The UpStream (Page 50)

Nest reveals startling and impossible feature, angers owners

posted Saturday Feb 23, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Nest reveals startling and impossible feature, angers owners

There is little doubt that Nest brought about the modern smarthome. Sure, there were companies making products in this category for decades, but it wasn't until the Nest thermostat that the general consumer was truly made aware of the idea. However, between the release of the first Nest product and today, a lot of things have changed. Those changes began when the company was purchased by Google for $3.2 billion in 2014. As Google reorganized time and again, the brand got moved around, first out of Google and then back inside.

In addition to the constant shift in focus outside of the company, Nest has branched out from its thermostat roots into other smarthome products, including a home security hub called Nest Guard. This hub connects a number of other Nest security products together and acts as the audible alarm for the entire system. This week, Google announced that a new feature would be added to the Guard: Google Assistant. With this added feature, you can now speak directly to the Guard and use any of the Google Assistant's features.

There's only one problem with this feature: how can it work? According to all of the documentation for the product says nothing about the device having a microphone. So, how are you supposed to be able to speak into it? Has Google figured out some way to listen to audio without a microphone? As it turns out, it's not nearly as cool as that. In fact, the Guard has had a microphone built-in all of this time, but Google never disclosed it.

For a company with a history of privacy violations, the idea that they placed connected microphones into the homes of unsuspecting consumers is beyond concerning. In response to criticism, Nest tweeted,

We included a microphone in the Nest Guard with features such as the Google Assistant in mind.

It has not been used up to this point, and you can enable or disable it at any time using the Nest app.

It's a clever sidestep of the issue, however, never addressing the transparency issues. The initial inclusion, as well as the lack of transparency even with customers who are concerned today, is going to create a lot of problems for Nest and Google. First, of course, is the loss of trust from consumers. If Google wants to be able to continue to grow its Assistant business, consumers have to trust that they are not being taken advantage of. However, more importantly, is the legal ramifications.

It is possible that the inclusion of the microphone without including it on the product packaging or documentation for 15 months could be legally identified as spy technology. That could place charges as high as espionage on the company and the employees involved in releasing the product. In most countries, including the US, espionage is classified as treason. Initial reports may have viewed this as an inconvenience for Google's smarthome ambitions, the reality is farmore dangerous for a lot of people at Google and Nest.

Disney+ will not just feature content from the company's own brands

posted Saturday Feb 9, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Disney+ will not just feature content from the company's own brands

Since Disney first started talking about streaming services, it has been assumed that there would be one of more Disney-owned platforms designed to stream Disney-owned content. At once point, there was rumor of as many as three services, with one being designated for each of the major segments of the company's content: Disney, Marvel, and Lucas. Over time, the offering has been narrowed down to a single service that would house all of Disney's content under one roof.

This week, on the company's earnings call, CEO Bob Iger gave us a little bit of insight into the future of the platform. First, the service will be named Disney+, which is reminiscent of the previous branding of Hulu's paid service, Hulu Plus. The naming scheme is a little ironic as, with the closing of the Disney-Fox merger, Disney owns 60 percent of Hulu (30% from ABC and 30% from 20th Century Fox).

Even more surprising than the poor name choice is the format of the service. In addition to the expected Disney, Marvel, and Lucas branded content, Disney+ will also feature licensed content from other sources. This means that Disney+ will be in direct competition with Hulu, both for consumer spending, but also for streaming rights negotiations. In essence, Disney will be competing with themselves when new content becomes available for streaming.

Hulu has fairly sweeping contracts with ABC, Fox, and NBC when it comes to the shows that are broadcast over the air but do not have guarantees on everything. For example, new episodes of The Blacklist is currently missing from Hulu and is available exclusively through NBC's own streaming service and website. It is possible that, with time, we will see ABC content become equally questionable as to which service will get the rights, despite this behavior being bad for consumers.

The first major project that would have previously appeared on another service, Captain Marvel, will be skipping a Netflix release after the theater and will instead release exclusively on Disney+. The company has not announced an official release timeframe, but based on the Captain Marvel reveal, it will likely be available by the end of 2019. A preview of the service will be made available at a major investor meeting on April 11.

A new problem with cryptocurrencies has appeared: losing money to death

posted Saturday Feb 9, 2019 by Scott Ertz

A new problem with cryptocurrencies has appeared: losing money to death

Since the rise of cryptocurrencies, it seems like new ways to lose your money have become more common than new ways to use the currencies. Whether it be through frequent security breaches, major technical mistakes, or constant ransomware attacks, it seems that the problems usually outweigh the benefits. But, if thefts from exchanges weren't enough to be concerned about, this week brought about a new concern for exchanges: death.

The CEO of Canadian cryptocurrency exchange QuadrigaCX passed away unexpectedly this week at the age of 30. While this is tragic for obvious reasons, it is also tragic for far more unexpected reasons. The company, in an attempt to prevent issues like we have seen at other exchanges recently, the company kept a large amount of client funds in cold storage. Keeping the wallet off of the network and away from the outside world prevents hackers from being able to steal the funds through hacking. Unfortunately, the CEO held the only password to the cold storage wallet holding $137 million worth of client funds. That means that, as of right now, those funds are completely inaccessible to anyone, both inside and outside of the exchange.

The company has another $53 million tied up in disputes with a bank and payment processors, meaning that the company currently has $190 million worth of client funds that cannot be returned to those clients. Clearly, this has created a financial situation that is likely unrecoverable, meaning that the exchange is likely to dissolve in the near future. A judge has given the company 30 days to try and recover the currently locked cryptocurrency before the court will allow lawsuits to begin. There is no way that the company can survive those lawsuits, so this likely spells the end of another cryptocurrency exchange.

Once again, this issue highlights a common problem with people involved in the cryptocurrency markets: keep control over your own funds. An exchange is not a bank and is not protected against theft or loss in the way that a bank is. If you are going to experiment in the markets, keep your money in your own cold storage wallet. Only transfer the funds to an exchange if you plan on exchanging those funds for something else (legal tender or another cryptocurrency). Don't put the safety of your money into someone else's hands.

Microsoft to bring Xbox Live to Switch, iOS and Android

posted Saturday Feb 9, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft to bring Xbox Live to Switch, iOS and Android

When Xbox Live first hit the market, it changed the way people played videogames forever. Over the years, the service introduced a whole collection of features, including in-game and cross-game chat, social networking features, a unified matchmaking platform, achievements, and more. With the introduction of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, Xbox Live features expanded from the console to PC and mobile. Even games like Microsoft Solitare, which has been around since the beginning of Windows, had the ability to enhance with achievements.

According to a now sanitized listing for a session at Game Developers Conference, Microsoft is going to expand the reach of Xbox Live once again. The original title of the session was titled, "Xbox Live: Growing & Engaging Your Gaming Community Across iOS, Android, Switch, Xbox, and PC," which can still be seen in the URL for the session. The title gives a lot of information about where Xbox Live will soon be available. However, the original description is much more detailed,

Now Xbox Live is about to get MUCH bigger. Xbox Live is expanding from 400M gaming devices and a reach to over 68M active players to over 2B devices with the release of our new cross-platform XDK. Get a first look at the SDK to enable game developers to connect players between iOS, Android, and Switch in addition to Xbox and any game in the Microsoft Store on Windows PCs.

So, with the release of the XDK, game developers will be able to bring the unified Xbox Live matchmaking system to their mobile games, as well as chat and social features to games on almost all other platforms. There is, of course, one major platform missing: PlayStation. That is likely because of Sony's infamous dismissal of anything cross-platform. Even if Microsoft were to allow XBL capabilities on PS4 titles, Sony would likely prevent publishing those games for the platform. However, Sony's position has shifted slightly in the past few months, with Fortnite accounts no longer being locked to PlayStation, so it's possible that one day XBL will be available everywhere.

Sprint sues AT&T over 5G E false advertising and deceptive practices

posted Saturday Feb 9, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Sprint sues AT&T over 5G E false advertising and deceptive practices

Any time there is a major transition in the wireless industry, at least one of the big players loses their grip on reality. During the 3G to 4G transition in 2010, it was T-Mobile who was all over the place. First, they claimed 4G didn't matter to them or customers, but then a month later they began lying about 4G, claiming that HSPA+, part of the 3G standard, was actually a 4G network, which we dubbed FauxG. By the time anything came of the false advertising and consumer deception, the company had used the money from AT&T's failed acquisition to build a 4G LTE network.

Now that we're on the verge of a 4G to 5G transition, we are experiencing an altered form of deja vu. Rather than T-Mobile lying about their network, though, we are seeing AT&T pull the exact same thing. The company has begun rebranding a large portion of their 4G network, known as LTE Advanced, as 5G Evolution (or 5G E). They have even begun issuing badge updates to phones on the network to make the claim directly to consumers. In addition, there are commercials online and on television making these false claims.

As you would have expected, the lawsuits have begun as well. The first suit to be filed is from Sprint, who is accurately claiming false advertising and deceptive practices. In the complaint, Sprint said,

By making the false claim that it is offering a 5G wireless network where it offers only a 4G LTE Advanced network, AT&T is attempting to secure an unfair advantage in the saturated wireless market. AT&T's false and misleading statements deceive consumers into believing that AT&T now operates a 5G wireless network and, through this deception, AT&T seeks to induce consumers to purchase or renew AT&T's services when they might otherwise have purchased Sprint's services.

This is a more important case that the previous example, with Sprint and T-Mobile preparing to become one network in the near future. With AT&T, one of the two bigger networks, making the claim, it can hurt the smaller guys, and potentially damage the merger before it happens, making it harder for them to survive, even combined. There's no telling exactly what will come of the case, especially since T-Mobile got away with it in 2010, but hopefully, this practice can be put to rest now.

YouTube plans to censor more videos based on their definition of truth

posted Saturday Jan 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

YouTube plans to censor more videos based on their definition of truth

Internet censorship is all the rage right now, and all coming from the companies who fought in favor of net neutrality. Apparently, censorship is not okay, unless you're the one doing it. Two of the biggest offenders of internet censorship have been Facebook and YouTube, who are the two platforms we need more than anyone to not restrict speech. Both of these platforms have long been places where information can get out, whether the information is popular or not. In an age when the official sources of information twist and distort, the people need sources of alternate sides of a story.

This week, YouTube has announced a new plan to cut down on people hearing alternate versions of a story. The company refers to these alternate versions as conspiracy theories and will demote any video that they consider to be conspiratory. Any of these videos will no longer show up as recommended videos, including as recommended videos on other videos and on the homepage. According to YouTube,

We think this change strikes a balance between maintaining a platform for free speech and living up to our responsibility to users.

Unfortunately, that is not how this actually goes. Today, their plans are to demote content around "phony miracle cure for a serious illness, claiming the earth is flat, or making blatantly false claims about historic events like 9/11," but that is not where this ends. Because there is no written standard on what is being demoted, it could easily be adjusted to prevent the easy access to information about recent events. For example, because of the blatant lies told by news networks like CNN and NBC, it was only because of Facebook and YouTube that the truth about the teenagers in DC came to light. But, because it conflicts with the "official story" told by these networks, YouTube could easily demote this content, making sure that people continue to believe their false narrative.

This is a dangerous precedent being set by YouTube, and one that users of the service should be vocally against. The idea that YouTbe will be deciding what is truth and what is not is bad for everyone. False conspiracy theories, like a flat earth, easily prove themselves to critical thinkers as comedy, but these alternate views on information are important for a well-informed and capable people. Being able to hear both sides and make an informed decision is essential.

Thank you, YouTube, for the dumbing down of America and for encouraging the loss of critical thinking and decision making.

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