The UpStream (Page 73)

Eric Schmidt, Alphabet's Executive Chairman, To Step Down

posted Thursday Dec 21, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Eric Schmidt, Alphabet's Executive Chairman, To Step Down

For the past 17 years, one man has sat at the top of the pyramid that is today known as Alphabet, and was once known as Google: Eric Schmidt. He joined the company in 2001 as the executive chairman of the board of directors, but was quickly made CEO. After Larry Page's return to the company and claiming of the CEO title, Schmidt returned to the executive chairman role, where he has stayed since.

This week, the company announced that, as of the January meeting of the board of directors, Eric Schmidt would be stepping away from the executive chairman position. He will not be leaving the company, however, instead remaining on the board and taking a position of technical advisor. No interim chairman has been announced, and the company has decided that a new chairman would no longer retain the executive position, but instead simply chair the board.

Schmidt has overseen big changes at the company, including the restructuring that resulted in the renaming of the corporation to Alphabet. He brought Android and Nest under the company's umbrella, and made Chrome OS a force, even if only in education. He also oversaw flops, such as the Google+ integration into YouTube and Google Buzz, which was a privacy nightmare.

Speaking about the transition and its timing, Schmidt said,

Larry (Page), Sergey (Brin), Sundar (Pichai), and I all believe that the time is right in Alphabet's evolution for this transition. The Alphabet structure is working well, and Google and the Other Bets are thriving. In recent years, I've been spending a lot of my time on science and technology issues, and philanthropy, and I plan to expand that work.

While one explanation is that he wants to spend his life like Bill Gates, creating foundations and changing the world, it's hard to ignore the timing. Google and Amazon have become vocal, public enemies, fighting on everything from online product assortments to YouTube availability. Countries all over the world, including their home base of the United States, have begun to grow distrustful of the company and its intentions. There are no strong indications that Schmidt might have been asked to leave his position because of the company's hardships, but with waning trust from consumers, the industry and global governments, a change like this would not be unreasonable.

Nintendo Power is Reborn as a Podcast

posted Thursday Dec 21, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo Power is Reborn as a Podcast

In the 1990s, one of the most loved videogame brands was Nintendo Power, the Nintendo-focused magazine. Some great content, including interviews and game announcements were published in the magazine. It was so popular, gameshows on Nickelodeon used to give subscriptions away as prizes. Unfortunately, the magazine was shutdown in 2012, seemingly off into videogame history.

This week, Nintendo Power was reborn, but not as a magazine. Instead, this time the brand is reborn as a podcast, published officially by Nintendo of America. The new series is hosted by Chris Slate, who served for 5 years as Editor-in-Chief of Nintendo Power, and is now the corporate communications manager of Nintendo of America.

The series is currently available on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud, which we'll come back to in a moment. The inaugural episode focuses on Nintendo's 2017, which has been a great turnaround year for the company, as well as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, featuring an interview with producer Eiji Aonuma and director Hidemaro Fujibayashi.

The problem here is that there is no word as to how serious the company is about the Nintendo Power renaissance. The idea that Nintendo would commit enough resources to produce a weekly show is unlikely, as much as fans might want that. Given the publication's previous frequency, it would not be absurd to believe that they will publish episodes on a monthly basis.

The fact that the series is currently hosted on SoundCloud, however, is an indication that the company itself has not committed to anything past the initial episode. Professional podcasts do not host their content on a non-podcast host like SoundCloud; in general, that is reserved for hobbyists, as these platforms do not perform well, or lend a positive image to the series itself.

Nintendo fans will all enjoy this single episode, but before we see any further episodes, hopefully Nintendo will decide to get serious about what they are doing.

Apple Is Slowing Your Older iPhone, Is Getting Sued

posted Thursday Dec 21, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Apple Is Slowing Your Older iPhone, Is Getting Sued

For many years, iPhone users have complained about the degrading nature of the phone's performance. As the phone gets older, and particularly as newer models are released, users have noticed that their phones get significantly slower. Apple has denied for years that they are purposely slowing down older models, but that assertation, for at least the last year, has not been true.

Last week, the team over at Geekbench tested the theory that older iPhones run slower than newer models. Using the stats recorded when a handset was brand new and comparing it to stats taken after being well-used, they saw exactly what was expected: the well-used handset ran significantly slower than it had when it was brand new. The testers believed they had a lead, and replaced the battery in the phone and re-ran the tests. It turned out, with the new battery, the phone began running close to brand new specs.

After publishing their findings, and receiving major coverage of their tests, Apple finally responded to the claims, admitting that they had begun slowing iPhones a year ago. In a statement, the company said,

Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices. Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, have a low battery charge or as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components.

Last year we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions. We've now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future.

As would be expected with a revelation like this, following repeated denial from the company and a secretive release of this new "feature," two iPhone owners have filed suit against Apple. Plaintiffs Stefan Bogdanovich and Dakota Speas, students at USC's law school, are seeking class action status for the case, which alleges that Apple interfered with the performance of users phones without their permission or knowledge.

If Apple is truly slowing older phones because of battery issues, it brings back a popular complaint about Apple's devices, and subsequently other manufacturers' devices: removable batteries. If Apple designed their devices to allow users to replace their batteries as they age, as all phones once allowed, then Apple would not need to dedicate their increasingly limited software development time to slowing their users devices. It would also increase user satisfaction, with users getting to use the whole device they purchased, and maintain them longer.

Walt Disney Company to Acquire Twenty-First Century Fox For $52.4 Billion

posted Sunday Dec 17, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Walt Disney Company to Acquire Twenty-First Century Fox For $52.4 Billion

After months of speculation, and several interested parties, the competition for Twenty-First Century Fox has come to the end, with The Walt Disney Company coming out as the new owner. The company will be paying $52.4 billion in Disney shares for the majority of the existing company. Remaining with the former owners will be the news and sports businesses, including Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, FS1, and FS2. Those pieces will be spun off into a new corporation, cleverly named "Fox." Rupert Murdoch intends to eventually re-integrate these properties into News Corp.

The rest of the company will become a part of Disney, including the film rights to already Disney-owned X-Men, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer and Deadpool, as well as Avatar, which Disney recently integrated into their Animal Kingdom park in Orlando, Florida. In addition, the company will be in charge of major franchises, such as The Simpsons.

As well as content, Disney will receive distribution, in the form of FX, FFX, National Geographic and regional sports networks. The regional networks can be brought under the ESPN brand, expanding Disney's already heavy focus on sports, but bringing their knowledge to local teams. Disney will also take control of Fox's interests in Star TV, Sky and, most importantly, Hulu. Combined with their existing stake in the company, Disney will have a 60% controlling interest in the popular streaming service.

Having a controlling interest in Hulu could change the company's announced intentions to create their own Disney-branded streaming service, which would serve only Disney-branded content. They could decide to, instead, place their content into Hulu, possibly making a Disney package, similar to Hulu's existing Showtime package. The combined content and distribution of Hulu can help Disney compete against Netflix's pledged goal of original content over the next few years.

All of this hinges on regulatory approval. Several US and foreign government agencies will have to sign off on the merger. If it is not approved, for any reason, then Disney will still keep Fox's existing interest in Sky in Europe. If it is approved, one condition of the sale is for Disney CEO Bob Iger to remain past his planned retirement to oversee the integration of the companies, extending his tenure into 2021.

Mozilla Accidentally Makes Users Think They Have Spyware

posted Sunday Dec 17, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Mozilla Accidentally Makes Users Think They Have Spyware

Generating revenue from a free product is always hard to do, especially when there is no real place for advertising. It's not a new scenario for a web browser to build a partnership in an attempt to increase revenue. So, the idea of a partnership between Mozilla, who promotes online privacy and security, and an online game from hacker TV show Mr. Robot, is a clear winner.

Unfortunately, a clear winner only works if you can implement the partnership in the right way. One way you can ruin a sure thing is to force-install a plugin on users' browsers, whose description merely reads, "MY REALITY IS DIFFERENT THAN YOURS." Reddit users began to panic, flooding the site with comments, including, "I have no idea what it is or where it came from. I freaked out a bit and uninstalled it immediately."

Finding any software that you have no idea what it is, gives no useful description, and you did not install is never a positive. It gets worse, though, as a browser plugin which also doesn't expose its permissions, and could be logging keystrokes, passwords and browsing history.

Mozilla learned their lesson following the negative attention and removed the auto-installed plugin process. Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, Mozilla's chief marketing officer, said in a statement,

Suffice to say, we've learned a good deal in the last 24 hours... Although we always have the best intentions, not everything that we try works as we want.

This should be a reminder of what control others have over our devices. We all remember Apple forcing its iPhone owners to download a U2 album, whether they wanted it or not. We might also remember Apple remotely uninstalling apps from users iPhones in 2008. Both of these instances resulted in immense customer displeasure, for a variety of reasons. Neither of these incidents, however, created distrust.

Many users on Reddit have said that, following this breach of trust, they will be switching browsers, some of whom had just returned to Firefox following the recent release of Quantum. Others will be disabling the feature that Mozilla used, which it utilizes to test new features, indicating another sign of lost trust. One user said,

In the past I was fine with Mozilla's approach to telemetry and studies, making my browser available for occasional testing/experimenting/data collection to track down bugs or measure improvements or whatever is fine. This is not doing any of those things. This is an advertisement. This is an abuse of the telemetry and shield studies program. If I cannot trust Mozilla to use these tools responsibly I will have to disable them and recommend my friends and co-workers do the same.

A loss of trust here is not something that Mozilla needs, as they try to attract users to their new Quantum browser. If you cannot trust your browser to keep you safe, who can you trust online?

Facebook Can Make Us Unhappy, Warns Facebook

posted Sunday Dec 17, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Facebook Can Make Us Unhappy, Warns Facebook

Anyone who spends any amount of time on Facebook can acknowledge that being there can significantly worsen your mood. In fact, these days, it seems nearly impossible to scroll through your feed without getting mad, either at your friends, family or the world in general.

This week, Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive came out and said that he had "tremendous guilt" about what he helped to create, which he claims is "destroying how society works." Considering what happened a year ago, and continues today, with constant feeds of misinformation, and how easy it is to perpetuate that information, it's hard not to agree. Palihapitiya added,

The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse. No cooperation. Misinformation. Mistruth. And it's not an American problem. This is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem. So we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion.

Facebook responded to the accusations, acknowledging that they are not entirely untrue. In fact, the company says that people who passively scroll through their feed, simply reading posts and headlines, are likely to walk away with a negative emotional state. On the other hand, people who actively participate in the process are likely to walk away feeling better.

In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information - reading but not interacting with people - they report feeling worse afterward. In one experiment, University of Michigan students randomly assigned to read Facebook for 10 minutes were in a worse mood at the end of the day than students assigned to post or talk to friends on Facebook.

On the other hand, actively interacting with people - especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions - is linked to improvements in well-being. This ability to connect with relatives, classmates, and colleagues is what drew many of us to Facebook in the first place, and it's no surprise that staying in touch with these friends and loved ones brings us joy and strengthens our sense of community.

Facebook has created a number of tools and programs to try and counteract this. You've likely noticed an increased number of messages at the top of your feed encouraging you to share past content that had encouraged interaction, as well as posting about engaging topics, such as holidays or the weather. They have also created Take a Break, which allows you to temporarily limit posts from an ex after a breakup. They also limited clickbait links, which never seem to encourage interaction, only disappointment.

Either Facebook is legitimately worried about the negative influence it is having on the world, or they know that they have to do something to put out a public image of interest. Either way, any work towards preventing a product from being a negative influence on our emotions, is a step in the right direction. Another good step might be to spend less time on Facebook.

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