Former Segment Host
Current UpStream Contributor
Current Product Reviewer
With over ten years of audio engineering experience, Nick's addition to the PLuGHiTz Corporation is best served when he is behind the mixing board every Sunday night to produce the audio side of their PLuGHiTz Live! Radio show. While mixing live every week, his previous radio show hosting experience gives him the ability to co-host as well, giving each show a unique flare with his slightly off-center, yet still realistic take on all things tech. An integral part of the show, you can find Nick always enveloped in coming up with new (and sometimes crazy) ideas and content for the show and you can always expect the most direct opinion on the stories that he feels need to be shared with the world. During the few hours where Nick isn't sleeping or working on ways to improve the company, he spends his free time going to hockey and football games and playing the latest titles on Xbox 360. Email him for his gamertag and add him today for a fun escape from the normal monotony and annoyance that the Xbox LIVE gaming community can sometimes be!
Recent UpStream Articles
posted Friday Jul 18, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo
The European Commission has requested something of Google and the company complied. And no, they didn't ask Google to stop snooping on WiFi passwords. Instead, EU countries have had a lot of complaints about games containing in-app purchases being marked as "free" games. Per the Commission's request, Google will no longer list a game under free games if it has in-app transactions.
The European Commission says that children making in-app purchases are the root of the complaint, which we are all very familiar with. When the number of complaints became significant enough by EU countries, the Commission decided to make the request to Google. EU Commissioner for Consumer Policy Neven Mimica said,
This is the very first enforcement action of its kind in which the European Commission and national authorities joined forces. I am happy to see that it is delivering tangible results. This is significant for consumers. In particular, children must be better protected when playing online. The action also provides invaluable experience for the ongoing reflection on how to most effectively organise the enforcement of consumer rights in the Union. It has demonstrated that cooperation pays off and helps to improve the protection of consumers in all Member States.
Google said that it will comply with the guidelines set out by the EC and that by September, all apps will require verifying your identity and payment information prior to making a purchase. It should be noted that the EC requested Apple to make the changes, and the company chose to agree, but did not outline a timeframe on when the changes would occur. In fact, Apple said that it is implementing policies that secure these purchases "more than others" with things like the new iOS feature Ask to Buy. Interestingly enough, Apple blew right past the fact that it paid over $100 million in a lawsuit to consumers for this same exact thing.
For those curious, here are the guidelines the European Commission set forth.
1. Games advertised as "free" should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved;
2. Games should not contain direct exhortation to children to buy items in a game or to persuade an adult to buy items for them;
3. Consumers should be adequately informed about the payment arrangements for purchases and should not be debited through default settings without consumers' explicit consent;
4. Traders should provide an email address so that consumers can contact them in case of queries or complaints.
The goal here is to not mislead consumers, specifically parents, about the apps they are downloading. I guess in the long run that's kind of fair to the end-user. I'm curious if we'll see the same thing happen here in the States, too, especially considering the precedent Google is setting in Europe. As we mentioned last week, Amazon is under fire by the FTC about this identical issue. Perhaps we'll see more regulation and less perceived deception in the coming months from State-side developers as well.read more...
posted Sunday Jul 13, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo
Remember last year when Apple had to shell out million to customers who weren't watching their kids make purchases on their iPhones? Well, Amazon is in a similar boat this year as the Federal Trade Commission has gone after Amazon for "unlawfully billing" parents for app purchases made by children. It seems that a regulatory group is now stepping in to protect parents from supervising children on their devices.
The FTC says there are currently no passwords or PINs are required for children to make purchases on the Amazon app store. Consumer protection director for the FTC, Jessica Rich, had this to say on the matter.
Many millions were spent on unauthorized charges. This is about the age old principle of consumer protection. We plan to obtain refunds and put it back in consumer's pockets. We're now headed to court.
The FTC further alleges that Amazon had knowledge of this and did not do a thing about it until the agency confronted Amazon with its policies. The Commission also added that many customers contacted the FTC to complain about these "unauthorized" charges. No word on how many complained nor when the investigation began.
Rich continued by saying that, "If you feel you've been had and want a refund contact the FTC."
Let me add some clarification here. There's no unauthorized charges taking place. Parents are complaining because their kids made purchases and they didn't watch over the things happening on these devices that cost hundreds of dollars.
Granted, similar to Apple's hand being forced in the same case after the ruling, Amazon does not have a PIN or password in place for in-game purchases, so kids can tap at-will and ring up charges as they please. And, like Apple, I can see that changing here, too. What's interesting here is the FTC has been investigating for a while and has actually caught Amazon employees acknowledging that there are no safeguards and not doing anything about it for years. Again, perhaps they figured that parents would be cautious on giving their kids a device connected to both the Internet and their bank account, but I'm afraid we probably can't make that assumption anymore.
In the end, this case will probably end just like the Apple one. Parents complain because their children charged their credit card on in-app digital goods and currency and the businesses did nothing to protect them. But in the same breath they complain that they don't want businesses snooping and watching over them.
I will end this piece by saying that the Windows Phone team thought ahead and all apps require a PIN or password before being able to make any purchases during any part of installing or using an app. And Microsoft didn't have to go through a lawsuit or an FTC investigation to make that decision.read more...
posted Sunday Jul 13, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo
Back in 2010, Emblaze, an Israeli company, sued Apple for patent infringement on several popular iPhone applications, including the Major League Baseball app. A jury ruled this week after a two-week trial that Apple did not actually infringe upon those patents and will not have to pay the $511 million that Emblaze demanded.
The patent in question is US Patent Number 6,389,473 B1, called "Network Media Streaming" and Emblaze claimed that it was being infringed in Apple's use of HTTP Live Streaming (HLS). Basically, any time that a customer would've watched live content on an iPhone and iPad since 2009, Emblaze said Apple was in violation.
Emblaze claimed the above-mentioned MLB app and also apps from ABC News, PGA, NFL and ESPN were infringing on the patent. The Apple Keynotes and iTunes festival were also accused but the jury said that none of these actually infringed on the patent. In the end, Emblaze wanted $511 million in damages from 2009 up until June of 2013 but all of that was dismissed by the court. It should be noted that Emblaze tried to sue Microsoft in 2012 for infringing on the same patent.
How did all of this come about? Well, according to Apple, Emblaze actually developed several audio products that they intended to license and sell to wireless companies. However each and every product was pretty much a total failure and Apple's lawyers said that Emblaze was "trying to make up for that lack of success in the courtroom." And, citing the Microsoft lawsuit, the attorney team also said Emblaze is merely a "company that just sues companies." This, according to Gary Shapiro and many others, is the classic "patent troll" case. And, to put things into perspective, Emblaze was demanding over $500 million when its annual revenue for 2013 was only $1.9 million. If that isn't just a courtroom company, I don't know what is.
It only took the jury a little more than a day to reach a unanimous verdict. With this victory, Apple is currently 2-0 in patent troll cases this year, and has a third suit coming up in a few months.read more...
posted Sunday Jul 13, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo
Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court essentially killed Aereo, at least in its current business state. CEO Chet Kanojia said that the company was going to find a way to continue to operate and it appears Aereo has found that way. Now, Aereo is going to try to become a cable operator.
It started with a letter sent to US District Judge Alison Nathan on Wednesday, which explained Aereo's new path and focus.
Under the Second Circuit's precedents, Aereo was a provider of technology and equipment with respect to the near-live transmissions at issue in the preliminary injunction appeal. After the Supreme Court's decision, Aereo is a cable system with respect to those transmissions. If Aereo is a 'cable system' as that term is defined in the Copyright Act, it is eligible for a statutory license, and its transmissions may not be enjoined (preliminarily or otherwise).
So, Aereo now looks to become a cable company and is going to try and pay the necessary fees and licenses to do so. The entire letter basically outlined that new plan and that it would operate in "accordance with the terms of the Supreme Court's decision," which makes all of this very interesting. Obviously the broadcasters have already spoken up and said that this is only happening because of the ruling. CBS wrote on Wednesday that, upon hearing the news about Aereo's major business model shift, the Aereo case that's made its way back to a Manhattan federal court should be dismissed.
Aereo's refusal to clearly specify whether, when and in what fashion it intends to continue operating. Aereo never before pled (much less litigated) Section 111 as an affirmative defense. Whatever Aereo may say about its rationale for raising it now, it is astonishing for Aereo to contend the Supreme Court's decision automatically transformed Aereo into a 'cable system' under Section 111 given its prior statements to this Court and the Supreme Court.
Many analysts predicted this case was far from over, and they were completely right. Several people, including myself, predicted that Aereo would try and claim a different stance and go the cable operator route, and it appears all of that has come to fruition. Now, whether or not that actually happens is a whole other thing to deal with. Naturally, we'll have the updates as they occur but for now, you can read the joint letter that was filed to the courts in the source link below.read more...
posted Sunday Jul 13, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo
Oculus, following a $2 billion acquisition by Facebook, made a handful of announcements this week about the progression of the company. The company proudly said it has acquired a game-network company and will also be launching a developer conference in September.
On September 19th and 20th, Oculus will be hosting Oculus Connect at the Loew's Hotel in Hollywood, California. The developer conference will be geared towards devs in the VR, gaming, entertainment and cinematic spaces. Oculus said the conference will also feature sessions for people that surround the development community. Not much else was disclosed about the event but that information will be coming in the next couple of weeks. The event will include keynotes from Brendan Iribe, Palmer Luckey, John Carmack and Michael Abrash.
Oculus also announced that it has acquired RakNet, which some may recognize as being the platform Oculus has been using for some time now. RakNet is a middleware tech company which essentially provides Internet support and transport for video games. From the statement,
For those unfamiliar with RakNet, it is a comprehensive C++ game networking engine designed for ease of use and performance. The tech is tuned for cross-platform, high-performance applications that operate across a wide variety of network types. Key features include object replication, remote procedure calls, patching, secure connections, voice chat, and real-time SQL logging. The technology has been licensed by thousands of indie developers, as well as companies like Unity, Havok, Mojang, Maxis and Sony Online Entertainment.
As you can see, some pretty big names use the technology already. In the past, games that made under $100,000 gross revenue were able to access the C++ libraries for free, but after the acquisition, Oculus has decided to open-source the entire project. The feeling of a service for UDP and TCP being open-source is a scary one, but perhaps some really cool tools can be built for the Oculus and VR platforms moving forward.
Last but not least, in case you missed it, the Oculus Rift won Best Hardware at E3 2014 for the second year in a row. Obviously the company was excited about that as well. But are you excited about any of the other two announcements? Will you be going to Oculus Connect? Let us know in the comments.read more...
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