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The Darknet Lit Up by Law Enforcement; 410 Sites Raided, 17 Arrested

posted Saturday Nov 8, 2014 by Scott Ertz

The Darknet Lit Up by Law Enforcement; 410 Sites Raided, 17 Arrested

Tor is a name that is not known to the majority of the world: it is a segment of the Internet that is entirely encrypted and communication is anonymized. There are many legitimate usages for Tor, as it is an extension of the onion routing project, which is a US Naval system. The system was developed so that government communications could be protected from snooping by enemy states.

What the Navy never expected, however, was how Tor would evolve, and who would ultimately be interested in being encrypted and anonymous: criminals. Inside the semi-hidden world of Tor is the darknet, a collection of sites that openly and notoriously offer illegal products and services, from weapons to drugs and prostitutes. All of this is made easy by the anonymous nature of Tor and the pairing of the anonymous digital currency Bitcoin, making it seemingly impossible to trace these transactions to their source.

Or so users of the system believed. A year ago, a darknet marketplace, Silk Road was seized, "cash" was collected and arrests were made. It was always believed that a slipup made the raid possible, but this week may have changed some minds. A multi-nation coordinated attack through Tor ended up with 410 sites being raided and 17 arrests being made. Among the participating nations was the US and 16 European countries.

On Thursday, US officials claimed the first success in the raid: Silk Road 2.0. US Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement,

As illegal activity online becomes more prevalent, criminals can no longer expect that they can hide in the shadows of the dark web. We shut down the original Silk Road website and now we have shut down its replacement, as well as multiple other dark market sites allegedly offering all manner of illicit goods and services, from firearms to computer hacking.

They are hoping that this public, coordinated raid will discourage at least some from using Tor and the darknet to trade in illegal materials. While it will certainly not stop the activity, perhaps it will prevent casual users from trying to purchase credit card data or false identity papers.

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Apple and Microsoft Take Different Tactics with Fitbit

posted Saturday Nov 8, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Apple and Microsoft Take Different Tactics with Fitbit

There are two big device-independent health platforms vying for attention from manufacturers: Apple's HealthKit and Microsoft Health. While both platforms offer a similar service in theory, both companies have taken very different approaches to, well, everything.

For example, HealthKit is an iOS platform, intended to tie together devices paired with your iPhone and iPad. Microsoft Health, on the other hand, is a platform independent system, based instead in Azure, intended to analyze data from any health device attached to anything that manufacturer wants to support. It also has apps on the 3 major platforms for users to be able to interact with their data.

While their overall approaches to the platform are very different, the place where Apple and Microsoft differ the greatest is, as always, their interaction with the outside world. Apple is known for being very heavy handed in their dealings with other companies, using mob-style threats and intimidation to force others to do what they want. When Bose made their sponsorship deal with the NFL, preventing players from wearing non-Bose headphones in public, Apple removed Bose products from their stores. Apple is also being blamed for the bankruptcy of a former partner because of a "bait and switch" contract.

This same strategy is being used to right now to try and get Fitbit, one of the biggest names in fitness hardware, to use its HealthKit platform. Fitbit has been pretty clear about its current intentions: they have none for HealthKit. As one would expect, Apple's response to this news was swift and sever: Fitbit products have been removed from Apple's store, all because they are not currently planning on implementing Apple's platform.

On the other hand, Microsoft is taking a very different approach to working with Fitbit. The company is also not publicly working on implementing Microsoft Health support (they have not spoken out negatively, however), and Microsoft's new Band health watch device is a bit of a Fitbit competitor. Despite all of this, Microsoft is giving a free Fitbit device with sales of Microsoft Lumia 830 phones on AT&T.

These are two very different approaches: Apple is trying to decrease Fitbit's sales in hopes of forcing them to implement Apple HealthKit, while Microsoft is trying to increase Fitbit's sales in hopes of encouraging them to implement Microsoft Health support through good will. Will either, neither or both of these tactics work? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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FCC Delays Spectrum Auction Again, This Time Until 2016

posted Sunday Nov 2, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

FCC Delays Spectrum Auction Again, This Time Until 2016

Around this time last year the FCC said it was delaying the second part of the famed broadcast spectrum auction until mid-2015. Well, consider this a PSA that the Commission is postponing the auction yet again, this time to early 2016.

The delay is in part due to the lawsuit that is pending, which was filed by the National Association of Broadcasters. The FCC also said that it needs more time to get more TV stations to join in on the auction.

The auction itself is a pretty intricate event. Certain broadcasters will have to give up spectrum and move signals to other parts of the spectrum, all while possibly purchasing new spectrum. Those broadcasters will receive a portion of the winning bid. Winning bidders, the mobile phone companies participating, have to disclose what they intend to do with the spectrum upon purchase and then allocate a signal to that spectrum. It's pretty much a big mess. Oh, and those stations not participating can still have spectrum sold from underneath them, in order to create consistent blocks to be sold to the telecoms.

The big four networks have stated that they will probably not be participating in the auction, said the FCC. Some of the networks, per the lawsuit, have opposed the auction and are saying that this event will affect coverage areas and will cost the stations viewers.

We'll definitely keep everyone posted on how this all plays out and how it will end up affected all parties involved. But it looks like we'll have at least another year before we have to worry about that coverage.

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New FCC Proposal May Restore Life to Aereo

posted Sunday Nov 2, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

New FCC Proposal May Restore Life to Aereo

Aereo's time on the shelf might not last for long, especially if the same hands that shut the company down are working on new regulation to bring it all back to life. A new proposal by the FCC would allow companies like Aereo to stream broadcasts to users without needing huge packages of channels.

Led by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, this proposal would let Aereo operate like a cable company, which was what Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia wanted to do since being shut down by the Supreme Court. Kanojia also called this proposal an "important step" in the progression of the broadcasting industry. "By clarifying these rules, the FCC is taking a real and meaningful step forward for competition in the video market," he said.

The change to the definition of a content provider would finally include online video services, which is the main form of media left out in what is considered a multichannel video programming distributor. Of course, all of this would have to be voted on, but at least there is there is progress being made and thoughts being put on paper. It seems like officials who were once formerly baffled by the Internet and technology are finally coming around to understand that people use the Internet for lots of different things. And maybe, just maybe, they use it for watching video when they're away from their homes.

On the matter of people being tied to cable packages because of outdated policies, Wheeler said,

Consumers have long complained about how their cable service forces them to buy channels they never watch. The move of video onto the Internet can do something about that frustration.

There is still a lot of debate and discussion to be had before we even see this proposal change make its way to a vote. However, advocates like the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Association of Broadcasters are both onboard with the FCC adopting a new form of media consumption.

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YouTube Considering Launching Paid Subscription to Skip Ads

posted Sunday Nov 2, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

YouTube Considering Launching Paid Subscription to Skip Ads

Google might be trying to do whatever it can to keep YouTube in its top spot as a video sharing platform, along with making it profitable. The word right now is that Google is tossing around creating a subscription model to YouTube that would let content watchers pay to skip the ads that show up during a video.

This would be a huge change for YouTube, as the company essentially revolves around advertising, in every possible way, in order to make their money. CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki spoke at a ReCode-sponsored event, saying that,

YouTube right now is ad-supported, which is great because it has enabled us to scale to a billion users; but there's going to be a point where people don't want to see the ads.

She's probably right. On videos that are less than two minutes long, I still occasionally get stuck with a one minute ad. I can't be the only one in that boat. The head of YouTube also went on to say that the goal is to be "thinking about how to give users options." A subscription service to skip ads would certainly be an option.

This isn't the first time a paid version of YouTube has been talked about, however. When Hulu first became a big deal, the rumor was that YouTube was panicking and might implement a similar subscription service, sans ads and with exclusive content. That could still be the play here. Still, there's no word on price, availability or even if it will actually be a thing. All we know right now is the execs at the popular video site are thinking about it. Thinking is better than not thinking, right?

All things considered, this is still a big step for Google, a company which almost all of its consumer-facing products are free and are driven by advertising. Yes, you must pay for Google Apps for Business and content creators on YouTube can charge their subscribers a small fee to get special access to more videos, but that's a select market in each of those regards. Offering up a monthly subscription for all YouTube customers would certainly shake things up and change the type of person who may visit YouTube. But with sites like Twitch and Vimeo making a drastic impact as of late, this might be the move to make. It should be noted that Vimeo has been letting content creators rent or sell videos on the site for the past 18 months, and has already announced it is launching an ad-free subscription service sometime early next year.

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Xbox One Gets a Price Cut for the Holidays

posted Sunday Nov 2, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Xbox One Gets a Price Cut for the Holidays

Holiday sale alert! As predicted by our show staff earlier last month, a price drop is heading to Microsoft's Xbox One beginning today. Why wait in lines and sheer stupidity insanity on Black Friday when you could instead be already gaming on an Xbox One a full three weeks before the herd? If you don't have an answer for that other than "it's an experience" then I suggest you take a look at the reduced prices on Xbox One consoles and bundles.

In the US, the Xbox One will be $349, $50 off, and that price applies to your choice of the console, including special edition bundles. This includes Assassin's Creed Unity, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Sunset Overdrive. If you needed a reason for Sunset Overdrive, I believe you now have one. Yusuf Mehdi, VP for Microsoft, shared my sentiment of not waiting for Black Friday.

Fans don't have to wait for Black Friday this year to enjoy great savings on Xbox One. We're offering our best price yet, with unprecedented choices and value, so more people can play on Xbox One this holiday. We're gearing up for one of our biggest holidays ever and we are thrilled to offer fans up to $150 in savings on Xbox One and some of the biggest blockbuster games of the season.

For those wanting the Kinect with your console, and trust me when I say you want the Kinect with your console, the $50 off still applies, making the Assassin's Creed Unity bundle with Kinect $449. For the Call of Duty bundle, the custom console comes complete with a 1TB hard drive and is available tomorrow, sans Kinect, for $449, but the price is justified through the bigger hard drive and fully custom Xbox One and controller.

The promo runs through January 3rd but why wait to play your favorite games? Head over to the Microsoft Store and pick up your console now! Or, you know, tomorrow if you want the Call of Duty bundle. It definitely feels like Microsoft has picked up a lot of steam heading into the holidays.

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