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Microsoft Releases Second Transparency Report of Government Agency Data Requests

posted Sunday Sep 29, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Microsoft Releases Second Transparency Report of Government Agency Data Requests

Earlier this month, we covered Yahoo's transparency report, which was very impressive and intriguing in terms of the numbers, accounts and countries in which information was disclosed. Of course, this wasn't the first report in a post-PRISM world, and companies like Google and Twitter have also released such data. Now, Microsoft is adding to the list again, and has released a similar report of the first six months of 2013.

From Microsoft, here's what the company's report covers:

This is our second Law Enforcement Requests Report and it covers the period from January to June 2013. The report details the number of requests for data we received from law enforcement agencies around the world, and how Microsoft responds to those requests. It covers requests for data relating to all of Microsoft's online and cloud services, including Skype.

Much like the other reports, Microsoft won't disclose detailed information about the type of request nor any national security letters. However, unlike Yahoo, Microsoft did not include any NSLs in its report, while Yahoo simply added them into the general pool of requests.

So, here's the numbers. Including Skype, the first six months of 2013 brought Microsoft 37,196 requests of 66,539 accounts. In 2012, these numbers totaled 75,378 requests for 137,424 accounts. In this, the ever-popular "non-content data" was disclosed to 77 percent of the accounts, and 21 perfect of account requests were responded to with no data given. For the remaining 2 to 3 percent of the accounts, Microsoft disclosed customer content data, which would include email subject and body, SkyDrive pictures and more. The company did note that all content given was due to lawful warrants and requests, which Microsoft had to comply with. Not surprisingly, of that 3 percent of "content-disclosed" accounts, 92 percent of the requests came from US law enforcement or government officials. Those numbers match right up with that of 2012.

Microsoft highlights that less than 0.01 percent of all accounts were ever affected by law enforcement requests for data. And, in this small percent, the "overwhelming majority" of them were only for simple non-content data. Again, I feel I should stress that not all of the requests were from some NSA/PRISM/government conspiracy-related endeavor, as those were pooled together in with the rest of every day, police or other official requests. Fun fact here: 73 percent of all requests globally came from five countries, US, Turkey, Germany, UK and France, in that order. Microsoft also used the report to disclose requests for enterprise data, such as from products like Office 365.

You can read the entire report at the link below in both XLS and PDF format. Further, the page comes with nifty charts and graphs that you can click on for each country. And that's what makes not having privacy fun.

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15 Percent of Americans Afraid of or Confused by Internet

posted Saturday Sep 28, 2013 by Scott Ertz

15 Percent of Americans Afraid of or Confused by Internet

A report released by the Pew Research Center reveals that 15 percent of American adults, 18 or older, do not use the Internet at all. The main reasons cited for avoiding the net are its difficulty to use and a lack of relevance.

34 percent of respondents that don't go online said that their reasoning is a lack of relevance. Since basically every piece of information that has ever existed is available online, we will assume that irrelevant means that the respondents actually mean that they have no need for or are not interested in the availability of the information.

The next reason in line is that it is too difficult to go online, coming in at a whopping 32 percent. The difficulty mostly comes from the fear of hackers, spam and spyware. This number is up significantly higher than that previous studies, with this statistic never breaching the 20 percent level.

Interestingly, 40 percent of the offliners have asked someone else to look something up online. I guess that means that there is information on the net that is relevant, though it could be from the other 78 percent that have asked. My guess is that most of the reason for not using the Internet is a lack of experience requiring assistance.

Another interesting number to come out of the study is that 14 percent of these people were once online, but secluded themselves later. Unfortunately, Pew did not have any follow-ups to determine why they cut the cord, so it is all guesses for us.

Several other reasons for offlining were the expense of owning a computer with Internet access and being too old for the Internet. Also, 3 percent of respondents WITH Internet access are still using dial-up.

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Valve Announces SteamOS and Steam Machines, to Launch Early 2014

posted Saturday Sep 28, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Valve Announces SteamOS and Steam Machines, to Launch Early 2014

Ever since the introduction of Big Picture Mode and the Steam Box rumors, Valve has found a way to stay in the news, despite Gabe's ever-increasing insanity. This week, Valve announced more details on the Steam Box, and we now know that it isn't just one machine - even though we've known that unofficially for a while - and the company also announced the release of SteamOS.

Mr. Newell still believes that Linux is the future, even for gaming, and has now put a lot more eggs into that penguin-shaped basket. Valve has gone full-bore with that notion, with the announcement of SteamOS, a Linux-based operating system that will be meant for bringing PC gaming to living rooms everywhere, with the help of Big Picture Mode. SteamOS will be made available to any person who wants it on their current machine, or to any manufacturer who wants to distribute a computer with the system already pre-loaded onto the hardware. This is, of course, after Gabe said that Windows 8 was a "giant sadness" and that Steam games "could not run on Windows 8."

At any rate, we should expect to see SteamOS in a couple months, as Valve has said that, "beginning in 2014, there will be multiple SteamOS machines to choose from, made by different manufacturers."

Entertainment is not a one-size-fits-all world. We want you to be able to choose the hardware that makes sense for you, so we are working with multiple partners to bring a variety of Steam gaming machines to market during 2014, all of them running SteamOS.

As of right now, we still don't know what the Steam Box-certified device will look like, or even the exact manufacturers the company has enlisted to help them on the project. However, we do know that Valve is working on their own machine, and have, for once, officially confirmed so. This box, made especially for the SteamOS, will be shipped first to 300 Steam users who have gone over to the Badge section of their Steam profile page and have done the required tasks by October 25th. Some 70,000 users are currently eligible to participate, but not all have entered to win the box.

Prototypes are shipping this year, but still, even after another drawn out announcement of everything, no word on price, specs or performance. At this point we don't even have a picture of anything, so it kind of feels like the PS4 launch.

Also, while everyone is happy about finally having an upgradeable and "open" platform in which to game on, let's not forget about some key facts that are in play here. Most TVs have drastically higher lag times than that of PC monitors and most users leave on settings that cause lag times to rise even higher than 100ms in some cases. I'd be quite surprised if the hardcore gamer that's being targeted takes an early or heavy adoption to this machine, considering that response time is the most hated thing in the gaming world. No amount of "openness" or "ease of changing parts" is going to fix you missing a sniper shot even though you were locked on.

However, the casual gamer with a bit of computer knowledge could see this machine being useful, especially for a family of gamers. Steam has introduced Family Sharing and Family Options, which give a household a broad variety of setups and choices to show games, share games and more, with everyone under the roof. To that same end though, as I reflect back on an excerpt from a previous piece of mine:

Lately, the push has been to get away from having to have a full-fledged computer in the living room. At the very most, consumers were getting by with their laptop, using WiDi (wireless display technology), to connect it to a TV to play their movies or show off some pictures. More and more often, however, we're seeing products being introduced at the International CES that allow that same user to use their smartphone or Xbox 360/PS3 to accomplish the same goal, cable and adapter free. Having to put another piece of hardware in an already crowded entertainment center, in this day in age, just seems like a waste of time and space unless you're a business person. And that's not who this box is for.

This box is for the gamer. Perhaps the hardcore ones would put it in their living room, so long as they own the house or apartment, because we know moms and dads won't let the 12 hour League of Legends session occur in place of primetime TV.

We will have to wait and see until these prototypes ship out to learn about the look and feel. Come the new year, we'll have a better idea on just who will be picking up an open computer with a limited number of games to play on it, and we'll also know just how all of that will be working for them. To me, it just seems like another OUYA.

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Jabil Circuit to 'Wind Down Relationship' With BlackBerry

posted Saturday Sep 28, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Jabil Circuit to 'Wind Down Relationship' With BlackBerry

BlackBerry's world is not exactly what they thought it would be. Sales are down, profits are down massively, layoffs are imminent and they just sold themselves to Fairfax Financial Holdings. In a letter of intent from BlackBerry, Fairfax Financial Holdings will purchase the struggling smartphone brand for $4.7 billion.

While no plans have been announced yet, Fairfax is known for holding companies. The company has an impressive portfolio of companies it is involved with. Obviously BlackBerry is hoping that it will be maintained and not sold off for parts, something Thorsten Heins has been actively avoiding.

With everything crumbling out from under them, one thing has been consistent: Jabil Circuit manufactures their handsets. That is until Jabil Circuit CEO Mark Mondello said,

We are in discussions right now, on how we are going to wind down the relationship.

So, will BlackBerry be able to continue operating? Will they find another handset manufacturer? Will this be the final nail in the coffin of BlackBerry? In the light of the changing atmosphere, Heins plans to refocus the company.

Going forward, we plan to refocus our offering on our end-to-end solution of hardware, software and services for enterprises and the productive, professional end user. This puts us squarely on target with the customers that helped build BlackBerry into the leading brand today for enterprise security, manageability and reliability.

Away from trying to be a consumer-focused company and back to their roots as an enterprise-focused company. This could explain some of why BlackBerry pulled back the release of its BlackBerry Messenger app for iPhone and Android. It also undoes a lot of the last year, including hiring Alicia Keys as its creative director and marketing hardcore to the casual smartphone user.

Will a return to the past fix BlackBerry's woes? Sound off in the comments.

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Full Xbox Titles Streaming to PCs and Phones Soon [Rumor]

posted Saturday Sep 28, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Full Xbox Titles Streaming to PCs and Phones Soon [Rumor]

Microsoft demonstrated a prototype of a videogame streaming service this week at an employee meeting. Streaming Halo 4 to both a Windows Phone and a PC, they showed off what can be done with an Xbox title and the cloud. According to people familiar with the technology, the stream works incredibly well on both platforms, with a Lumia 520 coming in at only 45ms latency.

The demonstration, which is again still prototype, was demonstrated on both a low-end Windows hybrid and a Windows Phone using a standard Xbox controller and an accessory adapter. There is no branding for the service, again because of the development status, but it is clearly a response to Sony's acquisition of Gaiakai.

While Microsoft is billing this internally as a way to stream games to Windows devices, my money is on backwards compatibility for the Xbox One. Albert Penello, senior director of Xbox, previously said,

It could be more complicated things like rendering full games like a Gaikai and delivering it to the box. We just have to figure out how, over time, how much does that cost to deliver, how good is the experience.

Personally, I would love the ability to play full titles on my Windows Phone. I would also like to use an Xbox controller to play that title on my phone. Is this a technology that you would use? Let us know in the comments.

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Netflix Makes Super HD Available to All

posted Saturday Sep 28, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Netflix Makes Super HD Available to All

Despite a fairly constant battle with ISPs, Netflix has unleashed its Super HD video quality to all streaming customers, regardless of the service provider. Previously, Super HD was only available to customers whose ISP had implemented Open Connect delivery system, but member requests have encouraged them to roll it out to all members.

What is Open Connect? It is a platform in which an ISP can have a direct, open connection directly to Netflix. Instead of having to connect through the vast pipelines of the Internet, the direct connection allows for a much better picture quality.

So, without Open Connect, how likely is it that a person will receive Super HD? According to Netflix,

The ability to receive Super HD depends on broadband quality and performance. Netflix members who subscribe to an ISP with a direct Netflix connection will get the best experience.

Of course Netflix is still trying to sell ISPs on Open Connect, which is completely free to ISPs, but they do believe that standard connections will be capable of Super HD. Super HD, which is a higher quality, less compressed video quality, is only available on certain titles and can only be streamed to certain devices.

If you are interested in whether or not your device is Super HD capable, you can find out here.

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