If 2018 has had a theme, it would be that people simply don't care about their privacy anymore. Online services have increased the amount of data they collect about you and the types of companies that they sell that data to. Some apps don't even provide a value and still collect information. This has been the way that the web has worked for decades, and we have accepted it, but things are changing.
These days, we don't just expect the behavior from free services. We purchase Alexa-powered devices that proveably record everything that happens around them, and when they send that data to the wrong person, we seem to accept it as normal. But, in Amazon's case, both of these instances were accidental.
Then there are companies who knowingly violate your privacy, like Facebook. Despite their own terms of service and data sharing disclosures, Facebook has still made your data available without your permission or knowledge. For example, when they gave top tech companies carte blanche to your Messenger account. Or how about the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Rather than users fleeing the service that obviously doesn't care about you as a person, nothing has changed. Perhaps because the company has a policy of silencing their critics.
No matter the scenario, the response always stays the same: we're doing what we can to continue to provide you with the services you want. We're sorry you didn't like what we did, maybe we'll change. The reality is that we cannot expect these companies to change their behaviors, because as users we've told them that we're okay with it. Clearly, the problem is a complex one, that has been made more complex by our dependence on these platforms for everything from personal communication to corporate collaboration.
Anyone who has ever spent any real time on Twitch knows that a channel's chatroom can go from 0 to 60 in way under 10 seconds. As a streamer gets more popular, the potential for chat disaster gets exponentially worse. There are some measures that streamers can take to try and keep some semblance of control over their chat, including content filtering, moderation, and bans. For most streamers, this is enough to prevent the madness that can become a reality.
When it's an official channel, however, it's an almost guaranteed scenario that viewers will get contentious, and quickly. When that happens, things like moderation becomes nearly impossible because of the sheer number of messages being posted. Often times, these channels take more severe measures to try and keep some civility in the chat. Others, however, take severe to all new heights.
This is the way that Blizzard is trying to handle their official Overwatch channels. Discovering that toxicity comes with the territory, Blizzard has decided to bring harsher penalties to viewers who try to raise a ruckus in chat than just being banned from the chat itself. In fact, the company has announced intentions to force Twitch users to link their Battle.net accounts before they can chat on official channels.
The question is, how does the company intend to use the linked information? It would not be a surprise to find that Blizzard plans to suspend users from certain features on Battle.net, or within Overwatch itself, if things get too out of hand. They might even go so far as to ban users on their Battle.net accounts. Starting with the Overwatch Contenders season 3 finals, Blizzard will be piloting the program. If successful, it is likely that we will see the program rolled out on a larger scale, including all of the Overwatch League.
Over the past decade, the policies governing the Apple App Store have changed significantly. In the early days, getting any app into the store was incredibly difficult. Apple didn't want anyone they considered a competitor to have software on their platform. They even denied Google Voice for duplicating native features. Today, in addition to Google Voice, there are hundreds of voice and text services on the iPhone that duplicate native features from a myriad of competitors, including Google and Microsoft.
The company's content policing policy was also very different a decade ago. An early app submission, named Ninjawords, was a dictionary - one of the simplest and most innocuous apps possible. However, Apple took offense to the dictionary containing certain words and forced the company to censor the dictionary. Today, Apple allows apps like Tumblr, to display adult content.
These days, the company's less stringent guidelines have led to a platform that occasionally lets through an app with potentially malicious intent. The App Store isn't quite the security threat of Google Play, but it is letting through fake apps, including those that steal personal data and violate copyrights. But there is a big difference between an unofficial Pokemon game and an app that pretends to be a productivity tool.
This week, just such an app made waves on the App Store. An app called "Setup for Amazon Alexa" managed to not only crack Apple's security, but it also cracked the top 10 utility apps in the store. The app gathers IP address, as well as your Alexa device's serial number, though it is not known exactly what can be done with that information. It is possible that this could be enough to monitor transmissions sent from the device to Amazon for processing, turning the device into more of a spy device than most people already consider them.
Needless to say, if you have downloaded the app, you should uninstall it immediately.
Just a few days over a year ago, T-Mobile announced that they would be entering the already crowded streaming TV business. They believed that they could bring their "uncarrier" attitude that won them fame in the mobile industry to another business model. At the time, the market was heating up, with services like Sling, Hulu with Live TV, PlayStation Vue, and YouTube TV already on the scene.
The goals were so lofty that they bought Layer3 TV, a cable company with a serious focus on streaming. The service, like FiOS, delivered all television over a network connection provided through fiber optics. T-Mobile planned on using that expertise to create a new service which would include live TV, on-demand offerings, Netflix and Hulu integration, as well as a strong social aspect. You would theoretically be able to see who of your friends are watching a live program with you, as well as integrate commenting and liking that content.
Since December 2017, there has been almost no word about the service, or when in the promised 2018 the service would launch, including at T-Mobile's several high-profile events. This week, according to a Bloomberg report, plans to launch this year have been abandoned. As of now, the plan is to launch in 2019 instead. As it turns out, delivering on CEO John Legere's promise of an industry-changing service is harder than they thought.
Differentiating themselves from the growing list of streaming TV services is definitely going to be a challenge. Since their announcement, several new services have entered the market, including mobile rival AT&T. They are going to have a challenge dealing with comments made by Legere when AT&T started bundling DirecTV with their mobile service, which he considered to be an inappropriate move. Now they'll have to figure out how to market their own service without running afoul of Legere's beliefs of AT&T.
This also comes at a time when T-Mobile is trying desperately to purchase competitor Sprint. They need government approval, which they are receiving right now, but that has taken focus from the upper brass that would have been needed to hit their goal of launching in 2018. A move to 2019 should allow the company to finalize their Sprint acquisition, which is expected to finish in Quarter 1 and focus back on the TV service.
In what is becoming a year that Facebook executives would certainly like to forget, we have seen a number of examples of Facebook giving data access to third parties, often without the knowledge and permission of the people affected. Sometimes it has been on accident, as was the case with Cambridge Analytica and their data breaches. In other cases, it was with full knowledge on their part, if not on the part of those receiving it.
It was revealed this week in another New York Times expose that Facebook granted exceedingly complex data access to some of the largest companies in the tech world, like Yahoo, Netflix, and Spotify. While all of the companies had more access than advertised, not all of them had access to the same information. Their access also extended well beyond the death of their overambitious product features.
For example, in 2014, Netflix implemented the ability for users to send messages to other users through Facebook Messenger. They would usually be prompted after finishing a movie to share the film with their friends. Because of the way Messenger worked at the time, they had to get access to the API to allow the messages to be sent (fortunately this is no longer the case). What the company believed they could do was initiate a message with a friend including a link. What they were given was access to every authorized users' messenger accounts, including the ability to read, write, and delete all messages in the account. The company claims they had no knowledge of these elevated privileges and never used any of the extra abilities. The feature was discarded in 2015.
Yahoo also received elevated privileges when they launched their "facebar" feature in 2011. The idea was to be able to present you with articles and information that had been seen by your friends on Facebook, making the experience of Yahoo more social. As expected, the feature was never popular, partially because Yahoo hadn't had the Marissa Mayer makeover and subsequent user bump, and partially because it was just too early for such a feature. However, Yahoo retained access to the registered users' news feeds.
Facebook tried to clarify the capabilities, but didn't do a great job of it,
Specifically, we made it possible for people to message their friends what music they were listening to in Spotify or watching on Netflix directly from the Spotify or Netflix apps (see screen shots below), to message links to Dropbox folders (like a collection of photographs) from the Dropbox app, and to message receipts from money transfers through the Royal Bank of Canada app.
In order for you to write a message to a Facebook friend from within Spotify, for instance, we needed to give Spotify "write access." For you to be able to read messages back, we needed Spotify to have "read access." "Delete access" meant that if you deleted a message from within Spotify, it would also delete from Facebook. No third party was reading your private messages, or writing messages to your friends without your permission. Many news stories imply we were shipping over private messages to partners, which is not correct.
In the screenshots mentioned in the quote, you can see that delete the capability was not available within Spotify. In fact, by the look of it, you couldn't even read those messages within the app (though perhaps you could). Netflix had a similar capability, where messages were not integrated deeply into the app, just the ability to send. The most interesting aspect of the post was the mentioning of the program being shut down 3 years ago. However, Netflix still apparently had access (though they claim they didn't know) in 2017. For those of you keeping track, that is less than 3 years ago.
The stock market has responded, with the price of the stock dropping over $20 per share. There has also been another round of users closing their accounts. All of this could signify the beginning of the end of Facebook's dominance in the social media world. If this isn't the nail in their coffin, they'll certainly find a way to do it themselves.
A few months ago, Microsoft revealed their plans to bring keyboard and mouse support to the Xbox One. After testing support within the Insider program, support was rolled out to all Xbox One owners recently. The biggest problem with using a keyboard and mouse with the Xbox is that no combo has been designed for the standard Xbox usage: a couch. Luckily, Razer, the leading manufacturer of gaming accessories for serious gamers, has been hard at work in partnership with Microsoft to design and release such a product.
This week, Razer and Microsoft unveiled the Turret, a gaming quality keyboard and mouse combo designed specifically for use with the Xbox One. Obviously, the set is wireless, as running a cable across the living room just wouldn't do. They focused on making the battery life great, with 40 hours of use per charge. They also feature RazerChroma, which is compatible with the Xbox Dynamic Lighting feature, making the keyboard lights change in response to the game you're playing.
Of course, it all uses the company's high-quality technology, such as their mechanical switches, making the keyboard super responsive. One of the things that really sets the keyboard apart is the retractable mouse pad. It allows you to sit back on the couch, with the keyboard on your lap, and use the mouse without any trouble. With a dedicated wireless keyboard and mouse set designed for Xbox, this could begin the acceptance of the technology for the console.
The set is available for pre-order now, from both Razer and Microsoft for $250. The price is right in line with comparable Razer keyboards for PC. The set will ship at the end of Q1 2019, starting March 31, 2019.