The UpStream

Rumor: Facebook Spends $60 Million on Solar-Powered Drones

posted Sunday Mar 9, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Rumor: Facebook Spends $60 Million on Solar-Powered Drones

Move over, NSA. It looks like Facebook might have spent $60 million on solar-powered drones that can fly for five years without needing to land. This week, the Internet giant has been rumored to have acquired Titan Aerospace, a New Mexico-based start-up and the company behind these insane devices.

The good news is that on face value, or at least according to what Facebook says, we won't see them using these drones to spy on you sun tanning in your backyard. Instead, Facebook, vowing to make the Internet more affordable and accessible to 5 billion people worldwide as part of the movement, has probably purchased Titan Aerospace in order to make that promise more of a reality.

Sources close to the matter said that Facebook would be building 11,000 of Titan Aerospace's Solara 60 model. This drone runs off of internal battery power and is launched at night. It then uses the solar panels attached to the unit to rise up to 12.5 miles above sea level, about 3 miles higher than commercial and military jets. The Solara 50 has a wingspan the same as a Boeing-787 and can carry a 70 pound payload. The company is also looking to launch the Solara 60 sometime in 2015, which will be able to hold 250 pounds.

All in, these aircraft should be able to dish up Internet access in an 18-mile radius. Hooking up 11,000 of these bad boys in one insanely true-to-life Skynet would surely make Internet an accessible thing to almost everyone.

Of course, all this is a rumor as of right now until we get an official statement from either party involved, but it sure does make sense, considering Facebook's stance on affordable Internet. To further aid the rumor to being true is the recent $16 million purchase of WhatsApp, a company that currently has 1 billion users, of which, Facebook is looking to tap into. Perhaps the two worlds can unite and Facebook's "next billion" initiative can become a reality. Hey, if it puts the power of the Internet in more hands, I'm okay with all of this. Well, as long as I can suntan in peace.

GameFly Tests DVDs-by-Mail Service

posted Sunday Mar 9, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

GameFly Tests DVDs-by-Mail Service

GameFly, the popular video game rental service, has decided to take on Netflix and will start offering DVDs by mail. Dubbed GF Movies *beta, GameFly members can now rent both games and movies under one service.

GameFly's CEO Dave Hodess said that, "We're viewing this as a test based feedback we've received from subscribers who asked for it." GF Movies *beta is already in place and is currently being rolled out only to 2-Game Plan or above members. Beginning April 4th, GameFly will be shipping movies to users who have added selections to their GameQ. Offering both DVDs and Blu-ray, once an open slot is available, the first game or movie will be sent off, just like games are handled currently.

For those on the 1-Game Plan, GameFly says that those customers are "more than welcome" to upgrade to a 2-Game Plan to try GF Movies *beta. GameFly also said that the company is looking to just test the waters with this rollout, which is why it does not offer a movies-only plan or a huge selection of movies.

We will be monitoring closely the GF Movies *beta program and will consider offering a movies-only plan in the future. (But) yes, we are planning to add more titles as the GF Movies *beta program expands.

The question is, will this work? It does make sense for GameFly to get involved in also offering movies on top of its already-respected games-by-mail service. With both the logistics and warehouses in place, adding in another line of inventory seems to be an easy one. However, how many customers requested this feature for GameFly to start testing it out? I would imagine there would've been a larger amount to justify a change like this, but the program is only in a "beta" mode so we might not see it go nationwide.

Adversely, Netflix tried to get away from DVDs a few years ago, a move that didn't work for the video-streaming and by-mail company. Netflix did cite that higher shipping costs would hopefully see the company doing away with DVDs completely, however GameFly seems content and ready to jump in, excited at the possibility of gaining and retaining more customers.

What do you think? Will this be a flop or success for GameFly? Let us know in the comments below.

European Union Doesn't Want Any Deceptive Free-to-Play Games

posted Sunday Mar 2, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

European Union Doesn't Want Any Deceptive Free-to-Play Games

Game developers and app creators could be facing some stricter requirements from the European Union when it comes to their free-to-play games. Google and Apple are both set to meet with the European Commission to discuss free-to-play games and how the consumer uses these games. Specifically, the EU wants to ensure customers are not being deceived by free-to-play titles that are solely more of the "pay-to-win" type.

Over 1 million people are currently working in the app development space over in Europe, with in-game transactions currently generating over $13.8 billion in revenue. Because of the space rapidly growing overseas, the Union now looks to set some standards around how app developers should introduce in-app purchases to their titles. Unlike PC games where publishers are more identifiable and free-to-play franchises conduct themselves more ethically, mobile games can be created by almost anyone, with a lower cost barrier to entry on the content creator side. Because of this, apps of late, both overseas and here in the States, have tended to be more deceptive, especially from unknown publishers. These copy-cat or even legit titles usually take advantage of the lesser-educated player, which is where the cause for concern from the European Union comes from.

Stemming from complaints from parents and kids alike about some apps in the market posing to be free but encouraging players to make purchases with "in-game currency," EU's justice commissioner Viviane Reding issued a statement on the matter.

Europe's app industry has enormous potential, both to generate jobs and growth, and to improve our daily lives through innovative technology. For the sector to deliver on its potential, consumers must have confidence in new products. Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection. The European Commission will expect very concrete answers from the app industry to the concerns raised by citizens and national consumer organisations. (sic)

I don't know how it works over there, but over here, when parents complain, Apple pays them over $100 million because they weren't watching their kids. It feels like the same thing is happening here, except the EU is being a bit pro-active and trying to ensure a lawsuit like that won't occur. The intention is to make the games clearly specify that free-to-play games might actually have a cost attached to them. This includes making sure that fees are prominently displayed and developers working to set up games that require a parent's consent, how ever that works. The EU also wants to see apps not "emphatically convince" children to make in-game purchases, which kind of goes back to parental awareness of children's activity on a device with a credit card attached.

I have mixed feelings about this, as I can see how some free games don't really define their costs upfront. But I am also of the opinion that all parties involved in gaming should be aware enough of the fact that developers make games to make money, and they have to do it one way or another. If the game is free, there's probably an underlying cost somewhere. The question is will children or adults be able to calm the urge to win the game over simply playing it? Usually that's where the cost lies and where developers earn more of their revenue. If people don't have self-control and can't prevent themselves from pressing that "buy" button, should we really police that?

What's your take on all of this? Sound off in the comments below.

Microsoft Dabbles in Offering Bing-powered Version of Windows 8.1 for Free

posted Sunday Mar 2, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Microsoft Dabbles in Offering Bing-powered Version of Windows 8.1 for Free

At the launch of Windows 8, Microsoft allowed Windows 7 users to upgrade for only $39.99. That offer has long expired and Microsoft still wants more people to use Windows 8, specifically, Windows 8.1. To do that, Microsoft might just offer up a free version that might entice hardware manufacturers to switch over to the new platform.

As if you should need any more convincing of the major benefits behind Windows 8.1, reports are coming in that Microsoft could be testing out "Windows 8.1 with Bing," an iteration of Windows that would have all the important Microsoft apps and services bundled into the operating system. This could be Microsoft's free or possibly low-cost way of getting Windows 7 users moved over to the Win 8. It is also possible that this ties in with Microsoft's latest license price cut for Windows systems under $250. For those wanting to make an affordable device for the average user, not having to pay a licensing fee for Windows could be the one thing to entice more manufacturers to ramp up production.

As we've only seen an online leak or two about the operating system, we don't have a clear-cut idea on how this Windows 8.1 with Bing will be used in the wild. But it would make sense that Microsoft stand behind its plan to maximize the adoption rate of services like OneDrive and Azure.

Bing's array of apps have been recently updated as well, allowing users to perform essential tasks and get pertinent information with just the push of the screen or click of the mouse. Could this have perhaps been a preface for putting Bing front-and-center as part of a cloud operating system? Part of me thinks that Microsoft is going a little Chromebook with this experiment, and part of me really likes that idea. Considering that services like Office 365 are readily available on Windows products, and by default save files into OneDrive, an ability to actually be productive on a cloud-based computer could pan out for the company. On the flip side, however, is the fact that Microsoft put out a few ads bashing Chromebooks for being useless when they were without Wi-Fi or another Internet connection.

Could these Windows 8.1 with Bing-powered devices come with Internet already pre-installed from a provider, in order to alleviate the connectivity issue? What else could Windows 8.1 with Bing be used for? Is it all just a hoax? That's a lot of questions that need answers in the comments section below, so get to it if you have an opinion or thought.

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.

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