The UpStream (Page 66)

Don't Get Your X-Men Underoos Out Just Yet, Comcast Wants Fox

posted Saturday May 26, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Don't Get Your X-Men Underoos Out Just Yet, Comcast Wants Fox

At the end of 2017, Disney announced that they had entered into an agreement to purchase Twenty-First Century Fox. This announcement made Marvel fans rejoice, as it meant that brands like The Fantastic Four and X-Men would be coming back under the purview of Marvel itself, which Disney already owns. Currently, Disney cannot produce and feature films featuring any of these brands, meaning that these characters cannot appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Acquiring Fox would change all of that.

This week, Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, confirmed rumors that they were securing funding to make a competitive bid for the assets from Fox. Whereas Disney offered $52.4 Billion for the assets, Comcast is looking to offer $60 Billion, more than 10% more than Disney is offering. The company is currently preparing the offer to be presented at their upcoming shareholder meeting.

There are a number of scenarios that could happen at this point. First, Comcast's shareholders could decline the bid entirely. For a company under intense scrutiny right now, as the Senate begins the process of implementing Net Neutrality rules, getting a massive purchase of a large content provider through the government is unlikely. AT&T has seen this exact scenario with their attempted purchase of Time Warner. So, with that, even if the board approves, the FCC or FTC could still block the purchase.

Third, Fox could still decline the offer. Fox and Disney worked together to put together the offer, and Fox could be completely uninterested in working with another suitor. Fourth, it is unlikely that Disney will let a competing offer stand against theirs. Disney is not known for letting things go; once they have an idea in their heads, it is not common for them to let it go (despite the song). Even Fox takes the bait, Disney will fight to maintain the offer; they're not letting some of Marvel get away from them.

Facebook Sued Again, This Time for Illegal Data Collection

posted Saturday May 26, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Facebook Sued Again, This Time for Illegal Data Collection

Everyone has that friend who has their conspiracy theory that their phone is always listening to them. Some cite examples of having a conversation near their phones and immediately seeing ads for a product they mentioned during their conversation. Most of us have thought that this friend is just paranoid, but it turns out that might not be the case.

This week, a new filing in an outstanding lawsuit was submitted against Facebook claiming, among other things, that Facebook keeps an open connection to the phone's microphone and listens constantly. Additionally, the suit claims tat Facebook scans texts, listens to calls, tracks locations and watched use of competitive apps. All of these methods are used to further the company's advertising goals.

The information comes to the court care of information obtained from corporate emails and text messages, sent between executives of Facebook. The company claims that the accusations are false, and that the company does not access any of this information for any purposes. However, Facebook Lite, an app available for lower end Android devices, has a specific opt-in process for collecting this exact information on users. Facebook claims that, without opting in, they do not collect this information, and do not collect it on the standard app.

A Facebook representative responded to the claims, saying,

The allegations that they have outlined are meritless, and designed to detract from their complaint which asks the court to order Facebook to grant developer access to the users' friends' data, a capability that was eliminated in 2015. We have made it clear that we will fight this lawsuit and protect users' data.

The company did admit in March that they did collect call and text information with prior approval. This means that the app is capable of collecting this information, regardless of who they collect from.

Apple Drops Bomb, Kills Steam's Gaming on iPhone

posted Saturday May 26, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Apple Drops Bomb, Kills Steam's Gaming on iPhone

Valve has had a very interesting relationship with gaming. While the company absolutely owns the PC gaming market, they have had no luck in branching out beyond the PC. The most famous issue was, of course, the Steam Machines. The company had hoped that building a Steam-powered Linux computer for the living room, they could challenge the dominance of Xbox and PlayStation. The brand was officially retired this year.

The company's most recent solution has been to embrace the trend of videogame streaming. If you have a Steam game on your PC, you can stream it to a number of other devices over your home network. Recently, the company announced that the capability was coming to Android and iOS devices through Steam Link. This would be a huge new feature for Steam, finally being able to expand its gaming dominance beyond the PC directly.

While the Android app is live right now on Google Play, Apple pulled the app from the App Store after initially approving the app. According to Valve,

On Monday, May 7th, Apple approved the Steam Link app for release. On Weds, May 9th, Valve released news of the app. The following morning, Apple revoked its approval citing business conflicts with app guidelines that had allegedly not been realized by the original review team. Valve appealed, explaining the Steam Link app simply functions as a LAN-based remote desktop similar to numerous remote desktop applications already available on the App Store. Ultimately, that appeal was denied leaving the Steam Link app for iOS blocked from release.

Apple's claim of business conflicts was believed to be because Steam Link did not abide by the in-app policy of giving 30% of purchase revenue to Apple. That theory was debunked, however, as Steam Link disables the in-app purchase capability, leaving that feature exclusively for PC-based Steam interactions. There is no explicit explanation given for the decision, but it is likely because Apple is working on their own game streaming service.

This would not be the first time Apple has denied an app because it either provided duplicated feature sets or because it conflicted with a business model that the company itself was working on. Apple famously denied the Google Voice app, because it duplicated features (especially texting). Within days, Google CEO Eric Schmidt left Apple's Board of Directors. They also denied a dictionary app because it contained all of the words in the English language.

Hopefully, Apple will get enough pressure from customers that they reverse their decision, as they eventually did with Google Voice or Ninjawords. For now, though, you might need to get an Android device to be able to stream games on the go.

Couple's Private Conversation Recorded, Sent to Contact by Amazon

posted Friday May 25, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Couple's Private Conversation Recorded, Sent to Contact by Amazon

Since the introduction of smart speakers, watchdog groups have reiterated the dangers of these devices. The idea of having an always-on device listening at all times is equivalent to welcoming a spy device into your home. They have repeatedly warned that the recording of conversations held in the vicinity of these devices could fall into the wrong hands - either through the company or other malicious means.

This weeks, the warning from these organizations have been brought back to light, with a fascinating situation created by an Alexa-powered device. A couple from Oregon was called by an employee of the husband, saying that they should disable their Echo because he had received the recording of a conversation from their home, delivered by Amazon. The husband did not believe the story, until the employee mentioned that they had been discussing hardwood floors.

Following that, the couple, who had multiple Echo devices throughout their home, disconnected all of them. The couple contacted Amazon about the issue, who confirmed that it had happened by reviewing account logs. The engineer, however, did not explain what had caused the bizarre and incredibly inappropriate behavior. The couple then began spreading the story, including speaking to a local news station, KIRO 7.

After becoming public, Amazon responded publicly to the incident. The company, in their FAQs, explains how Alexa works generally with her wake keyword.

Amazon Echo, Echo Plus, and Echo Dot use on-device keyword spotting to detect the wake word. When these devices detect the wake word, they stream audio to the Cloud, including a fraction of a second of audio before the wake word.

With that information in mind, Amazon explained,

Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like "Alexa." Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a "send message" request. At which point, Alexa said out loud "To whom?" At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer's contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, "[contact name" class="UpStreamLink">, right?" Alexa then interpreted background conversation as "right." As unlike as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.

Obviously, Alexa's trigger process was, in this case, far too easy to spoof (assuming the stated process is accurate). Amazon has agreed to look into the issue and work to make the trigger less likely to be triggered accidentally in the future. The best way to limit the behavior is to allow users to turn off the method (as well as others) easily.

This will not be the last time we hear about an issue like this. These types of services are a growing market, with smart speakers featuring Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, Siri and more are on sale everywhere, even your local drug store. Smart appliances, including refrigerators, ovens, thermostats and more all feature these smart capabilities. As these products grow, it is important for the companies behind them to be more open about their policies and more careful with what can be done with their platforms.

Amid Controversial Decisions, YouTube Creates Two New Paid Versions of the Service

posted Friday May 18, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Amid Controversial Decisions, YouTube Creates Two New Paid Versions of the Service

Over the past year, YouTube has infrequently made headlines for something positive. Between illegally collecting children's information and continually stricter guidelines on content, combined with advertising issues and a creator exodus, the company seems to be in a downward spiral. It was inevitable that Google would step in at some point and look for ways to deal with viewership and revenue losses caused by these issues.

This week, the company took the lid off of two new paid tiers for YouTube: YouTube Music and YouTube Premium. Paired with Google Play Music All Access, the company has 3 subscription services that revolve around music streaming, plus YouTube Red, another paid plan for YouTube. These new plans will go into effect on May 22, 2018. So, what does this all mean, what do the services include TODAY and what might be right for you?

Google Play Music All Access

This streaming music service was introduced in 2013 as a competitor to Spotify, Xbox Music and the other emerging unlimited streaming services of the time. Previously, when you subscribed to All Access, you also got a subscription to YouTube Red for free.

Starting at launch, for $10 per month, you will receive the ability to stream unlimited music through Google Play Music AND will receive a subscription to YouTube Music. This will give access to the YouTube Music mobile app, as well as streaming music and music videos.

YouTube Music

YouTube Music is Google's new primary music streaming service. This service will allow subscribers to streaming ad-free music just about anywhere. It also includes ad-free music video streaming, both through the YouTube Music mobile app. You can also download the content for offline playback, similar to what you would expect from service like Spotify.

Starting at launch, for $10 per month, you will receive all of the features of YouTube Music, but there is no indication that you will get reciprocal access to Google Play Music All Access. In this case, it is better to subscribe the other way - for the same price you get both services, as opposed to just the one.

YouTube Red

YouTube Red has been YouTube's ad-free subscription service since 2015. For $10 per month, users got ad-free streaming of YouTube content, while content creators received small revenue based on their views (which compensates for lost ad revenue for the creators). At launch, YouTube Red will be no more, but current Red subscribers will be converted to YouTube Premium at their current price (for an undisclosed amount of time).

YouTube Premium

The new name for YouTube Red comes with all of the previous features of YouTube Red, including ad-free playback and original content reserved exclusively for Premium subscribers. The biggest difference is that Premium will cost $12 per month, as opposed to the $10 for Red. In addition to all of the features of Red, Premium will also include YouTube Music, including ad-free music and access to the mobile app.


If you are a big YouTube fan, Premium is definitely a god deal, as it includes the benefits of Red and Music in one subscription. However, if music is your only focus, the features and availability of music on YouTube Music is not as impressive as Spotify, but runs the same price, so Spotify would be the better choice, for sure.

Senate Votes to Actually Implement Abandoned Net Neutrality Rules

posted Friday May 18, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Senate Votes to Actually Implement Abandoned Net Neutrality Rules

A little over a year ago, the FCC voted not to implement guidelines intended to re-establish a guarantee for an open internet in the United States. There were problems with the original intent, of course, with the most important being a lack of legal jurisdiction for the FCC to have drafted the guidelines in the first place. The FCC belongs to the Executive branch, which cannot create new law - it can only enforce existing laws.

Creating laws is reserved for the Legislative branch, who allowed previous Net Neutrality rules to lapse almost a decade previous. In the past 13 months, the topic of Net Neutrality has not faded, as opponents had hoped. In fact, support for implementing the rules through the proper channels has grown, with drafts being written and passed around both houses of Congress.

This week, the first of these drafts was put up for a vote in the Senate. The Senate resolution took the easy route to a vote, simply creating a legal framework for the guidelines originally drafted within the FCC. The tact worked, as the Senate passed the resolution 52-47. Now the resolution will have to go through the House of Representatives, and finally be signed by President Trump.

There is a lot of money being spent in opposition lobbying, especially within the House. There is even a question as to whether the House will have the ability to call for a vote at all, so the resolution is far from being codified. There is a push within the House to force a vote, however, and House Democrats are hopeful they will be able to get it done. There is also question as to whether President Trump will sign or veto the resolution. If he vetoes, it is unlikely that Congress will get a 2/3 vote to override.

It will likely not be long before the votes are cast, as the guidelines officially expire within the FCC on June 11th. We'll continue to keep you posted on the reality of what is happening, as it happens.

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