The UpStream

Cortana and Alexa to Become Colleagues

posted Friday Sep 1, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Cortana and Alexa to Become Colleagues

While there are a lot of markets in the technology sector where the big companies battle, few are as crowded or as competitive as the battle over digital assistants. Cortana, Siri, Alexa and the aptly named Google Assistant all have their places, with secondary services like Samsung's Bixby looking for a space to play. Cortana rules the computer, Alexa rules the smart speaker, Siri rules mobile and Google Assistant is gaining ground in Android.

Each of the assistants has its place, its focus and its strengths. For example, Cortana's direct integration into products like Microsoft Office and Skype give her abilities that none of the others have. Alexa's direct integration with Amazon's shopping service give her the ability to easily order, or reorder, products directly with your voice.

Wouldn't it be great if, as a regular user of Cortana, you could take advantage of Alexa's purchasing power? Or, as an Alexa user, you could get access to Skype? That was exactly the pitch that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos pitched to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in May 2016. At Microsoft's CEO Summit, Bezos suggested that the two companies connect their assistants to improve the lives of customers for both products. Nadella said,

The personality and expertise of each one will be such that if they interoperated, the user will get more out of it. That resonated for me and for him, and then that's what led to the teams working.

Over the past year, the two companies have worked to put together a communications channel for the two assistants. The two services hope to introduce the ability to ask one another to complete tasks by the end of 2017. The process will not be ideal at first, requiring a command similar to, "Hey Cortana, open Alexa," followed by the command to Alexa, and vice versa. In time, they hope that they will create a way for the assistants to decide which is better suited for a task and route automatically.

As of now, Bezos has not contacted either Apple or Google to see if they are interested in joining the team, but he says he would welcome their participation, saying,

I want them to have access to as many of those A.I.s as possible.

Video Pirate VidAngel Denied 'Right' to Sell Altered Content

posted Saturday Aug 26, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Video Pirate VidAngel Denied 'Right' to Sell Altered Content

In the Unites States, copyright law is very clear - the creator owns the content and any alterations and redistributions without permission are not legal. It's nearly that black-and-white. There are exceptions, for content like parody or review, which fall under fair use. One thing you cannot do is edit someone else's content to your own liking and resell the content. That is, however, exactly the business model of VidAngel. The company bills itself as a service that allows you to filter out unwanted content from films. For example, you can remove the iconic gold bikini scene from Star Wars, to prevent children from seeing a swimsuit.

A number of organizations believed that this behavior was not only unacceptable but illegal. Those organizations were 20th Century Fox, Disney, Lucasfilm and Warner Brothers, who filed suit against VidAngel, claiming copyright infringement. It doesn't take a legal expert to know that charging money to alter someone else's content is absolutely copyright infringement, but VidAngel disagreed, trying to shield themselves with the Family Movie Act (FMA) from 2005. Unfortunately for the company, the law allows an individual to crack content to remove objectionable content for their own personal use, without saving the altered content. It does not allow for a company to redistribute, without permission, altered versions of content.

This week, the case was closed by the appeals court for the ninth circuit. The court agreed with the content owners, stating that VidAngel had absolutely broken the law while altering the content. The decision said,

Star Wars is still Star Wars, even without Princess Leia's bikini scene.

That is important because that disqualifies it from being considered a "remix" - a practice that is popular, and more importantly legal, in music, wherein an original piece of music is sufficiently altered as to produce a new, unique piece of music. By removing a few scenes here and there, it does not qualify the end result as new content. The court also said,

VidAngel's interpretation would create a giant loophole in copyright law, sanctioning infringement so long as it filters some content and a copy of the work was lawfully purchased at some point. But virtually all piracy of movies originates in some way from a legitimate copy. If the mere purchase of an authorized copy alone precluded infringement liability under the FMA, the statute would severely erode the commercial value of the public performance right in the digital context, permitting, for example, unlicensed streams which filter out only a movie's credits.

As a company that produces and distributes original content, it is good to see the court upholding copyright standards. Content producers spend a lot of time and money to produce a piece exactly as they want. The work that goes into our shows can be immense, and we would not want versions of our content to be distributed, without our permission, in a manner different from how we intended. For example, the editing of an interview could potentially change the context of a conversation, embarrassing our team, or worse, our guest. To do the same to a multi-million dollar movie could produce even bigger issues, both artistically and financially.

Facebook Adds New Features for Article Publishers

posted Saturday Aug 26, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Facebook Adds New Features for Article Publishers

Facebook has found itself between a rock and a hard place when it comes to content shared on its network. Facebook wants to keep users on their platform, but content producers want a better way to generate revenue. Facebook Instant Articles was an idea that was launched to encourage users to remain on their platform, but to still get the news and information that they are looking for. The biggest problem that publishers have seen is that, while Instant Articles generate views, they do not generate revenue.

To help publishers battle this issue, Instant Articles will be adding a new feature - a paywall. The new feature will allow publishers to lock some or all of their content behind a paywall, that will prevent readers from accessing content without first paying for it. The new service will be run as a subscription service, but unlike most paid features on the Facebook system, Facebook will not be directly involved in the process. Instead, all payment will be processed by the publisher and Facebook will take zero percent of the revenue. It will, however, require Instant Articles for the feature to work.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg, on his own Facebook page, wrote,

If people subscribe after seeing news stories on Facebook, the money will go directly publishers who work hard to uncover the truth, and Facebook won't take a cut. We plan to start with a small group of U.S. and European publishers later this year and we'll listen to their feedback.

Another addition to promote the publishers, the network will begin to place publisher logos next to content. This will take place for articles shared to the network, or anywhere Instant Articles are shown, including in the forward-facing Trending topics area. Zuckerberg said,

Eventually our goal is to put a publisher's logo next to every news article on Facebook so everyone can understand more about what they're reading.

It will be great to begin to see publisher logos next to their content, to make it clear where you are about to go. This, when combined with last week's revelation about demoting deceptive content, you will always know where you are heading when you click a link within the social network.

Microsoft and Sony Finally Talking About Cross-Play

posted Saturday Aug 26, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft and Sony Finally Talking About Cross-Play

One of the biggest annoyances in all of gaming is the inability to play the same game with a friend on another platform. Take, for example, the smash hit Minecraft, a game that is available almost everywhere - Windows, macOS, Linux, Windows Mobile, iOS, Android, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and Nintendo Switch, just to name a few. Of course, with a game like this, where everything is user generated, the ability to share that content is essential. For the most part, this is possible.

The current scenario allows for players on Windows, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and mobile can all share content with one another. There is an important brand missing, however - PlayStation. Microsoft is clearly interested in cross-pollinating content, as they are working with Nintendo to share data. So, why is the PlayStation brand missing from the overwhelming list of compatible platforms? Because Sony has notoriously been against cross-platform data.

The good news is that Microsoft and Sony are finally getting somewhere in discussions. At Gamescom, Xbox Head of Marketing Aaron Greenberg spoke with GameReactor about the problem and Greenberg said,

Absolutely, yeah. We're talking to Sony (about crossplay), we do partner with them on Minecraft and of course we would like to enable them to be part of that; one community, to unite gamers. So we're talking to them and we're hopeful that they'll be supportive of it.

If Sony were to get onboard with the cross-play capabilities, it would be good for everyone involved. You might see more user-generated games like Minecraft enter the market, that allow users to create anywhere and share with one another. It would also be good for games like Rocket League, whose developer Psyonix, said they were ready to implement cross-play capabilities between Xbox and PlayStation, but Sony quickly squashed that option. Psyonix even said that implementing the capability would take less than one business day to complete, buy Sony was completely against it.

If Microsoft were to convince Sony to accept the capability to play cross-platform, it would be a massive shift for the gaming industry. To play AAA titles, like Call of Duty, with others regardless of platform would likely make sales better for everyone. It would certainly make online play more popular, which is a revenue driver for both companies. Most importantly, it will give players more options.

HTC Might Be Throwing in the Towel

posted Saturday Aug 26, 2017 by Scott Ertz

HTC Might Be Throwing in the Towel

The smartphone market has changed a lot in the past decade. Where once there was a thriving marketplace of ideas and platforms, today we have but 2 with commercial viability: iOS and Android. As the shift from diversity and choice to more sterile uniformity has been accepted, it has claimed some of the pioneers of the industry. For example, BlackBerry has abandoned its purposefully secure platform in favor of the security lacking Android. But other manufacturers have made self-sacrifices in the name of Android which have ultimately cost them dearly.

Motorola and HTC were both early innovators in the formerly diverse smartphone ecosystem. Motorola made phones with and without physical keyboards, featuring Windows Mobile 5 and 6. HTC produced white labeled hardware for Palm, white labeled hardware for carriers, like T-Mobile, as well as devices under their own brand. HTC's devices ran Palm OS as well as Windows Mobile. Both manufacturers recognized the value of additional diversity early on, quickly adding Android devices to their lineups. The decision has not fared well for either.

Motorola put themselves up for sale several years ago, ending up in Google's hands. As expected, Google was incapable of running a hardware division, and Motorola was eventually sold to Lenovo at a $9 billion loss. Lenovo has some ideas to revive the brand, but so far has not had the successes they had hoped for.

Now we have HTC, the company at the center of the smartphone market for many years, looking to go the same way. After putting all of their eggs in the Android basket, as opposed to embracing the diversity that made them a success, the company has found themselves unable to compete with the likes of Samsung. In an attempt to diversity their offerings, they paired up with Valve to create the HTC Vive VR hardware, which has seen some successes, but the market is simply not large enough to support the company.

According to Bloomberg, the company is exploring strategic options, which is business speak for looking for a buyer. The current wisdom points to interest from Google, who already ran Motorola into the ground. Though they have learned some about running a hardware division, the idea of Google succeeding in the phone business themselves is almost a joke. Their Nexus/Pixel program has been a much better idea, as Google gets to spotlight some of their strategic partners, as opposed to trying to understand the difficult nature of hardware development.

HBO's Security Breach Leads to 4 Arrests in India

posted Saturday Aug 19, 2017 by Scott Ertz

HBO's Security Breach Leads to 4 Arrests in India

It would appear that HBO's security procedures need to be reassessed. In the past few weeks, several different incidents have ended with unaired episodes of HBO shows being leaked to the public ahead of their official release. A group of hackers recently demanded money from the network to prevent the release of data that had been stolen from their servers, including scripts for Game of Thrones episodes, emails from executives and more.

If that was the only data, HBO would likely have ignored the threats. However, more damaging data was included in that stolen - cast lists for Game of Thrones, which included names, addresses and phone numbers. That kind of information is what will cause HBO to respond to future demands. If additional cast lists are included in the over 1TB of data stolen in this breach.

Unfortunately for HBO, this isn't the only issue they are dealing with. In India, employees of an HBO partner released a full episode of Game of Thrones before its airing in the country. The partner is responsible for streaming the content after its initial airing, but the employees took the data and made it public unofficially. Unlike the direct hackers, these employees were dealt with almost immediately. In fact, all 4 people involved were arrested in India. Though arrests were made, investigations are ongoing into how and why this incident happened.

In addition to Game of Thrones, new episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, whose series reboot won't officially happen until October, have also leaked online. This is a huge problem for the network, and one that absolutely needs to be solved. The value of the company and the brand are dependent upon getting their data policies under control, retaining episodes from partners until completely necessary, and respond to any future breaches with swift action.

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