The UpStream

Facebook adds to privacy concerns with public phone number database

posted Saturday Sep 7, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Facebook adds to privacy concerns with public phone number database

It wouldn't be a week on the internet if Facebook hadn't created a scenario in which consumer and governmental trust in their handling of data weren't called into question. This week's example of bad decision making comes in the form of a database of user phone numbers, made available via an unsecured cloud database. To make matters worse, this was not the only version of this database made available, as Facebook had already taken down a similar database of phone numbers.

The database was not created or uploaded by Facebook but was generated using Facebook's platform. Using a former feature which allowed Facebook users to find their friends based on phone numbers, someone was able to download a ton of data and, against the Facebook terms of service, store that data off-platform. However, as the company learned during the Cambridge Analytica scandal, nefarious actors simply don't follow the rules, no matter what the scenario. In other words, if the data is made available, people will take advantage of it and use it for their gains. Instagram also had a similar issue recently, showing just how little the company learns from its mistakes.

The scope of this data leak, however, makes the size and scope of Cambridge Analytica and Instagram look insignificant. The database represents the phone numbers of 419 million users, while Cambridge Analytica only affected 87 million users. That represents a 400%, or 5x, increase in the number of users affected by the leak. To add insult to injury, most of the phone numbers are either directly linked to usernames, full names, gender, and country, or can easily be linked using the identifiers present. If you've been annoyed by telemarketers calling your cell phone lately, expect it to only get worse with this leak. You're not going to escape those "extended warranty" calls any time soon.

Nintendo adds 20 Super NES games to their Switch Online Offering

posted Saturday Sep 7, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo adds 20 Super NES games to their Switch Online Offering

When Switch Online first launched, Nintendo added free games to the subscription. Knowing their customer base better than any of the gaming companies, they decided to reach into their back catalog and offer games from the original NES console. However, we discovered recently that they planned to make games from other consoles available, particularly the Super NES. During this week's Nintendo Direct presentation, the company announced the first titles that would be coming from the Super NES, and it is quite a collection.

There are not just a few games coming from the second console - there are 20 titles. The list includes popular titles such as Super Mario Kart, Super Mario World, and Yoshi's Island. Like the current NES batch of games, Nintendo has added features to the classic games, such as the rewind feature, which allows you to go back in time a few seconds and undo a mistake.

To make the SNES experience even more classic, the company has announced a new controller peripheral: an SNES controller that connects via USB-C. This is in addition to the existing NES controller that is already offered as a companion for the other classic titles. You will need to be a Switch Online subscriber to purchase the controller, though it is not yet available (despite the games already dropping).

It is important to note that this big game drop is different from the way Nintendo has treated NES titles in the past. NES titles have been added to the service in a small drip, with new games being added to the collection every month. With SNES titles, however, don't expect the same behavior. In fact, this game dump could be the only SNES titles we get for a while. The Japanese version of the Nintendo site said that SNES titles will arrive irregularly, in Japan and globally.

Google discloses iOS bug, Apple claims Google is exaggerating issue

posted Saturday Sep 7, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Google discloses iOS bug, Apple claims Google is exaggerating issue

Google's Project Zero is a security team within the company that identifies and discloses security issues in products produced by the company and other high profile products from other companies. The original concept of Project Zero was very dangerous, but the company amended their ways. Today, Project Zero works with the developers of the products in which they find the exploits to determine how and when the exploit should be disclosed.

Their most recent high profile disclosure was in Apple's mobile operating system: iOS. The details of the exploit are not important, though they are available from Project Zero. The important part is that the exploit has existed for years in the platform, starting in version 10 and existing until just recently. The problem revolves around the ability for a website to exploit the operating system and the user's privacy. Google's public report says that they discovered websites in the wild taking advantage of the exploit earlier in the year. They also informed Apple of the issue and worked with them to determine a disclosure timeline.

Apple, however, takes issue with almost every aspect of the report. According to the company's statement,

Google's post, issued six months after iOS patches were released, creates the false impression of "mass exploitation" to "monitor the private activities of entire populations in real time," stoking fear among all iPhone users that their devices had been compromised. This was never the case.

Second, all evidence indicates that these website attacks were only operational for a brief period, roughly two months, not "two years" as Google implies. We fixed the vulnerabilities in question in February - working extremely quickly to resolve the issue just 10 days after we learned about it. When Google approached us, we were already in the process of fixing the exploited bugs.

This statement itself is a mischaracterization of what Google said. Either Apple didn't understand the report, or they are trying to hide something. Google said that the exploit existed for 2 years (iOS 10 through iOS 12) not that websites were operating for the 2 years. Google said that they discovered websites taking advantage of the exploit earlier this year. Since the statement, it was revealed that the websites in question were likely run by the Chinese government, and target the Uyghur Muslim community, a group that the Chinese government has been intent on eliminating in their country. With Apple's dedication to the Chinese market, in an attempt to shore up its flailing sales, Apple might be trying to save face with the Chinese government.

AT&T's former DirecTV Now raises prices, exceeding hardline cable

posted Friday Aug 23, 2019 by Scott Ertz

AT&T's former DirecTV Now raises prices, exceeding hardline cable

Since AT&T purchased DirecTV, they have continued to have one problem after another. The DoJ has reconsidered their position on the purchase, while investors have called the company out. The investor lawsuit surrounds the accuracy of the number of people leaving the company's streaming service. Investors claim that far more customers have jumped ship than AT&T have claimed.

Now, with pressure mounting, the company has made a surprising new change to the service: increasing prices. DirecTV hopes that the remaining DirecTV Now customers, which are now AT&T TV Now customers, will be willing to pay significantly more for their service, theoretically filling in some of the holes drilled by former customers. This is far from the first price increase for the service. It started at $35 per month for 60 channels, with prices now starting at $50 per month for 45 channels. While the base plans still exist. AT&T TV Now is offering packages as high as $135 per month for 125+ channels.

This new price point is in the range of traditional cable companies, like AT&T's own U-Verse. In fact, $135 for 125+ channels is more expensive than U-Verse. The company's traditional hardline cable service offers 190+ channels, plus internet access, for $109 per month. So, what is the benefit of subscribing to this service, whose entire purpose is to attract those who don't want to pay the higher prices required to maintain the cable infrastructure? To the best of our knowledge, nothing.

This move is similar to a restaurant in trouble, where they raise their prices and lower their ingredient quality. It helps for a little while, but customers get tired of the change and leave, so they do it again, trying to stop the financial bleeding by creating a new wound somewhere else. While this might help in the very short term, the end result is an increase in subscribers for Hulu with Live TV, Sling TV, YouTube TV, and PlayStation Vue.

Facebook's Libra currency is in trouble as partners get cold feet

posted Friday Aug 23, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Facebook's Libra currency is in trouble as partners get cold feet

The announcement from Facebook earlier this year that they were working on launching a cryptocurrency called Libra immediately drew scrutiny, from other companies and governments the world over. It seems that Facebook, their subsidiary Calibra, and the other members of the Libra Association hadn't considered the possibility that there could be concerns over the platform before the announcement. Now, because of the backlash, the Financial Times reports that members of the Association are getting cold feet.

Two of the 28 founding members are considering leaving the Association entirely, for fear of getting tied up in Facebook's messes. It all stems from the inevitable regulations that will be implemented by the governments that don't ban Libra outright because of Cambridge Analytica. Many governments fear that the company's handling of a privacy issue that they were aware of more than a year before news broke on their behavior could be replicated at Libra. Others are worried that the tight ties between Facebook and Libra could cause problems for the value of fiat currencies, including the US dollar.

With increased scrutiny on Facebook, the associated companies are worried that being involved with Libra could bring problems to their businesses. One of the two companies considering exiting the Association is worried that their business will be put under a brighter government spotlight, while the other is concerned about increased regulation involving their own business, all because of their connection to Facebook.

On the other hand, it seems that Facebook is getting annoyed with the way things are going, as well, but for different reasons. Facebook is concerned about the fact that they are the only ones publicly speaking positively about the currency, despite everyone committing to promote the program. It is not a surprise that no one wants to talk about the program, however, for fear of retribution. With these issues, it is unlikely that Facebook's goal of a 2020 launch or 100 members of the Association will be hit.

Apple Arcade to cost $4.99 per month, according to new report

posted Friday Aug 23, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Apple Arcade to cost $4.99 per month, according to new report

It's been a few months since Apple announced its new subscription gaming service, Apple Arcade, at WWDC 2019. The service will come with a collection of games, including all in-app purchases and no advertisements. The service will launch this Fall and has been much anticipated for its Xbox Game Pass style take on mobile gaming. However, some apprehension has remained, as Apple never announced pricing for the new service. However, according to a new report this week, the price of the service will be $4.99 per month.

The pricing is not a huge surprise following Google's testing of Google Play Pass, a similar subscription service, adding apps to the game catalog, which is currently advertised at $4.99 per month. While Google separates itself by adding non-gaming apps, Apple's service will separate itself by eventually expanding to include Apple TV and macOS devices.

This move, from both Apple and Google, is aimed at trying to solve the current mobile gaming landscape problem. Today, mobile games come in two main varieties: free and paid. The free games are the most common and, while they sound nice, are usually specifically designed to encourage microtransactions which can easily make the game cost more than a paid game. On the other hand, paid games usually come without in-app purchases and advertisements, but also require a front-heavy price.

With a service like Apple Arcade or Google Play Pass, mobile gamers can get the full game experience without being bullied into buying skins, tools, or Pokeballs. The concept has proven to be popular on Xbox One and PC with the Xbox Game Pass, which brings console games to players for a monthly subscription. The same concept on mobile could have the potential to be even more popular with players because of the scourge of in-app purchases in mobile games.

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