The UpStream

Google has canceled controversial censored Chinese search engine

posted Saturday Jul 20, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Google has canceled controversial censored Chinese search engine

Since word broke on Google's censored search engine Dragonfly, intended for China, the response has been incredibly negative. The product, which has been in development for over a year, immediately began raising questions about user privacy, government censorship, and corporate culture. China has demanded that search engines remove results about human rights, democracy, peaceful protest, and more. Years ago, Google pulled out of China over censorship concerns, and Dragonfly indicated a change in corporate responsibility.

This week, during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Karan Bhatia, Google's vice president of public policy, said,

We have terminated Project Dragonfly.

The company claims that this is not a new development, pointing to a statement from March that said that the company was not actively working on the project and employees have been moved to other projects. However, testifying before the Senate and the word "terminated" are significantly more firm. Not currently working on a project is not the end of the project, but termination indicates a certain finality.

As the battle between the West and China heats up, confirming the end of this project is a smart move. As it was, policymakers and employees have expressed their dislike of the project. A letter was sent to Google, encouraging the company to reconsider the project, while unhappy employees resigned over the human rights implications. Things heated up when privacy concerns were exposed, ending with even veteran executives leaving.

Google's China ties have already become a problem for the company when exports to Huawei were recently banned. This meant that Google could not provide updates for Android devices produced by the company. While the ban is partially suspended, the uncertainty could definitely have played a role in this decision. Hopefully, however, the decision was made after reconsidering the human rights, privacy, and censorship concerns.

Nintendo Switch has longer battery model coming with Switch Lite

posted Saturday Jul 20, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo Switch has longer battery model coming with Switch Lite

The past 2 weeks have been big for Nintendo announcements. It started last week with the announcement of the Nintendo Switch Lite, a smaller version of the existing Switch. The new model has been anticipated for months and hit all of the expected notes. The most important change is the price, dropping $100 off of the standard model, coming in at $199. A 33% price reduction is a big benefit for many who have held off on the current generation Nintendo console.

Unfortunately, the company has made a lot of sacrifices to reduce the price. The Lite model does not feature the iconic Joy-Con controllers, meaning that multiplayer games will require purchasing additional hardware. With a retail price of $79 for Joy-Con controllers, just adding this capability will bring the price in line with the standard hardware. However, you will also be sacrificing two other major features of the Switch: the TV mode and the tabletop mode. The Switch Lite does not have the kickstand of the original, nor does it have the docking capability, allowing you to use it on the television.

This means that the Switch Lite is far less like its bigger cousin, and more like the Nintendo 3DS. What this means for the 3DS family is unknown, as the company affirmed its commitment to the hardware earlier in the year, but this launch could change that. It has been expected that 2019 would be the final year of sales for the 3DS family, and a direct replacement more than adds credence to the expectations.

Not to be outdone, however, Nintendo also confirmed a new model (HAC-001-01) of their flagship Switch hardware. The new model will be essentially unchanged from an external perspective but will feature altered internals that will deliver up to 80% additional battery life. The new model could see as much as 9 hours compared to the maximum of 6.5 hours of the current model. This new model is expected to hit the street in August, and will directly replace the existing HAC-001 device.

Please stop helping Russia create deep fake photos and videos

posted Wednesday Jul 17, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Please stop helping Russia create deep fake photos and videos

Every week, there is a trend on the internet. Whether it be memes of moths or eating Tide pods, almost everyone is exposed to these short-lived trends. Normally they are harmless, including the Tide pod thing, as long as you didn't swallow the detergent. Sometimes the trends are beneficial, such as the fundraising campaign that was the Ice Bucket Challenge.

But, what if the trend is specifically designed to be harmful? The trend of the week involves an app called FaceApp, which allows you to upload a photo and have it age your face, theoretically showing you what you might look like in 50 years. However, this process was not designed to be just a fun viral trend but is designed to be a data collection and AI training method. The app was designed by a Russian company called Wireless Lab, and the photos that you are uploading are being sent to servers in the country. From the company's privacy policy, uploading a photo grants,

a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable, sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, creative derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content, and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your User Content in all media formats and channels now known or later developed, without compensation to you.

These images and the permission you give the company provide everything that is needed to train artificial intelligence to create better and more believable fake images and videos. The more you use the app, the more help you could potentially be giving Russian organizations to create these photos and videos.

Just like with the personality quizzes on Facebook that became the basis for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the problem comes down to users carelessly and willfully giving away their data. Before you use these types of gimmicks, think about the information involved and how it can and will be used by others.

MoviePass temporarily shuts down while Regal Cinemas ramps up

posted Saturday Jul 6, 2019 by Scott Ertz

MoviePass temporarily shuts down while Regal Cinemas ramps up

The past year has not been kind to independent unlimited movie passes. The European brand Sinemia that came to the US in 2018, shut down operations, citing their inability to find profitability. This followed the nearly constant disaster that has been MoviePass, which has struggled for over a year to keep its lights on. The company has changed its offering several times, reducing the unlimited movies, changing prices, and canceling the one-year prepaid subscriptions.

This week, the company made another big move for the worse, temporarily shutting down operations. At 5 AM Eastern, the MoviePass mobile app ceased functioning, making it impossible for subscribers to purchase movie tickets, making the service completely unavailable. according to a statement, the company said that the move is only temporary, and is being done to improve the mobile app. According to CEO Mitch Lowe,

There's never a good time to have to do this. But to complete the improved version of our app, one that we believe will provide a much better experience for our subscribers, it has to be done.
We have listened and we understand the frustrations of our subscribers. To provide the level of service you deserve and we can be proud of, we need to improve our mobile app. We plan to make this improvement by utilizing an enhanced technology platform, which is in the final stages of completion.

However, this explanation has been met with skepticism. Updating a mobile app does not require the developer or publisher to terminate operation of the existing version to complete a new version unless the team is completely incompetent. While some aspects of the way the app works have suggested some incompetence on the part of the development team, this is a bold and stupid move for a company already on the verge of collapse.

The most likely scenario here is that the company is actually making a big business move behind the scenes and cannot have the brand fully active to complete. With rumors of Regal Cinemas planning to launch its own in-house competitor, with details leaking this week, it's possible that MoviePass is analyzing the market to decide whether or not to continue operations at all.

Amazon can be sued for products it neither makes or directly sells

posted Saturday Jul 6, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Amazon can be sued for products it neither makes or directly sells

Since Amazon got started its business model has changed significantly. Originally, the company sold only books, and only through its own distribution channel. As the company grew, it expanded its offerings, selling products other than books, and eventually opening the platform up to third-party sellers. That change took Amazon from being a traditional retailer and made it more like a flea market, where they provide the space and others use the space to sell their own products.

That virtual store concept has allowed the retailer to grow its product assortment while not having to grow its distribution network. It has also kept the company separated from potential lawsuits, especially in sales that are between a third party seller and a customer. That is until a recent court ruling in the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which stated that Amazon can be held liable for sales in which the company only acts as a payment processor.

The case revolves around an incident in which a customer, Heather Oberdorf, purchased a retractable leash through the Amazon Marketplace from seller Furry Gang. Furry Gang shipped the product directly from their facility in Nevada to the customer. The leash broke, and the cord struck the owner in the eye, blinding her. She sued Amazon in 2016 for the defective product after she was unable to locate any representative of the seller. Amazon was also unable to contact Furry Gang since they stopped selling on the Marketplace in 2016.

The ruling is a reversal of several lower court rulings, all of which have said that Amazon has no legal liability for products and sales that they are not involved with. The ruling was mostly based around the idea that Amazon's Marketplace allows the sellers to separate themselves behind a level of anonymity. This separation leaves customers with little or no recourse in the event of a defect. This reversal could potentially open other sites, like eBay or Craigslist, up to liability for sales that they broker. This will likely cause sites like Amazon to require sellers to identify themselves, either as individuals or corporations, giving customers direct recourse.

Refunds to be issued after Shenmue 3 signs exclusivity deal with Epic

posted Saturday Jul 6, 2019 by Scott Ertz

It's not unusual for the details of a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign to change between the funding and fulfillment phases. In most cases, the changes are minor, not affecting the usability or deliverability of the product. In the case of Shenmue 3, the change is enough to require refunds to backers.

During the funding phase of the campaign, the company promised that backers would receive a Steam key on the day of the game's launch. That promise was logical at the time, as Steam was really the only game in town. In the three years since the campaign ran, things have changed. Epic Games and Discord have both launched their own game stores, with Epic taking the approach of signing exclusivities.

Unfortunately for backers of the Shenmue 3, developers YSNET and publisher Deep Silver made a deal with Epic for a year of exclusivity on the Epic Games Store. This means that it is not possible for them to accurately fulfill their obligation, as there will be no Steam access to the game at launch. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney claims that the fault lies with Valve, who will not allow them to generate Steam download keys a year before the game will be available for purchase, though this is an insane claim. The fault lies with the publisher who has chosen to change the promised distribution method at the last moment. Plus, giving backers a key that they cannot use for at least a year would not have been a better situation than not fulfilling the obligation at all.

Because of this exclusivity deal, backers who are not interested in participating in the Epic Games Store ecosystem can request a refund from the company. The refunds will be paid out by Epic Games, as part of the deal. If backers are still interested in receiving their fulfillment via Steam, the keys will be sent out one year after Epic Games Store launch, but you must specifically request this option.

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