The UpStream

Twitter to Share Political Ad Data, Ban Certain Russian Advertisers

posted Sunday Oct 29, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Twitter to Share Political Ad Data, Ban Certain Russian Advertisers

The public perception has changed greatly over the past 8 years over social media's involvement in elections. In 2008, the public praised social media for being responsible for Obama's presidency. This year, people have expressed outrage at social media for being responsible for Trump's presidency. So, what has changed in such a small period of time?

While there are a number of issues, including the party associated with the winner, the real issues comes to the type of involvement social media had. In 2008, it gave citizens a way to express their opinions, whether it be via text or video. This year, paid advertising played a greater part in the process, and those ads did not come from citizens. In fact, many of the ads did not even come from organizations within North America, but instead from Russia.

The networks have looked for ways to address the issue of disinformation coming from Russia's propaganda machine, and each has addressed it differently. This week, Twitter announced 2 new ways in which they plan to address the issue going forward. The first is to remove two organizations, Russia Today and Sputnik, both Russian state media, from running any ads on the network. The company said of the decision,

Twitter has made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned by Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik, effective immediately. This decision was based on the retrospective work we've been doing around the 2016 U.S. election and the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that both RT and Sputnik attempted to interfere with the election on behalf of the Russian government. We did not come to this decision lightly, and are taking this step now as part of our ongoing commitment to help protect the integrity of the user experience on Twitter.

The second announcement involves advertising disclosure. For those who are interested in knowing information, which does not seem to be the majority anymore, the company is creating an Advertising Transparency Center, where people can see who has purchased a particular ad on the network, as well as length of the ad buy and targeting parameters.

In addition, the company will mark all political ads as such, which will allow people to see the transparency data in the Advertising Transparency Center. This will allow people to see if the information is being shared by a reputable source. The company said,

To make it clear when you are seeing or engaging with an electioneering ad, we will now require that electioneering advertisers identify their campaigns as such. We will also change the look and feel of these ads and include a visual political ad indicator.

These moves are certainly positive, but it all relies on the idea that people are curious. That was once the case, but seems to no longer be the truth. Most people seem to simply believe everything they read with no regard for source or reliability. That means that, at best this is wasted time and, at worst, a marketing ploy from the company.

Microsoft Kills Off Production of Kinect Motion Controller

posted Sunday Oct 29, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Kills Off Production of Kinect Motion Controller

At E3 2009, Microsoft introduced the world to Project Natal, a motion tracking controller headed to the Xbox 360. Soon after its launch, the Kinect (Project Natal's production name) became a massive success. Within 4 months, the company had sold 10 million units. Over the next 7 years, Microsoft would go on to sell 35 million units across Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC.

It wasn't long after the release that developers wanted access to the 360 exclusive device for PC, and an open source project, Open Kinect, was born. It was popular enough that Microsoft made a PC version of the peripheral, complete with official SDK. This SDK opened the door for a wide variety of Kinect-powered products. At CES over the years we have seen products ranging from beauty to fitness. I was personally involved in a prototype for a health product.

This week, Microsoft confirmed that the Kinect's run has come to an end. No new inventory is being produced, so any inventory that is in the wild is all that is left, meaning that if you are in the market for a Kinect, get it now. This is not to say the technology itself is dead, however. The technology that powers the Kinect has been incorporated into Windows Mixed Reality headsets, or perhaps it's more accurate to say that a version 3 is incorporated.

The question that this leaves is, what about the independent projects that rely on Kinect? Losing the device is going to mean that the products or services either have to be retired, rely on used hardware for as long as it can be found, or rewritten entirely to support divergent hardware. The problem with the last option is that it assumes that it is possible to find another piece of hardware with comparable features, which is getting harder to do. The main competitor, Intel's RealSense, seems to have been discontinued for standalone cameras as well.

With a vacuum emerging, it could mean that another company could license an existing technology, like Kinect or RealSense, or produce their own technology that is compatible for product companies. As for now, it seems Windows Hello and Windows Mixed Reality is what is left of 3D tracking.

Spotify Introduces Rise, Aimed at Featuring Selected New Artists

posted Saturday Oct 21, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Spotify Introduces Rise, Aimed at Featuring Selected New Artists

One thing that has always been an annoyance for many music fans is a lack of a great way to discover new artists. Some companies have tried, but either the service never launches or never gains traction. With support from a top-tier brand, however, perhaps music lovers can learn about new, talented artists.

Spotify believes that they have what it takes to introduce us to new artists, with the introduction of RISE. In addition to playlists featuring the music of these artists, Spotify will also introduce us to the artists themselves, through multimedia playlists allowing fans to learn more about the artists themselves. Spotify describes RISE saying,

The launch of RISE includes on platform, out of home, digital and social promotion in addition to special, mixed-media RISE playlists. In the coming months, Spotify will create one-of-a-kind experiential events for each RISE artist and release bespoke audio and video content that dives deep into the story behind each rising star.

In addition to making the music available through the Spotify platform, the company has also teamed with Delta Air Lines to bring RISE to the sky. Through the Delta Artist Spotlight program, which features music within the inflight entertainment systems, Spotify will add their RISE content to the mix. Spotify's Global Head of Creator Services, Troy Carter, said,

Spotify is committed to supporting the careers of artists of every level, including the next generation of global superstars. RISE is a powerful platform and an investment towards the future of emerging artists and the fans who discovered them first.

As an avid music fan, and a recent Spotify convert (from Groove Music), I am looking forward to seeing the evolution of the RISE platform in the coming months. Based on the initial 4 artists, I have a lot of excitement for future artists.

KRACK Wi-Fi Vulnerability Affects Nearly Every Piece of Tech

posted Saturday Oct 21, 2017 by Scott Ertz

KRACK Wi-Fi Vulnerability Affects Nearly Every Piece of Tech

Shortly after we published our show last week, researchers revealed information about a fundamental flaw in the WPA2 security protocol. This technology is almost certainly the technology that you use to protect your Wi-Fi at home and at work. The vulnerability allows an attacker to decrypt data sent from your device to your router without needing to know your WPA2 security key. Researcher Mathy Vanhoef wrote about the topic,

This can be abused to steal sensitive information such as credit card numbers, passwords, chat messages, emails, photos, and so on. The attack works against all modern protected Wi-Fi networks. Depending on the network configuration, it is also possible to inject and manipulate data. For example, an attacker might be able to inject ransomware or other malware into websites.

Since this problem exists in the standard itself, it means that every device that supports WPA2, which is almost every Wi-Fi capable device, is vulnerable without patching. Affected parties were informed about the exploit weeks before the information was made available publicly. This allowed companies to produce patches to eliminate the exploit.

Apple has a fix in beta for all of their platforms, while Cisco and Netgear have released patches, and Windows devices were already not affected. Linux and Android are the most likely to be issues in the long-run, however, as the open source system they use has an even larger issue, allowing for a complete reset of the WPA2 key.

Anti-Cheat System Now Standard on Windows 10

posted Saturday Oct 21, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Anti-Cheat System Now Standard on Windows 10

Since the introduction of Windows 10, and the merging of Windows and the Xbox One platform, Microsoft has been working to bring developers to the Universal Windows Platform. Software written for UWP are potentially capable of running on Windows 10, Windows 10 mobile, Windows 10 IoT Core, Xbox One and HoloLens.

As for gaming, the allure of being able to develop a game once and have it available immediately on Xbox One and Windows 10 is seemingly a powerful one, but somehow it has not caught on with game developers. We have seen some developers launch universal games, such as Fallout Shelter, but even games that are available as part of the Play Anywhere program are not developed on the UWP platform.

Microsoft has been working to make the platform more attractive to developers by bringing new features to the platform. As part of the Fall Creators Update, build 1709, Microsoft has launched a much needed feature: TruePlay, an anti-cheat platform. The feature is available exclusively in the UWP platform, and can be enabled by developers surprisingly easily. In fact, a code sample is available on the developer's help page.

TruePlay can be triggered within a game at any time, meaning that developers can decide what parts of the game need monitoring. For example, a developer might not care if you cheat during single-player, but does care if cheating affects someone else's experience. In this case, TruePlay can be enabled only for multiplayer mode, and not used for single player.

The idea of an OS-level anti-cheat platform could encourage a lot of developers to embrace UWP. Many online PC games are plagued by cheating. If a developer can implement anti-cheating within their game with only a few lines of code, and the monitoring can be accomplished at a lower level than the developer themselves could accomplish themselves, it can make the development faster and provide a better experience for the gamer.

Apple's Mixed Tech Strategy Created an Unexpected Crisis

posted Saturday Oct 21, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Apple's Mixed Tech Strategy Created an Unexpected Crisis

Over the past 3 generations of handsets, Apple has had a 2-model strategy: a standard and larger screen variant of the same hardware. Other than the screen size, the only other major difference between the two models is the quality of the camera. Both models have come out at the same time, with the same general availability, meaning that neither truly cannibalized sales of the other.

This year, however, Apple took a different path: announcing three models across two generations of hardware. First is the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. These devices are minor updates to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, and would probably be better named the iPhone 7S and iPhone 7S Plus. Second is the iPhone X, the first true redesign of the iPhone in its history.

While they might have announced both generations together, they did not release them together. The iPhone 8 series became available for preorder on October 15, 2017, with general availability on October 22, 2017. The iPhone X, however, will become available for preorder 6 weeks later, on October 27, 2017, with general availability on November 3, 2017. This staggered release schedule, combined with such extremely different hardware, has caused some sales issues for Apple.

iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus

These devices are, as we have come to expect, incremental upgrades to the existing line of products. Customers seem to have noticed this, and could potentially be skipping the product line entirely. A number of publications, including ours, have spoken with sales representatives from wireless retailers about the sales numbers for the new iPhone line, and it has not been positive. Many stores reported few people on launch day waiting for the devices.

The minor incremental upgrade could be to blame, but it could also be the price difference between the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 for the small change in features. Reports suggest that iPhone 7 sales have actually eclipsed iPhone 8 sales for the quarter. A marginally better camera does not justify a $150 price increase for many consumers.

In addition to the lack of excitement surrounding the iPhone 8, there is the issue caused by the delayed release of the iPhone X. Many customers want to interact with a device before they buy it, and with the major redesign of the iPhone X, people could be waiting to hold both devices to decide whether to go with the iPhone X or iPhone 8.

The CEO of Rogers Communications, the largest wireless telecom in Canada, has described sales of the iPhone 8 as "anemic," a very descriptive word. The CFO of Verizon Communication said that phone upgrades as a whole have been down because of a lack demand for the iPhone 8, but is hoping for a surge at iPhone X time.

I think what you're seeing there is a difference in timing of some of the new devices coming out versus what we've historically seen.
As we get into the holiday season, some of those new devices come out, we think we will see strong demand.

iPhone X

Those waiting to touch the iPhone X before deciding might have another problem on their hands: a lack of devices. It is possible that Apple made a mistake in which devices would be more popular, focusing their manufacturing efforts on the iPhone 8 series, and not so much on the iPhone X. In fact, reports suggest that, after preorder quantities are exhausted on October 27, there will be no more devices until 2018. Some reports suggest that they might be fulfilling preorders until quarter 2 of 2018.

Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst for KGI Securities, and arguably the top Apple analyst in the world, has written that a combination of rare materials and a lack of manufacturers who are capable of producing certain required parts are the biggest limiting factor for Apple's production.

Special materials, recipes, design, processes, equipments and tests are required for antenna FPCB, as the specifications for iPhone X antenna (supplied by Amphenol (US)) are higher than those of iPhone 8 and only Murata (JP) and Career Tech (6153 TT, NT$30.1, NR) can meet Apple's requirements. Murata (originally with a 60% order allocation or higher) won't be able to resolve its issues before 2Q18, and thus has been fully replaced by second supplier Career. We believe Career will ramp up in November, as capacity expansion takes time, and its materials, recipes, design, processes, equipments and tests are different from those of Murata.

Combining this with previous issues, like the TrueDepth camera, could make getting an iPhone X nearly impossible.

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