The UpStream

Apple Redesigns Facetime Over Patent Ruling, Damages Service Quality

posted Sunday Sep 1, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Apple Redesigns Facetime Over Patent Ruling, Damages Service Quality

Apple's $368 million patent loss to VirnetX and subsequent lost ruling challenge has cost Apple more than just some money. As part of the battle, Apple has redesigned the backend of their Facetime system, resulting in significant quality loss.

As explained by an engineer during the trial, only about 5% of all Facetime calls went through relay servers: almost everyone communicated peer-to-peer. That direct communication was instrumental in the patent loss, so a change was made to route ALL calls through relays. Engineer Patrick Gates testified that making the change would be trivial in result, but would be expensive to implement, trying to minimalize the effects.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the estimated $3.6 million total cost has resulted in an actual cost of $2.4 million per month. All of that money, and it also turns out that Gates was wrong about the effects of the change as well. As of August 15, Apple has received "over half a million calls" complaining that the service is no longer working properly.

With that knowledge, VirnetX has the ammunition to fight for higher royalties based on the value of their patents, being able to prove that their technology is essential and nearly impossible to work around. As of now, VirnetX is looking for an additional $700 million in ongoing use royalties.

In addition to this "work-around" Apple is also working on a work-around for their iOS VPN-on-demand service, which is also material to VirnetX patent lawsuits. My guess is that one won't go any better than this.

German Government Displeased About Facial Recognition on Facebook Again

posted Sunday Sep 1, 2013 by Scott Ertz

German Government Displeased About Facial Recognition on Facebook Again

A year ago, Facebook removed facial recognition from its photo services in Europe. The decision was made after a threat from the German government, where facial recognition is mostly illegal. As part of the agreement, all of the European facial templates were deleted, in return for the German commissioner dropping proceedings.

This is why commissioner Johannes Caspar was shocked to see facial recognition back in the data usage policy published by Facebook this week. He said in an email,

It is astonishing to find the facial recognition again in the new proposed privacy policy that Facebook published yesterday. We therefore have directly tried to contact officials from Facebook to find out if there is really a change in their data protection policy or if it is just a mistake of translation.

It would be illegal to re-engage facial recognition within Germany, without making it an opt-in setting. The proposed usage policy states,

We are able to suggest that your friend tag you in a picture by scanning and comparing your friend's pictures to information we've put together from your profile pictures and the other photos in which you've been tagged. You can control whether we suggest that another user tag you in a photo using the 'Timeline and Tagging' settings.

While this does not suggest that the setting will be turned off for European users, it also does not suggest it will not. The Irish Data Protection Commissioner, however, says that their office has had contact with Facebook and that they still do not intend to offer the service in Europe.

So, has Facebook really deleted the templates? Will the service return to Europe? Only time can tell.

Nintendo Announces 3DS Lite: 2DS

posted Sunday Sep 1, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo Announces 3DS Lite: 2DS

In a move that sent the Internet into fits of insanity, Nintendo this week announced a new product in the 3DS line, the 2DS. The device, available on October 12 for $129, will be fully compatible with all games that the 3DS and 3DS XL can play, but without the 3D capabilities. It also has an altered design, looking more like a tablet that a clamshell; imagine an open 3DS.

After the immediate backlash on social networking sites, as well as my own immediate reaction to the news, I decided to consider what Nintendo was thinking, and whether it made sense or not. As it turns out, this might just be a genius move. Here's why.

October 12, the launch date of the new handheld, is the same day as the launch of the new Pokémon games. Nintendo has always made a ton of money off of these titles, but there is a problem this time around: there simply aren't enough 3DS handhelds in the wild. How can Nintendo solve this problem? A low-cost device.

Obviously, the easiest way to lower the cost on the device is to remove some of the high manufacturing cost items. Those two clear winners are the 3D screen and slider and the hinge. That is precisely what has been done here - little change to the device itself, just removing some of the higher cost pieces. That gets it a full $40 cheaper than the next cheapest device in the family.

So, while the Internet may have had an immediate negative reaction to the 2DS, it seems to me as if Nintendo is going to absolutely clean up with the new addition to the family, all because of Pokémon.

Creative Commons vs YouTube Takedown

posted Saturday Aug 24, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Creative Commons vs YouTube Takedown

As more people upload videos to the Internet, more content owners issue takedown notices, both legitimately and not. We here at PLuGHiTz Live have received a takedown on YouTube for an International CES interview we conducted about audio cables that had music playing in the background. Because the music was recognized by the automated system, our audio was muted, certainly making an interview less than useful.

We are not the only ones to receive this treatment from YouTube. Larry Lessig, one of the founders of the digital-age copyright movement, was speaking at a Creative Commons event, and part of his lecture included a clip from Lisztomania from French band Phoenix. Liberation Music, the owners of the licensing for the song, have asked YouTube to remove the video.

Lessig and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have sued Liberation in an attempt to prevent the takedown, claiming fair use. Since neither Lessig nor Creative Commons made any money from the presentation, nor the uploading to YouTube, the video does fall under the fair use doctrine, meaning the two have a good case.

The EFF and Lessig are going a step beyond reversing the takedown; instead they will be invoking a part of the DMCA in which a copyright owner must pay damages when they have gone too far in their takedown requests. The problem is the EFF is currently fighting a similar battle with the "dancing baby" video, which has been in action since 2007. That case has only now gotten to an appeals court and has not gone great thus far.

This case has some differences from the other, however. The fact that Liberation sued Lessig, whereas Universal backed off of Lenz when that video was pulled, could show an overly aggressive nature. Of course, the punctuation on this sentence is the fact that it is the Creative Commons organization, with a founder of modern copyright; it could be why the suit was filed and why it could lose.

reddit Users Once Again Show the Power of the Internet for Evil

posted Saturday Aug 24, 2013 by Scott Ertz

reddit Users Once Again Show the Power of the Internet for Evil

At the beginning of this year, Chris Vizzini, owner and operator of gaymer.org, was alerted to the subreddit /r/gaymers. He contacted the site and asked them to please change the name of the segment of the site because it infringed on his trademark of the name gaymer in relation to a community for gay gamers. He received absolutely no response.

At some point, his frustration with the lack of a response caused him to jump online, download a cease and decist letter and fill in the blanks regarding the issue. He asked that the site stop using the name and, instead, simply change the name to something else. Again, he received absolutely no feedback from the company.

Instead of responding directly to the C&D, an employee who goes by the moniker Spladug went onto the site and posted a series of incorrect information about the request. He said that Mr. Vizzini was asking that reddit remove the section of the site completely. Obviously, the people of reddit got mad, causing comments on gaymer.org to start getting nasty.

Mr. Vizzini then took to reddit to try to explain, apologizing for the miscommunication on reddit's part. That did not go well, causing people to think he was lying, trying to make the site look bad. That caused a moderator to post a really nasty letter, which then caused even meaner comments on the site.

Finally, after all of this, reddit General Moderator Erik Martin responded. His comment on the silence was simply,

You probably emailed our general feedback email, which until recently was seldom if ever checked. So, apologies for that. Not professional on our part.

Based on that response, I would have to say that "not professional" is their status quo. He then suggested,

What if the /r/gaymers subreddit had a very prominent disclaimer in the sidebar that they were not affiliated with gaymers.org and acknowledged your trademark, as well as a prominent and positive link to your site?

After agreeing to this arrangement, reddit did not actually do it. Oops. Instead, the site decided to team up with the Electronic Freedom Foundation to sue Mr. Vizzini, trying to get his trademark dismissed. That's right - the EFF teamed up against a valid business to nullify a valid trademark because reddit lied to them. Rather than fighting the trademark suit, Mr. Vizzini gave up.

The site, whose purpose was to give a safe place for gay gamers to come together, was shut down over a bogus lawsuit filed by a bottomless pocket organization because of false information. The trademark has been canceled and the organization suspended.

I have taken personal offense to some of the ridiculous things that reddit has done in the past, but I never thought it would come to this. I am truly ashamed of that community and the corporation for using its power to destroy a man and the dream and vision he has been making a reality for the past 10 years and, ultimately, a safe community that transformed the word gaymer from an insult to a positive community.

Yahoo Takes Top Traffic Spot from Google

posted Saturday Aug 24, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Yahoo Takes Top Traffic Spot from Google

For the first time since May 2011, Yahoo holds the top spot for Internet traffic. The spot has been nearly exclusively reserved for Google, but that trend has been officially ended. The way comScore rates traffic is based on unique individual visitors to all properties that are part of the company's portfolio.

With that said, there is a lot of speculation as to why the spike in Yahoo's traffic. The most obvious guess is that Yahoo recently acquired Tumblr, however comScore claims that Tumblr is not included in July's Yahoo numbers. Another possibility is the revival of Flickr.

Whatever the correct reasoning, it would appear that Marissa Meyer's transition plan seems to be working. As I suggested when the company announced their new logo, it was time to start judging the outcome and not the plan. If this is when we begin to do just that, she has set herself up for success.

The success of increased visitors is not the success of the company, however. In reality, the success of the company is the transition from visitor to cash. As of yet, there has not been a lot of success in this arena, but there has been a lot of acquisitions to increase relevance, possibly successfully. With the increased relevance, it is possible that Meyer can sell more advertising, or the same at a higher price. That will be the true measure of Meyer's plan.

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