If 2016 went down as the year of celebrity deaths, 2017 is going to go down as the year of exposed data. This week, another company exposed customer data to the public - Instagram. The data included users' email addresses and phone numbers, and was exposed because of a flaw in the API, or application programming interface, which is how the Instagram applications receive data.
To retrieve the data, you simply need to use an older version of the mobile app, 8.5.1 from 2016 to be specific, and initiate the password reset operation. If the data is sent through certain proxies, you can read the data going both directions. By asking the server to reset the password of an account, the server responds with the personal information of the username requested.
Once this issue was discovered, it was a fairly obvious next step for someone, or a group, to begin grabbing information from high-profile accounts. That information immediately found its way to the underworld of the internet, being made available for purchase at $10 per account on a site dubbed Doxagram. The Daily Beast received a sample and verified at least some of the data.
Instagram fixed the potentially long-running bug, and released a statement saying,
We recently discovered that one or more individuals obtained unlawful access to a number of high-profile Instagram users' contact information-specifically email address and phone number-by exploiting a bug in an Instagram API. No account passwords were exposed. We fixed the bug swiftly and are running a thorough investigation.
Our main concern is for the safety and security of our community. At this point, we believe this effort was targeted at high-profile users so, out of an abundance of caution, we are notifying our verified account holders of this issue. As always, we encourage people to be vigilant about the security of their account and exercise caution if they encounter any suspicious activity such as unrecognized incoming calls, texts, and e-mails.
While Instagram claims that no security information was exposed, the timing is definitely unfortunate. Three days prior, the account of Selina Gomez, one of the highest profile accounts, was hacked and nude photos of her ex, Justin Bieber, were posted. It is not clear whether or not this hack was related to the data exposure, but the safe money is on a relationship.
One part of the company's statement sticks out, though: "one or more individuals obtained unlawful access." The question that comes out of this statement is who is legally responsible for the access of the data. If someone leaves a piece of confidential information in a bar and someone else reads it, is it the individual who left it behind, or is it the person who found it who has violated the privacy of the data?
We will discuss the topic of data responsibility, both personal and corporate, on F5 Live: Refreshing Technology Episode 478 this week.
The last 12 months have been littered with retro gaming products. Nintendo released the NES Classic Edition and announced the upcoming Super NES Classic Edition. Sega, with partner AtGames, released the Classic and Flashback Genesis hardware. Even Atari has throwback hardware available.
For the 30th anniversary of Street Fighter II, Capcom and Retrotainment Games have decided to up the ante on throwback products, releasing a fully functional SNES cartridge. The cartridges come in either red or glow-in-the-dark, but the packages are not marked as to which color is in which box. The idea of making a working cartridge for hardware that is decades retired is a fascinating one, and the opposite of what we saw with the Genesis hardware. While Sega made new hardware that plays old games, this is a new cartridge for an old system.
This retro gaming trend is an interesting one, and proves that gaming does not have to focus completely on the graphics. In all of these cases, we are seeing companies release games, hardware or both, that are for technology that runs 8-bit or 16-bit graphics. These were the days when you couldn't spend all of your development time focusing on graphics, which meant you had to build a game that played well and could focus on story - or abandon it completely - dealer's choice.
Maybe, with the proof that a good game can do better than a pretty one, we will start to see good games released again.
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.
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 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.
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.