The UpStream

Netflix Hack Day Results in Sleep Tracking, Kid Entertaining

posted Sunday Mar 2, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Netflix Hack Day Results in Sleep Tracking, Kid Entertaining

Netflix, among some of the interesting initiatives the company does, hosts an annual Hack Day. As the company puts it, it is a way for promoting fun, experimentation and creativity for its engineers. And this year, a couple of experiments were so cool that a lot of people could put them to use in real-life apps.

The event, running from Thursday morning through the evening into Friday morning, is capped off with a presentation 24 hours from the start time. From solutions to existing problems to the creation of brand new concepts, ideas were categorized and then judged on a 5-star scale.

For me, a notable presentation was having Netflix check to see if you fell asleep while watching a movie, a common problem that happens to me a lot. By using a Fitbit Force (yes, the recalled tracker) to measure data that is then relayed to the system to then fade out the audio. After some time, it will display a prompt, asking if you're really asleep, and will turn off the movie or show after bookmarking the last point your vitals showed you were awake. The next morning or whenever you get back to the program, you will then be able to pick up where you might have stopped the stream after slumber or from where you fell asleep. This can be really useful for those who watch stream some movies before sleeping, and you don't have to remember what you last saw before you drifted off.

Another cool presentation was using the latest Apple-made-famous technology, iBeacon. Simply by touching two iOS devices together, you could easily share Netflix videos to and from the gadgets. They called it Netflix Beam. Obviously, apps like Nokia's Play To app and Samsung's Smart View app have similar features, using Wi-Fi Direct, NFC or Bluetooth to accomplish the goal, but their scenario for the use was most interesting to me. Say you're having dinner with friends, and they bring kids. Of course, you'd want to entertain the little ones with some Netflix watching, but say they want to watch something on their own devices. Instead of giving out Wi-Fi passwords, or setting up a guest network for a one-time deal, you can simply tap the devices and play video to and when they leave, it returns them to their own account if they have one. Easy enough.

These videos are both after the break, so check them out if you want to see some really great ideas. Hopefully we'll see them come to life in one way or another.

British Spy Agency Taps Into 1.8 Million Yahoo Web Chat Records, Surprised by Nudity

posted Sunday Mar 2, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

British Spy Agency Taps Into 1.8 Million Yahoo Web Chat Records, Surprised by Nudity

99 percent of the Internet is full of it, and now a spy agency has a ton of it. The British spy organization GCHQ, along with an assist from the NSA, tapped into Yahoo's files and now has millions upon millions of Yahoo webcam chat logs. To their surprise, 11 percent contained what they refer to as "undesirable nudity."

Off of the heels of the Edward Snowden leak, this six-month-long project, called "Optic Nerve," put the GCHQ in front of 1.8 million users' chat records. The agency then saved the files to their databases, whether or not the documents were from users the team was targeting. Reports say that the files only go through 2010, but an internal wiki page from GCHQ indicates that the operation was in effect through 2012.

Yahoo, obviously, is not too thrilled about this and said so in a statement.

We were not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity. This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy that is completely unacceptable, and we strongly call on the world's governments to reform surveillance law consistent with the principles we outlined in December. We are committed to preserving our users' trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services.

Yahoo has declined to comment further, but has said it also plans to deploy stricter encryption to all of the company's products. By the end of this month, Yahoo will give all users the option to protect their data.

The GCHQ used a facial recognition software in order to identify Yahoo users whose faces looked close enough to the ones they were trying to investigate. This obviously led to some innocent people's data being saved by the British agency. Regardless, the team used their available Internet taps - ones that make the NSA's efforts look like child's play - to identify Yahoo webcam traffic, save an image of a chat once every five minutes and then display that information to an analyst who was allowed to scan through the images to find people of interest. Yikes.

And I know what you're thinking: what about the porn? Well this document, dated December 2008, outlines some of the agency's findings, which apparently shocked them to a point that they had to mention their astonishment.

Unfortunately, there are issues with undesirable images within the data. It would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person. Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography.

I, for one, did not know that was happening until I read this document. Truly an eye-opening experience. At any rate, the contents of this data contained so much nudity that the GCHQ issued a warning to analysts, with a few tips on what they might see.

Whe use face detection to try to censor material which may be offensive but this does not work perfectly so you should read the following before using OPTIC NERVE:

- It is possible to handle and display undesirable images. There is no perfect ability to censor material which may be offensive. Users who may feel uncomfortable about such material are advised not to open them.

- You are reminded that under GCHQ's offensive material policy, the dissemination of offensive material is a disciplinary offence.

- Retrieval of or reference to such material should be avoided.

The GCHQ has not commented on the matter, and has stated that it has a "longstanding policy" not to on "intelligence matters." A spokesman also said that the GCHQ conducted all of this activity "in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework" and that even the secretary of state, and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee approved this operation. Oh, and as far as the NSA is concerned, the agency went on record to say that it would "not ask foreign partners... to collect intelligence the agency could not legally collect itself." For once, the NSA kind of looks like the good guys? Yikes.

Hulu Sells Japanese Brand, Focuses on North America

posted Saturday Mar 1, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Hulu Sells Japanese Brand, Focuses on North America

Reporting on Hulu's moves is like watching a tennis match: if you look away for even a moment you don't know where the ball is. In a blog post this week, Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins announced that the company had sold its Japanese brand to broadcaster Nippon Television Network. The details of the sale have not been disclosed.

The decision comes as the service's successes reach their heights. With 50 content partners and over 13,000 titles supported on 90 million devices, why would Hulu decide to exit the Japanese market officially? Hopkins attributes the sale to a growth rate that leaves a transfer of ownership as the best course of action.

Luckily for Japanese customers, the service is not going to be rebranded or changed in any significant way, at least not right away.

Hulu will be licensing our brand and technology and will continue to provide services to the Japan business-loyal fans of the service will enjoy the same seamless user experience and product innovation they have come to love. Thank you to the Hulu team members in Japan, and managing director Buddy Marini, for all of your hard work and contributions. Nippon TV recognizes the talented Hulu team we have on the ground in Japan, and I look forward to seeing you keep up the good work.

If Hulu's reasons for exiting the daily operations in Japan are true, then it would make sense for the service to go to the largest broadcaster in the country. Here, the service is owned and operated by 3 of the 4 major broadcasters, which gives the service easy access to content that people want to watch. With this transfer of ownership, Hulu Japan will be gaining access to content from the largest broadcaster in its country. Hopefully, in the end, this will be a benefit for Hulu Japan's customers.

Nintendo to Terminate Online Play for Previous Consoles

posted Saturday Mar 1, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo to Terminate Online Play for Previous Consoles

This week, Nintendo announced that as of May 20, 2014, online capabilities of non-current devices and their corresponding games will be shut down. While the DS and DSi are affected, the console that is a surprise is the Wii, which is still available, though not the current generation device. The purchase of a brand new Wii with, say, Super Smash Brothers Brawl will not be playable online.

Considering Nintendo's recent financial situations, this could be a Sony-style move in an attempt to right the ship before they have to close business units. The shutdown of servers for powering these previous games and services could allow the company to reallocate resources to new games on the current-generation consoles.

It is, however a bit of a kick in the groin to those who have supported the legacy consoles and their games. Though the 3DS continues to be the top selling console, the Wii U has not lived up to the hype Nintendo tried to build. Because of that, many people continue to use their original Wii consoles. Because of that, this might also be a move to "encourage" people to upgrade to the Wii U.

So, are any of our readers affected by this shutdown or has everyone switched away from legacy cnosoles? Let us know in the comments.

Mt. Gox Files Bankruptcy; Customer Files Lawsuit

posted Friday Feb 28, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Mt. Gox Files Bankruptcy; Customer Files Lawsuit

It has been a weird year for Bitcoin, the crypto currency that seems to have everyone a little confused. First, several new online retailers started accepting Bitcoin as an official payment type. Then, the first Bitcoin ATMs were installed and began operation. On the other hand, there have been several bank heists, accounting for hundeds of millions of dollars worth of Bitcoin thefts.

The largest of these heists comes at the expense of Mt. Gox, the world's largest repository of Bitcoin. The theft cost the company 750,000 customers and 100,000 internal Bitcoin, which at the exchange rate at the time of this writing is just shy of $492 million. The heist has also cost the company the company itself.

This week, the Japan-based Mt. Gox filed for bankruptcy protection with an outstanding debt of $63.3 million. Shortly before the official filing, Mt. Gox's website was shut down and its Twitter history was cleared, causing most customers to fear they had lost their investments. The website now features only a logo and the text:

As there is a lot of speculation regarding MtGox and its future, I would like to use this opportunity to reassure everyone that I am still in Japan, and working very hard with the support of different parties to find a solution to our recent issues.

Furthermore I would like to kindly ask that people refrain from asking questions to our staff: they have been instructed not to give any response or information. Please visit this page for further announcements and updates.

In light of recent news reports and the potential repercussions on MtGox's operations and the market, a decision was taken to close all transactions for the time being in order to protect the site and our users. We will be closely monitoring the situation and will react accordingly.

That is not where this drama ends, however. After days of protesting outside of the company's headquarters, customers who have lost money in this disaster are getting restless. One of which, Gregory Greene of Chicago, has filed a class-action lawsuit against the company. Greene, who claims to have lost $25,000 in the shutdown, said,

This catastrophic loss has not only revealed the instability of a burgeoning new industry, it has also uncovered a massive scheme to defraud millions of consumers into providing a private company with real, paper money in exchange for virtual currency.

This monumental failure will raise a couple of questions regarding Bitcoin. First, can Bitcoin ever be secured? With as many massive thefts as we have seen over the last 12 months, the answer so far appears to be no. The other question is, will Bitcoin be able to survive this constant onslaught of bad press? Even if the first problem is not the result of a flaw in Bitcoin itself, it certainly affects the faith in the currency, which is all they have for success.

Nokia Launches New Handsets and Expanded Product Line

posted Friday Feb 28, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Nokia Launches New Handsets and Expanded Product Line

On the heels of the launch of the new Lumia Icon and ahead of its merger with Microsoft, Nokia showed off a collection of new handsets at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The phones covered a wide range of capabilities and markets, but entirely skipped Microsoft's platform.

Nokia Series

The low-end of Nokia's handsets line, intended for pre-emerging markets, got a leap of capabilities with the announcement of the Nokia 220. Designed to be the upgrade to last year's Nokia 105, which Nokia announced sales of 1 million per week, this new handset adds 2G Internet access and some built-in applications, such as Facebook. The 220 launched immediately at the reasonable price of 30 euros.

Nokia Asha

The Asha series, which was a transition from the Nokia N-series devices, is intended for emerging markets. With smartphone capabilities and incredibly low prices, the Asha handsets are a great place for new markets to get their hands on their first advanced devices. Certainly a fair upgrade from the standard Nokia Series.

This year brought us another entry in the family, the Asha 230. Priced at only 45 euros and featuring some of the great new features of the family, this dual-SIM quad-band GSM phone is a great basic phone. Speaking of new features, the Asha family will be introducing Microsoft OneDrive, MixRadio and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), available to all Asha devices.

Fortunately Nokia has dropped the iPod retail packaging design style they introduced just 4 months ago. This phone looks much more like a standard Nokia, available in a collection of bright colors with matching accessories. Nokia certainly hopes that it will sell.

Nokia X

This is the handset everyone knew was coming and no one expected. In fact, the Nokia X is not a new handset, but a new platform from the company. Based on the Android Open Source Project (different from Android proper), this series of devices actually boasts 3 handsets: Nokia X, Nokia X+ and Nokia XL.

The bridge device from the low-end Asha smartphones to the high-end Lumia smartphones takes much of its design inspiration from its big brother, Windows Phone, while incorporating many of the best features from Asha. Sporting a home screen with huge, customizable live tiles with easy to find notifications, as well as at-a-glance information, this is the most usable Android derivative yet.

Coming over from Asha is Fastlane, the quick-access notification area where a Facebook-style feed of information from your social networks, news apps, photo sites, etc. all roll into one place. You can also add quick-access app links to the Fastlane, but you won't need that with the live tiles on the home screen.

The Nokia X lock screen will look familiar to our webOS friends, as the notifications and even the default wallpaper are straight out of Palm/HP/LG's ill-fated mobile operating system. To top it all off, the family can run Android apps, though not installed from Google Play. Instead, Nokia will be curating its own app catalog, similar to the Kindle Fire. App creators can convert their app from Android to Nokia X quickly, though.

While well thought out design-wise, the hardware is not going to make anyone's head spin. As one news outlet showed, an app load can take longer than a Vine video - yikes. But, the important question is: will this be enough for a market who is entering a high-capability smartphone for the first time?

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