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YouTube Kids App Launches Tomorrow, Curates Child-Centric Content

posted Sunday Feb 22, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

YouTube Kids App Launches Tomorrow, Curates Child-Centric Content

Beginning tomorrow, YouTube will be making a YouTube app for kids, in order to keep them away from the random clips of twerking, drug experimentation and other content not suitable for children. Dubbed YouTube kids, the app will be available for Android devices at first, with more devices coming in the near future.

The app will revolve around content produced and targeted specifically for children. Shows from DreamWorks TV, Jim Henson TV, Mother Goose Club, Talking Tom and Friends, and Geographic Kids will all be available for their viewing pleasure. Even further, the app will feature a control set for parents to use, to set things like viewing time limits, toggling the search option and more.

With as questionable as YouTube's "Recommended Videos" section is after you select a video, it's understandable that parents were concerned as to what might auto-play after their selection. It's even more troubling when certain videos are purposefully mistagged in order to show up in other categories. You could imagine what problems can arise from that.

ConnectSafely's co-director Larry Magid was excited for the app to make its way onto devices. ConnectSafely is a nonprofit that is partially funded by Google, with the purpose of educating people about the basics of the Internet and best safety, security and privacy matters.

This is good for kids and parents. YouTube has done a good job providing curated content that's suitable for kids and easy for kids and parents to discover. There is no substitute for engaged parenting, but it never hurts to have a little help. As with any media, parents need to be sure their kids are getting a balanced diet, so it's good that Google included a timer to help limit how long a child can use the app.

The number of children who use YouTube as a media consumption platform has blown up in the last year, so it's only appropriate that they receive an app that filters out the garbage that sometimes (almost always) takes over the Internet.

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T-Mobile Not Concerned with FCC Net Neutrality Proposal

posted Sunday Feb 22, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

T-Mobile Not Concerned with FCC Net Neutrality Proposal

T-Mobile receives a lot of flack from us, and rightfully so given their track record of line-crossings and deceptions. Based on that, it's only right to point out when the company is doing something right, so here we are.

Many big telecom companies have outright lied about how net neutrality laws would impact their businesses, even claiming huge increases in costs that will be passed down to customers. Some have even said they would have to cutback on their offerings and services. Sprint has already gone on record to say that the FCC's reclassification would not hurt Sprint as a company. Now, T-Mobile is mirroring that same sentiment.

T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert said in an interview,

There is nothing in there that gives us deep concern about our ability to continue executing our strategy.

This was after T-Mobile's CEO John Legere said that reclassifying would be the wrong approach. However, his comments on Twitter were before the FCC's plan was released, and upon reading it, changed his tune and said that T-Mobile would not be hindered by the policy.

It's good to see two of the wireless carriers, albeit the smaller two, step up to add both levity and clarity to the whole net neutrality situation from a corporate perspective. The FCC's proposal should pass the Commission's vote this month, and having corporations on its side can only help the cause.

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Lenovo Computers Shipped with Adware Superfish Pre-Installed

posted Sunday Feb 22, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Lenovo Computers Shipped with Adware Superfish Pre-Installed

The price of Windows laptops have come down for many reason. With the recent launch of Windows 8.1 with Bing, manufacturers no longer have to pay a royalty to Microsoft if they meet certain hardware requirements. Combine that with the ever-increasing revenue streams for manufacturers to place a bunch of garbage software and offers on new PCs, and the actual machine becomes inexpensive to users. Well, those exact pieces of software has enraged Lenovo customers and concerned security experts.

Superfish, a piece of software that comes pre-loaded on almost every Lenovo laptop from September 2014 up through January 2015 not including Thinkpads, is essentially adware that displays "relevant shopping advertisements" to consumers, even when they're on secure websites. It basically can be considered a hijacker of sorts, routing traffic through a certificate that allowed Superfish to see your traffic, and then display the ads. On Internet Explorer and Chrome, Superfish would even inject third-party ads into Google search results, without the end-user's permission to do so. As you could imagine, all of this is a potential problem and a huge security risk, especially if a firm leaks a finds and publishes a password that could let you unlock the certificate and bypass any encryption on your computer. And that's exactly what happened on the heels of Lenovo's forums filled with customer complaints. The password, by the way, was contained in the program's active memory and was no challenge to find and retrieve.

Obviously Lenovo was very concerned upon discovery of this news and took immediate action, right? Not exactly. The company first published a statement saying that they thought users would love to have this installed on their machines, and that it was "to help customers potentially discover interesting products while shopping." A noble idea in theory, yet clearly terribly implemented. After the company's initial response, Lenovo then posted a follow-up statement.

Superfish was previously included on some consumer notebook products shipped in a short window between September and December to help customers potentially discover interesting products while shopping. However, user feedback was not positive, and we responded quickly and decisively. Superfish has completely disabled server side interactions (since January) on all Lenovo products so that the product is no longer active. This disables Superfish for all products in market. Lenovo stopped preloading the software in January. We will not preload this software in the future.

Lenovo has also issued a removal tool to fully get rid of the software, as uninstalling won't completely remove it. Those unsure if the removal tool actually works can run a test created by researcher Filippo Valsorda. Lenovo is also working with Microsoft and McAfee, and products by those companies will automatically detect and remove the software in most cases.

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Microsoft to Launch SDK Preview for Xbox One in May

posted Sunday Feb 22, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Microsoft to Launch SDK Preview for Xbox One in May

At Microsoft's Windows 10 event, there was quite a bit of conversation around the Xbox One and its capabilities as it relates to the new operating system. We knew with universal apps, we'd see a lot of interesting ways the Xbox One could be used, but we didn't have much detail on when we'd see the platform open up for this ability. This week, however, that changed as Microsoft announced new plans for an SDK preview for the Xbox One.

While we'll know a lot more in April at Microsoft's Build conference, the company said we will see an SDK preview launching in May. With that also comes the ability for current retail Xbox Ones to be converted into developer kits. Previously, you had to shell out some extra cash and be part of a special program to have access to the Xbox One dev kit. Now, everyone will be able to use their retail Xbox One, once converted, to test and publish apps. Even better, Microsoft also said that we'll finally have the ability to run third-party music apps in the background. This is huge news for any serious gamer, as it was a nuisance to have to snap your favorite music app to play alongside your game.

One question that remains unclear is Kinect usage with Xbox One apps. Not too long ago, Microsoft finally opened up the Kinect to developers to play with, but some devs have said that the entire feature set wasn't there. Others have said they were not impressed with the abilities made available to them. As of right now, we don't know if Microsoft will allow the Kinect to be used with universal apps, but if Cortana being embedded in every piece of Microsoft hardware has any indication of the support for voice controls, I'd imagine we'll see the Kinect be used as much as possible moving forward. I personally can't use the Xbox One without it.

In November, we'll start to see the switch to universal apps on the Xbox One. Developers can then submit apps to the platform using the new SDK from their converted retail units. Along with the November transition, we'll have Windows 10 moving to the Xbox One later on this year, with more information on that probably divulged at Build or E3.

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NBC Joins the Live Stream Broadcast Crew

posted Sunday Feb 22, 2015 by Scott Ertz

NBC Joins the Live Stream Broadcast Crew

The last few months have seen an interesting growth in broadcast companies streaming their live content to customers. ABC offers a service which, as long as you have a cable subscription, allows you to watch their network live on your mobile device. CBS offers a similar service, except you aren't required to have cable, but you are required to pay $6 per month for the ability, cable or not. Even the Best of CES was Sling, a service which gives you an Internet-based cable subscription, complete with networks like Cartoon Network, Disney and even ESPN.

This week, NBC has joined the ranks of CBS and ABC in offering their own mobile streaming service of live content. Like ABC, you will be required to prove your cable subscription, but the service will be provided for free, unlike the CBS service. Unfortunately, not everyone will qualify, however. NBC has to own your local affiliate - it can't be a privately held network. Your cable provider also has to be a participating provider, meaning if you have a smaller cable company, you might still not get access, even if NBC owns your local market.

Luckily, the wholly owned requirement could be fixed in time, as NBC plans to work out agreements with locally owned affiliates. That is good news for me, because our local affiliate, WFLA, is owned by Media General Communications Holdings, meaning the service will not immediately be available in the Tampa Bay area. After that, the network will need to work out a deal with our cable provider, whose agreements with NBC will likely not cover this feature.

For those of you who match all of the requirements, the service is available on the web, and through updates to NBC's Android and iOS apps, which were published this week. You will also still get the ability to stream past episodes of current and older shows, including some early NBC shows like The Incredible Hulk and Knight Rider. Hopefully this feature will also come to Windows Phone, which currently offers CNBC, Syfy, USA and Bravo streaming, but not NBC proper.

With all of these live streaming services coming directly from the networks, it really begins to become clear why they fought Aereo so hard. It is significantly more difficult to promote your own service when someone else is doing it better for the same price. If you do not match all of the requirements for any of these services, just remember that there are options that duplicate the service, similar to setting up your own private Aereo.

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This Week's Legal Ups and Downs for Google

posted Saturday Feb 21, 2015 by Scott Ertz

This Week's Legal Ups and Downs for Google

For the past few years, Google has faced stiff opposition from governments all over the world. They have gotten themselves in trouble with France, the European Union, and most of the world. They even have a number of antitrust suits, particularly in the United States and the EU.

Those troubles got a little worse this week when Russia opened an antitrust investigation into the search company. Prompted by a complaint from Russian search provider Yandex, the investigation will look into whether or not Google overstepped its bounds in including its own services in builds of Android, rather than letting users choose for themselves. While manufacturers are able to make changes to the default content provided on their phones, Google has emphasized their existence with continued rules for usage.

Yandex claims that, by including their own services on Android, Google is hurting competition in the country. In the past year, Yandex has seen their Android search percentage drop from 52 to 44 percent. This case mimics what happened to Microsoft in Europe when Internet Explorer became an integral part of the operating system. Mozilla argued that, by including the browser, it encouraged people to not use other options. After adding in a mandated browser selection in Europe, the usage numbers changed very little, and the mandate has now lapsed without any suggestion of reinstatement.

If the details of this case sound familiar, it's because they are. In fact, the investigation is nearly identical to the US case, in which the Federal Trade Commission investigated Google's promotion of their own products and services over others. The US case is significantly farther along, having already headed to court. The results have gone a different way for the company here, however, as a federal judge tossed the case this week.

The consumers who filed the suit were hoping to turn this case into a class action suit, alleging that by requiring manufacturers to offer Google apps by default in their Android devices have caused prices to be higher due to eliminated competition. For example, we have seen Yahoo purchase the rights to be the default search provider for Firefox. Under the same theory, Yahoo or Microsoft could pay Samsung to offer their services instead of Google's. Included by default could be Bing as search, Outlook as email, even Cortana for voice recognition, for a fee. Those fees could help offset the cost of a new handset, possibly bringing a flagship handset under $199 activated at launch.

The plaintiffs have 3 weeks to amend their complaints, but it is unlikely that they will be able to come up with a complaint that will stick. As it stands, it is likely that the Samsung Galaxy S6 will likely include Microsoft apps, rather than Samsung or Google's own services. Because of this move, proving damages will be difficult for the plaintiffs. It will also mean more competition for Google in their own marketplace, which is something that Android needs for it to evolve.

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