One of the biggest fears for a connected home is when that connection disappears. We've all experienced internet outages, causing our connected devices to become suddenly useless. For the most part, this is merely an inconvenience. But, what if someone is trying to get into your home and cuts your internet connection - killing your connected devices, such as security cameras? That is exactly the problem that Amazon is hoping to eliminate with its new Sidewalk feature.
The new feature creates a private, local network between Amazon devices. This will include some of the company's Echo, Ring, and more product lines. This private network will allow the devices within the network to switch over to one another's internet connection if the primary connection is unavailable. For some users, this feature will be an exciting addition. However, the company has made a major mistake and one that has caused other companies in the past.
This feature will be turning itself on by default. In fact, while Sidewalk networks are not already running (according to Amazon), the setting to turn it off is already available. You can head to More -> Settings -> Account Settings -> Amazon Sidewalk to turn it off. There are a number of reasons why users might want to consider turning this off.
Of course, there is the obvious issue of data caps, which are going to increase in 2021. If you have a limited amount of bandwidth, giving access to connected devices which are not your own is not a great situation at $10 per additional 50GB of usage. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The real situation is that connected devices are notorious for security issues, including Amazon's products. By creating an "accidental" backdoor into your private internet connection, the company is potentially creating a security nightmare for you and your family. For the same reason we have repeatedly fought against the idea of "public access" on consumer routers, we see the potential for abuse.
Recently, a report showed that the number of internet power users has grown over the past year. This was no surprise, as much of the world has begun working from home. In addition, school is now from home, the majority of entertainment is from home. Add to that, the number of devices in our homes that are connected to the internet has expanded. With all of these changes, the amount of data being used is bound to increase as well.
Thankfully, most of the major internet service providers that have data caps have suspended those caps for the time being. However, this week we learned that Comcast plans to expand its data cap policy across all of its markets in the United States. As of today, there are twelve states where unlimited data plans are still available. However, that is about to come to an end.
In January 2021, Comcast will expand the controversial policy to all of the 28 million subscribers in the company's 39 market states. The announcement came via the company's Xfinity page about data, though the language has since been removed. The company did confirm the change through Ars Technica.
They will, however, give a "grace period" to users who will be added to the policy in January. For the first two months, users will not be charged for overages. This means that the enforcement of the policy, in these new markets, will actually begin in March 2021. In addition, the company has options for those who want to maintain unlimited data. Users can pay an additional $30 per month, or sign up for the "xFi Complete" plan, which is an additional $25 (a better option, but still not great).
As the nature of internet usage continues to change, adding data caps and overage charges is unbelievably inappropriate. People will be continually using more data as entertainment, work, school, and more continue to change.
Before the launch of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, we all knew that pre-orders were going to be rough. Between limited stock and pre-order bots taking a large percentage of what is available, availability was going to be a problem. While on the Microsoft side, it's only been an inconvenience, but on the Sony side, it's caused a different issue around PlayStation Plus.
The service offers subscribers free games every month, claimable on your console. As part of the hardware upgrade, part of the claiming process has moved to the new consoles. Because of that, people have needed to figure out how to get their hands on a PS5 in order to claim all of the games that are made available to them, even if the games are playable on the PS4. To do this, many gamers have borrowed access to consoles from their friends, or other owners, in order to claim their games to be played on their PS4.
While this sounds reasonable to most gamers, it annoyed Sony. The result has been PlayStation Network accounts getting banned for the practice. Yes, you read that correctly - Sony is banning PlayStation Network accounts because those gamers couldn't get one of the limited quantity of PlayStation 5 consoles but still wanted the games for which they were paying.
In fact, all participants in the process are being punished. The owners of the consoles themselves are being banned permanently, while the PS4 owners are getting a 2-month ban. There is currently no indication that Sony has changed the policy, either on claiming games or on banning PSN accounts. However, Sony has said that users who believe that their bans are incorrect are welcome to file a counter claim in an attempt to reclaim their accounts. However, for those whose PSN accounts have been permanently banned, it could be a massive blow, considering the cost and limited stock availability.
At CES this year, Samsung showed off an impressive yet bizarre product from its Star Labs subsidiary - NEON. This service uses AI to produce a digital assistant that is convincingly human in both vocal capabilities as well as in visual. The second aspect was the real shock - a moving, talking, interacting virtual human being on a screen. In the demo, these virtual people were on large screens on a wall at a distance. According to reports, this reality might be about to change in Samsung's device future.
Samsung is currently testing integrating NEON assistants into its phones. In fact, Star Labs CEO Pranav Mistry casually mentioned on Twitter that he's already running a NEON assistant on his own personal phone. We can assume that he is currently running a high-end Samsung phone, considering his employer. We can also assume that he's not running NEON on his phone as a casual experiment but as a technological test for future deployment. In fact, he also added that we can see on our phones before Christmas.
While this move is technologically cool, and I personally can't wait to see it in action on my phone, it is also a surprise. Samsung has not had the best of luck in the digital assistant realm. Bixby has been an absolute disaster for the company, with the biggest complaint about the launch of the Galaxy S10 being the inability to reprogram the Bixby button because no one wanted to use it. On the other hand, the company's Invoke smart speaker is set to lose its smart capabilities in January 2021.
The idea that Samsung would not just embrace a new digital assistant on its devices, but to expand the role from a disembodied voice to a virtual digital body, is a shock. Maybe the technological expansion will be the thing to finally win Samsung some market share in this area, but it seems like a big swing hoping to put a piece of technology it has invested in that wasn't able to be implemented because of the lockdowns.
Several weeks ago, Twitch streamers began receiving vague emails that videos had been deleted. It followed a statement from Typhoon Studios (a Google Stadia studio) Creative Director Alex Hutchinson claiming that Twitch streamers should be required to acquire a license in order to stream games. While there was speculation that these two events were connected, the smart money was on the Twitch community's complete disregard for copyright law.
In particular, Twitch streamers have gotten very comfortable using music in their streams that they do not have the rights to use. For years, RIAA has generally left these streams alone, but it turns out that it was not to stay that way. RIAA seems to have decided that Twitch is not immune from the law and has begun heavy enforcement on the platform. Streamers using music in their videos that they cannot use have seen those videos completely deleted from the platform.
The word deleted is important, because it leaves these streamers with no recourse when a claim is filed. In the case of RIAA claims, it is unlikely that the streamers would have a leg to stand on. However, anyone who has a lot of public media content known that unfounded DMCA notices are common. Some companies even use them against news organizations when they have been embarrassed by their own behavior. Under those circumstances, it is essential to be able to file a counterclaim to prevent the takedown.
Unfortunately, because Twitch has ignored the law for so long, it had no process in place for proper handling of these notices. That is what resulted in direct deletions as opposed to the more appropriate response of suspending the content. Twitch has promised that they are aware of the mistakes they have made and are working to implement more appropriate responses to DMCA notices. The question, of course, will be whether these moves will be rolled out in time to save the reputation of the platform.
When internet service providers (ISPs) first started talking about data caps, the stated goal was to discourage excessive data usage. They also reminded customers that very few subscribers ever came close to the cap level - it's only the small number of power users and super power users that would be affected by this new rule. At the time, power and super power users accounted for less than 1 percent of internet subscribers. But, the world has changed since then, and it changed in a way that the ISPs predicted.
A new study from the company that has made data caps possible, OpenVault, shows just how the way people use the internet has changed. Since this point in 2019, the number of power users, which are considered those who use more than 1TB of bandwidth per month, has more than doubled. In 2019, 4.2 percent of users were power users, but in 2020, that number has moved to 8.8 percent. The number of super power users, who use more than 2TB od bandwidth per month, has also increased since this point in 2019. The number has nearly tripled, moving from about 0.36 percent to around 1 percent of all users.
So, why is this happening? Because how we use the internet has changed. Some of that is care of the global lockdowns, causing us to work remotely. This means adding daily video calls to our normal workload, which adds a lot of bandwidth usage. 1TB of bandwidth accounts for about 400 hours of HD video streaming. That number goes down when you start streaming 4K video, and goes up when it is less than HD. But, how many video streams do we have during a conference call? Microsoft recently upped its grid to 49 participants. Even in low quality, 49 video streams are going to eat through data.
Add to the business impacts of the lockdowns we've got entertainment streaming. Many families are cutting the cord, but adding Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, CBS All Access, and more. 400 hours of HD video is difficult at over 13 hours per day, if you are single. But a family of 4 only needs about 3 hours per person. With all of that media available, that's going to be easy - especially now.
In addition, we've all got smart homes these days, as well as phones and tablets using our Wi-Fi. It all adds up. And the ISPs knew this - and they knew it was coming. Data caps were a way of preparing their bottom lines for the cord cutting exodus from traditional wireline cable services. And that move seems to have worked.