The UpStream

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.

Twitch Announces Gaming Convention: TwitchCon

posted Saturday Feb 21, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Twitch Announces Gaming Convention: TwitchCon

Since Amazon purchased Twitch, they have found interesting ways to leverage their popularity. While YouTube is busy driving content creators away, Twitch is working hard to incentivize them to use their platform, and keeping fans engaged with their favorite content creators. It is no surprise, then, that Twitch announced an official convention, concisely named TwitchCon. The event will take place September 25-26, 2015 at Moscone West in San Francisco, a location well-known to the tech world, as the location of both Google I/O and Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference.

According to the company,

A celebration of all things Twitch, TwitchCon will be an interactive convention for broadcasters and viewers alike to meet each other, learn how to take your Twitch game to the next level, and play together.

Just a "Save the Date" for now, we'll have more information about tickets, schedules, where to stay, and all that good stuff in the weeks and months to come.

That sounds like a great extension of the idea of keeping fans and content creators engaged. So, what will the event include? Who knows. It possible that not even the team at Twitch know exactly what the event will be. The website offers email addresses for exhibitor and press contacts, which suggests that they will have some sort of dealer or vendor room and possibly on-site press coverage. The problem is that we have absolutely no idea what might be covered.

The idea, however, is likely to be somewhere in the PAX arena, with a heavier focus on actual gameplay. There are certainly plenty of opportunities to engage the e-sports world; possibly even hold some sort of e-sports tournament. Whatever it is, knowing the team at Twitch, it will be a place you will want to be.

Sony Makes Its Biggest Move to Regain Profitability

posted Saturday Feb 21, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Sony Makes Its Biggest Move to Regain Profitability

It has been no surprise that Sony has not been profitable for a very long time. With multi-million dollar losses quarter after quarter, CEO Kaz Hirai revealed a turnaround plan he was confident about, which has turned out to not be working as expected. The company has had corporate and divisional layoffs in the tens of thousands, as well as millions cut from divisional budgets. With a $1.1 billion loss, they are even replacing executives.

None of this has seemed to help enough, and more drastic measures have been considered just to keep the lights on. The television division was divided into 3 pieces in an attempt to make it more manageable and, likely, to find and cut the loose thread. Last year, the company's biggest shareholder recommended spinning off the media division entirely, to which Sony replied absolutely not. The idea did seem to spark an idea, however.

Recently, Sony identified Sony Online Entertainment as being outside of the company's core competency and sold it off. That wasn't all, however, because the segment of the company that Hirai has maintained was the most trouble is the consumer electronics division. This means televisions, phones, potentially consumer cameras and home appliances and media devices. As a result, Hirai announced this week that the company plans to move the audio and video businesses into a wholly owned subsidiary: the same strategy they recently took with their television business.

More importantly is a comment made in regards to their mobile business. Last year, the company sold off its Vaio business to focus on mobile, but has yet to find profits in that market. After purchasing Ericsson's share of the Sony Ericsson partnership, the company has not been able to compete in the low-end mobile space with companies like Xiaomi and Huawei, and doesn't have the clout to compete in the high-end space with the likes of Samsung, HTC and LG. Because of this, Hirai says that the company has yet to "rule out considering an exit strategy" with regards to mobile.

These moves will likely end up with the company taking a Polaroid-style licensing approach to their television and phone business. This would entail Sony licensing their name to 3rd parties who would actually design, produce and sell the products under the Sony brand. This is the same move that Sharp made last year in Europe.

On the positive side, Hirai said that Sony will redouble their focus on the PlayStation brand, which is currently their most successful division. Hirai said that, over the next 3 years, he expects that PlayStation, Sony Pictures (whose budget was cut significantly) and music streaming will be the primary profit growth centers for the company. It is not surprising that Hirai would have a loyalty toward the PlayStation brand, as he was promoted into the CEO role from overseeing PlayStation. Also, it has seen almost exclusive top-sales for its PS4 console since launch, only being overshadowed a few times in well over a year.

He is also interested in recurring revenue, like expanding PlayStation Now, which allows you to stream PS3 games on your PS4, a technology based on their Gaikai purchase. That service is currently a Netflix-style $20 for all-you-can-play streaming. They also seem to be considering an actual Netflix competitor, referring to recurring revenue in their Media Networks business.

Will these changes be enough to keep Sony in business, or will they continue to throw good money after bad? It is likely we will know in the coming months, as they determine how to handle mobile and release this quarter's numbers.

Forget Rickrolling - Jeb Bush Releases Viruses Online

posted Sunday Feb 15, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Did you hear? Jeb Bush might be running for President. If you haven't heard yet, don't worry - you will. He is likely to be this election cycle's Hillary with a will he/won't he media blitz. In the end, there is no doubt that he will appear all over television before finally announcing that he is running, and making a showing at that.

In an attempt to be more like Obama and less like Hillary, however, Jeb is trying his hand at the Internet. Some say it is what ended up winning Obama his first term. However, it would appear that Jeb might have never used the Internet before. If he has, he used it more like an old person than a young person: a scenario that should be kept private, right?

Well, that isn't quite how things went down. Instead of pretending he knew what he was doing on the web, he released a huge cache of emails that he sent and received while he was governor of Florida. His goal was to show he uses computers and that he is willing to be open with the people. Being open is great, but some information should be redacted - it's why the concept was invented. You shouldn't release it with only the words "it," "he" and "the" left in, but you should probably remove some stuff.

For example, before releasing emails, you should probably scrub all of the email and physical addresses that might be contained within them. The alternative is, you just released a spammer's dream document: email addresses of people in Florida, who are probably just as adept at the computer as you are.

More importantly, you should verify that there are no attachments in the emails that will make you look like an old Floridian - for example, viruses. In this case, Jeb received viruses to his jeb@jeb.org email address: likely from the same people who are scanning these emails for new addresses. Contained within these released emails is a veritable museum of the early 2000's best viruses: Happy99, JS/Kak@M and W32.Badtrans.B@mm, just to name a few.

Since this gaff, the unaltered Outlook PST files have been removed and a new, intelligently redacted version has been released instead.

Evolve Does not Receive Warm Welcome from Gamers

posted Sunday Feb 15, 2015 by Scott Ertz

<i>Evolve</i> Does not Receive Warm Welcome from Gamers

A lot of people were really excited for the release of Evolve. I was not counted among them, but I know several people on the team who were. I did, personally, hold a Mirror's Edge type curiosity for a relatively unknown game style from a relatively well-known studio. Unfortunately, publisher 2K was not doing anything to try and win me over - like release information about the game.

While you could play in a series of betas, it was unknown what would come with the game, how it would be distributed, etc. Despite this, people pre-ordered the game online and at retailers, not knowing whether their money would be well-spent, but certainly hoping. Then came the tiers: $60, $80, $100 - all for an online-only, multiplayer-only game. So what magical content could you possibly get for $100?

As it turns out, almost nothing more than the $60 game. In fact, the big difference is in the number of skins available: 12 hunters and 3 monsters for $60 or 18 hunters and 4 monsters and 4 skins for $100. Yes, you had to pay almost double to receive less than double the CHARACTERS. No extra play, no new content - just characters.

So, clearly the idea of asking $100 for a few minor components is insane, and that does seem to be the general consensus with online reviews. Add to it the idea that there are a slew of $4.99 and $6.99 additional add-ons you can purchase for even more skins, and a $24.99 "Hunting Season Pass" can bring the price to half that of a console.

Unfortunately, this isn't where gamers' frustrations with the game end. The base price, $60, is said to be too high, even if it came with all of the add-ons. Gamers are used to the $60 price tag, but are also used to a healthy single player campaign and a well-considered multiplayer scenario. With Evolve you only get the latter, which may be the part that gets played repeatedly, but isn't the part that makes you fall in love with the game, mechanics and, in some instances, the characters (I'm looking at you Cortana).

Have you played the game? Are you happy with what you bought? Let us know in the comments.

Google Changes Policy on 90 Day Bug Release

posted Sunday Feb 15, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Google Changes Policy on 90 Day Bug Release

Google's Project Zero has not been met with a lot of acceptance from the software community, but has received particular flack from Microsoft. It is a reasonable response from a company who seems to have been specifically damaged by Project Zero's 90 day release policy. That policy, which has been unalterable by the company, has unfortunately released information about Microsoft vulnerabilities before the company has had a chance to patch them. That is an incredibly unusual circumstance in the security world, where the normal policy is to inform the developer of their issue, allow them to patch it, then release the terms of the issue.

This week, Google revised its policy on releasing information on a strict 90 day schedule. They said that they would begin to give their vendors an additional 14 days, so long as the company promised to fix the issue within that 2 week period.

We now have a 14-day grace period. If a 90-day deadline will expire but a vendor lets us know before the deadline that a patch is scheduled for release on a specific day within 14 days following the deadline, the public disclosure will be delayed until the availability of the patch. Public disclosure of an unpatched issue now only occurs if a deadline will be significantly missed (2 weeks+).

Unfortunately, as any software developer will tell you, a hard-set release schedule set by someone outside of your development environment is insane. Some patches are deeper into the system and require significant changes higher up as the initial change is made. Some of these changes simply cannot be made within a 90 day period, and to expect it shows a complete lack of understanding of the software process. It is understandable, though, for a company so totally removed from well-built software.

It will be interesting to see in the coming months which "vendors" they decide to apply these more lenient rules to. Will Microsoft see 14 day grace periods, or will it be just for, as they say, "bugs in the pipeline for Google products?"

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