The UpStream (Page 51)

The good and bad of Facebook merging messaging platforms

posted Saturday Jan 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

The good and bad of Facebook merging messaging platforms

Over the past few years, Facebook has made a number of high-profile acquisitions. Among those purchases have been a few with messaging capabilities: primarily Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, followed by WhatsApp for $16 billion in 2014. One of the early commitments during these acquisitions was that Facebook would keep their hands off of the operations of these individual properties, but that commitment has never been upheld. In fact, after a privacy policy update, the platforms have been nearly inseparable. The strong hand of Facebook has even forced out the founders of both of these companies, with all leaving over disagreements about the directions of the companies - in particular, advertising strategies.

This week, according to The New York Times, Facebook is planning to integrate its three standalone messaging platforms into a single, unified system. This would mean that someone using Facebook Messenger would be able to message someone on WhatsApp without having to have an account on that platform. According to a spokesperson,

We want to build the best messaging experiences we can; and people want messaging to be fast, simple, reliable and private. We're working on making more of our messaging products end-to-end encrypted and considering ways to make it easier to reach friends and family across networks.

All of this might sound good on the surface, but there is one big problem with the concept: Facebook will never implement end-to-end encryption on all of its messaging platforms. If they were to encrypt all messaging, they would lose their single biggest source of advertising information within their ecosystem. What you post on Facebook and Instagram helps, but not nearly as much as that personal and direct communication between friends. To encrypt that would mean that all of that information is lost to their algorithms.

A foundational principle of WhatsApp is that all communications are encrypted, but the other two have no such promise with their users. That means that, if a single gateway is created between the three platforms, it will need to be an open gateway, leaving any message that leaves WhatsApp unencrypted. With an open gateway, it leaves new vulnerabilities into the WhatsApp system, and will ultimately create confusion for WhatsApp users about what is and is not private communications.

The idea of a unified messaging system sounds good at first, but the reality is not nearly as rosy.

Nintendo takes top crown in a big recovery year for console gaming

posted Saturday Jan 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo takes top crown in a big recovery year for console gaming

2017 was thought to be a year of decline for the console industry. That perception was based almost entirely on the fact that the console manufacturers stopped reporting detailed numbers, which usually indicates a major drop in sales. However, in early 2018, NPD released their sales data for 2017, showing that it was actually a pretty good year for console and console game sales. 2018 has ended in the same way, with sales being far higher than expectations and shows that it was actually a pretty good year.

In the console wars, Nintendo has the crown, with their Switch console continuing its strong sales, leading to top hardware sales and top revenue. This was driven by a number of factors, likely the largest factor being the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which took the #5 spot in total game sales for the year, despite being released on December 7. The release of a banner game like that will always drive console sales to holdouts waiting for that title to arrive.

Another factor is the return on Nintendo's risks taken on the hardware. Unlike Microsoft and Sony, who focus their hardware on core gamers, Nintendo built a console that could appeal to everyone. It works at home and on the go and offers a couple of unique color options for the controllers, including neon. The game options are far wider, ranging from the more casual titles to AAA games.

Nintendo wasn't the only growth for the year, though. Microsoft and Sony both saw sales increases over 2017, as well. In fact, overall hardware sales grew 8 percent in the US, which is over top of the massive 27 percent increase in 2017. Mat Piscatella, an NPD analyst, said through a statement,

Console, PC, and mobile platforms all saw significant growth, while developing portions of the market like subscription and streaming services gave us a peek into a future full of possibilities for the industry and gamers.

2019 will likely not see the same growth as the past 2 years, but growth of any type this far into a console generation suggests that it could continue.

Apple's ever-evolving Project Titan loses 200 staffers

posted Saturday Jan 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Apple's ever-evolving Project Titan loses 200 staffers

Over the past few years, Apple has been building a team to develop autonomous driving technology. The goals of the team have been ever-shifting, as have the members of said team. Originally, the company had planned to develop and launch their own Apple-branded car. The team has had cars on the roads around their California headquarters with a very unique sensor array on the roof. However, these cars are not Apple designed but are instead merely test vehicles for the technology being developed within Titan.

Despite the original intentions, the overall plan for Titan has changed more than once. In 2016, it was revealed that the company had scrapped its plans to build their own car and had shifted the focus of Titan into building technology to support the self-driving cars of others. They would design the sensor array and software and license it to car manufacturers to enhance their own vehicle plans. In 2018, however, Apple brought back a former executive, Doug Field, who had left for Tesla for a few years. Field was reintroduced to Apple to lead Project Titan.

While rumors have swirled that Titan may be back to its original plans under the former Tesla helm, there has been no confirmation of these plans. This week, Field made a big move, shifting around 200 employees out of the Titan project and into other parts of the company. An Apple spokesperson said,

As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple.

It is not unusual for a company like Apple to move employees around between various initiatives based on their skill set. It is unusual to move between 5% and 10% of an initiative's workforce at once unless there is a major change in direction in the works. After a data breach in 2018, Apple acknowledged that around 2,700 employees have direct access to the project, and around 5,000 employees have intermittent access.

NBC planning to release its own streaming service in the next year

posted Saturday Jan 19, 2019 by Scott Ertz

NBC planning to release its own streaming service in the next year

The list of contenders in the video streaming market is about to get a little larger, as NBCUniversal has announced that they will be entering the fray. The new service will be similar to the current offering from NBC, including the ability to login with your cable or satellite subscription account and get access to the service for free. Unlike the current offering, however, non-subscribers will be able to access the service, as well. This is obviously an attempt to court the cord-cutter community, which is growing slowly, but steadily.

Details on the service are not quite solid yet, but we do know some of the important highlights. For example, the service is intended to launch in Quarter 1 of 2020, meaning that in just over a year we should have access to the updated service. The yet unnamed service will also feature both NBC shows and specials and Universal movies, according to knowledgable sources. It is unknown if there will be any original programming intended specifically for the service, but if the competition is any indication, you can expect at least some.

While not official, it is rumored that the service could run $12 per month for those who are not pay-TV customers already. This would be double the current cost of CBS All Access, which is definitely the service that NBC is trying to compete against with this new offering. CBS has seen some success with their All Access service, but they've got a couple of things going for them that NBC does not. For example, NBC offers their programming on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and the joint Hulu venture. While CBS offers some programming outside of All Access, it is far from the full catalog.

CBS is also the only major broadcaster to not be involved in Hulu. NBC's 30% ownership in that company means that they have a vested interest in not excluding their programming from that platform, which they have committed to, even with the launch of their own platform. Add to that parent company, Comcast, and their Xfinity platform, NBC is being pulled in a number of directions. Perhaps the service will offer some original content, or perhaps revive some shows that didn't work on TV but did work online, such as Timeless.

It is far too early to know for sure, but there could be some hope for this service, especially among those who have cable or satellite.

One of the largest security leaks in history was just revealed

posted Saturday Jan 19, 2019 by Scott Ertz

If 2018 was the year of security breaches, then 2019 is not shaping up to make us more comfortable with our online security. In fact, we are starting 2019 with the largest leak of security information in history. Dubbed "Collection #1," this leak contains 773 million unique email addresses and over 21 million passwords, with a combined collection of 1.16 billion unique account credentials and 2.7 billion total credentials, collected from various sources.

The data was made available to Troy Hunt, who owns and operates the personal security platform HameIBeenPwned, which allows people to look up their email address and password to see how many publicly available breaches that address has been involved in, with details about each. We recommend that users search for their email addresses on a regular basis, but especially after a large hack. It will help you determine just how much of your information is available publicly and for sale online.

This will certainly not be the last time we hear about a security breach or leak in 2019. In fact, if things continue down the current path, you can expect "Collection #1" to not be the last one we hear. It is important to think about your data security and create a plan to protect your information. A common method is password managers, but those can get hacked, too, making all of your passwords available in the wild. In reality, the best plan is to create scenarios where getting your information is not enough to do harm.

For credentials, creating a 2-factor authentication method is a huge step in the right direction. Requiring that you use a 2FA app or receive a code via text is the most common solution, but we're seeing physical 2FA enter the market in a big way. We're currently reviewing a physical 2FA method called YubiKey, which we will have a video and review on soon, but so far it looks like a great security method.

In addition to your credentials, you should protect your financial information. We've begun working with Privacy, which allows you to create 1-time use cards for use online - for free. If the retailer gets breached and your card information is stolen, it is only good at that retailer, and only until you terminate the card.

The important thing to remember here is that your information is never going to be secure, but there are some steps you can take to protect it above and beyond the norm.

Fallout 76 has a private loot room that will disable your account

posted Saturday Jan 19, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Fallout 76 has a private loot room that will disable your account

In videogames, it is not unusual for developers to create a locked or hidden area of the game in which the visual assets of the game can be spawned and rendered before being moved from the hidden area to the public area of the game. The most public instance of this was in a version of Grand Theft Auto which featured the visual aspects sitting in the clouds. The most recent public example of this is in already controversial Fallout 76, which contains a hidden "developer room" with every available asset in the game, including some that have not been released into the game yet. It also features an NPC named Wooby.

The room was discovered about a week ago, and since the discovery has become the focus of a lot of interest. Some of the interest has simply been curiosity, with people trying to figure out how to get into this hidden room. Some, on the other hand, have had a more nefarious intent: to bring items into the economy that technically do not exist yet. A move like this can damage the in-game economy, so Bethesda has clearly been forced to respond to the situation.

After issuing a temporary ban on players who access the "developer room," Bethesda has contacted users with an email asking,

please describe the way (the developer room) was accessed in a reply to this email. This detail should provide the information necessary for us to correct any corruption issues on this side and safely release this account and return these characters back into the world.

While it may sound as if there are innocuous ways of accessing the room, Bethesda has claimed that only through third-party hacking tools. As part of their research into how to prevent access, Bethesda said,

in an effort to ensure the integrity of these characters and accounts, these accounts are being temporarily disabled pending further investigation. Players that have accessed these areas and have had their accounts impacted are encouraged to contact our support team.

The Dev room access glitch follows another economy-damaging glitch which allowed players to duplicate an arbitrary item into an infinite number of copies. These issues have added to a growing list of reasons players are displeased with the game since it debuted in November.

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