VR hardware.

The problem with this approach is that consumers seemed unwilling to care. Outside of educational venues or corporate demos, I never saw a Google Daydream in the wild. Samsung was so desperate to make the platform work, they gave Gear VR headsets away with a Galaxy S8 purchase, and owners didn't request their free hardware. In response, Samsung didn't even make the 10 series, the Galaxy S10 and the Note 10, compatible with their Gear VR headsets.

Following suit, Google announced this week that the Google Daydream View hardware had taken the eternal nap. The dumb headset, as it were, was launched in 2016 and featured VR lenses and nothing more. Visually, it was probably the best recognized of the headset hardware, as it featured the strange grey fabric on the outside. However, being recognizable does not make you successful.

With this move, the era of dumb headsets and phone-based VR is all but dead. Sure, the existing hardware is still out there, both from Samsung and Google, but with no new hardware development, there is little chance that developers will put any effort into supporting these systems. So, during any software overhaul, you can expect Daydream and Gear VR support to be dropped. Hulu, as part of their UI overhaul last month, already dropped support for Daydream, beating Google to the punch.

So, with that, the failed experiment has completed. If you want to use VR going forward, you will need to use dedicated VR hardware. Fortunately, we have standalone platforms like Oculus Go, which will allow you to use VR without a computer, just like Daydream and Gear VR did.

In response to new law, Google will limit news results in France

posted Friday Sep 27, 2019 by Scott Ertz

In response to new law, Google will limit news results in France

Google can be a difficult company to predict. This is because, while the company ardently sticky to its values, those values can be near impossible to nail down at any given moment. In 2010, Googled ended operations in China over mandated search result censorship, taking moral exception to the requirement to censor human rights topics. Last year, however, they began work on a censored search product specifically for China. They have since canceled the project, but only because of employee and public backlash.

One area on which they have never wavered, however, is being charged for content. The process has been affectionately known as the Google Tax, where Google is specifically targeted with legislation that harms its business model. The European Union has been the biggest offender of the Google Tax with various laws passed targeting the company. Google's response to these laws has varied, but it has often been understandably harsh.

The most famous instance of Google's retaliation is in regards to Spain and Google News. The country passed a law requiring news aggregators to pay the data sources for the data they collect. In response, Google shut down Google News in Spain. This week, the situation has raised itself once again, but the response seems to be a little bit different.

France has passed a law similar to that of Spain, but Google has not yet shut down its service. Instead, the company has found a way to both punish France and refuse to pay for the data. They have announced that they will only show headlines of articles on France unless the publisher has specifically given Google permission to show a summary. This will be a change in policy from how it works today in France and other countries, where they show the article summary by default.

Microsoft is attempting to fend off a data request gag order again

posted Friday Sep 27, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft is attempting to fend off a data request gag order again

As the tech industry swings heavily towards cloud services, the government has been issuing a lot more data requests to cloud providers. Often, the requests for data are sealed, meaning that the cloud provider is legally forbidden from informing their client that their data has been taken by the government. While many companies simply turn the data over, one of the biggest players regularly fights these gag orders: Microsoft.

The company's most recent fight involves one of its big enterprise customers, whom they are prohibited from informing about a data request. The company has taken the gag order to court in an attempt to nullify the gag order, allowing them to inform their customer. Dev Stahlkopf, Microsoft's general counsel, wrote,

On Sept. 5, 2018, Microsoft challenged a secrecy order issued by a federal magistrate judge in Brooklyn, New York in connection with a federal national security investigation. Based on the limited information available to us in this case, we feel the secrecy order was too broadly drawn and is inconsistent with the U.S. government's policy that secrecy orders be narrowly tailored.

Microsoft argued that their client, which has thousands of employees, must have at least one employee who could be informed of the data access without compromising the case. Unfortunately, the court rejected the argument and left the gag order in place. Stahlkopf said that he intends to appeal the ruling, stating that the company has a responsibility to its customers.

As a cloud services provider, Microsoft has an important role in forcing governments to go before impartial judges to justify their conduct. Our thorough review of law enforcement demands helps ensure that governments are respecting the rights of internet users around the world.

The "narrowly tailored" orders that are referenced are care of a previous case that Microsoft waged against the Department of Justice in 2016, which was settled in 2017. The settlement included the limiting of scope for gag orders. They also famously fended off an FBI gag order in 2014 placed on an Office 365 request.

Project xCloud is closer to reality, Microsoft looking for testers

posted Friday Sep 27, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Project xCloud is closer to reality, Microsoft looking for testers

There is no doubt that the big players in the gaming industry believe that the future of gaming lies in streaming. Microsoft, Google, and even Electronic Arts are working on game streaming platforms. While EA began testing their platform a few weeks ago, Microsoft has been holding out on public testing of Project xCloud. That is until now, as the company has officially announced the beginning of their public platform test for October.

The testing is open to gamers in the United States or the United Kingdom and registration is open now. To register, you must have a compatible Android device (phone or tablet), a Bluetooth 4 compatible Xbox One controller (2nd generation controller), and a 5GHz Wi-Fi connection or equivalent LTE or 5G connection. Just because you register and have all of the prerequisites does not mean that you will be chosen for this first round of testing, but don't worry - more rounds will be coming.

In the first phase, they will be testing just the cloud streaming capabilities, though the page does mention upcoming testing of the console streaming feature. As the testing will focus on the cloud capabilities, the available games will be limited in scope, with only a few big Xbox titles being on the menu: Halo 5: Guardians, Gears 5, Killer Instinct, and Sea of Thieves. These games represent a variety of gameplay, as well as a variety of release dates. Killer Instinct was released in 2013, while Gears 5 came out this month.

The variety of gameplay styles and release dates could be to test different aspects of the platform. For example, the game ages could be in an attempt to test rendering stress and data usage, while the gameplay styles could be an attempt to test the latency of commands in both directions. All of these aspects are important to test, especially at this point in development.

A new iPhone jailbreak is unpatchable on all affected devices

posted Friday Sep 27, 2019 by Scott Ertz

A new iPhone jailbreak is unpatchable on all affected devices

It is not unusual for companies to discover software vulnerabilities. The thing that makes software great is that it can be patched if an issue is discovered so that the issue can be mitigated. However, a hardware-level vulnerability is far less common and even harder to repair. This is the situation that Apple has found itself in, as a hardware-level vulnerability has been discovered and actively exploited in a wide range of iPhones.

Devices sporting the Apple A5 through A11 processors, meaning the iPhone 4S through the iPhone X and a variety of iPads, are vulnerable to this issue, dubbed checkm8. The issue involves the devices' bootloader, which is the mobile equivalent of a desktop computer's BIOS. Unlike a BIOS, an Apple bootloader is not able to be updated, which means that the exploit is permanent and unfixable. This means that it exists in the wild on these devices forever.

The issue was reported and exploited by Twitter user axi0mX, along with an open-source project to take advantage of the exploit. While the majority of the issues are simply going to annoy Apple, some of them are legitimate problems. On the casual side, iPhones are now able to run operating systems other than Apple's iOS, including Android. Through this new feature, d potentially breathe new life into older devices. For example, the iPhone 4S maxes out at iOS 9, but the hardware could potentially support far newer Android builds especially Android Go.

On the negative side, however, is the potential for security issues. With access to the bootloader, it is possible that some personal data on the device could be vulnerable. Of course, this means that the hacker would require physical access to the device, but it is still possible. The need to have access to the device could potentially reignite a mostly dead market of stolen phones.

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