The UpStream

Former Dictator Gets Feelings Hurt by Activision

posted Sunday Jul 20, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Former Dictator Gets Feelings Hurt by Activision

You are probably aware of Manuel Noriega, the former military dictator Panama from 1983 to 1989. In case you are not, here are his highlights. After the United States invaded Panama, Noriega was tried and sentenced on drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering. Those sentences ended with his theoretical release in 2007, but he was extradited to France to serve time for money laundering and murder. He was later released to Panama to serve a 20 year sentence, which is where he is today.

This brief history lesson, and list of charges against Noriega, serve as a bizarre backdrop to a lawsuit filed this week, filed by Noriega against Activision. The company, he claims, makes him out to be "a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state." Because of this, he believes his good name has been sullied by the company for the purposes of increasing game sales for Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

There are, of course, a couple of issues here. First, Activision did not need any gimmicks to increase sales of a Call of Duty title; they sell just fine on their own. Second, the type of person who purchases and plays a Call of Duty game likely does not know who Noriega is, nor do they care. Thirdly, did you read his Wikipedia page? It would appear that the list of charges he has filed against Activision for defamation are exactly the things that have kept him in various prisons since 1989.

Logic not withstanding, this suit is happening and Activision needs to prepare to defend itself against the defamation charges of a convicted criminal. Good thing he didn't use the words "the culprit of numerous fictional heinous crimes" to describe how they portrayed him. Wait, he did? This is going to be a fun case to follow!

Google to Stop Listing Games as Free if They Contain In-App Purchases

posted Friday Jul 18, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Google to Stop Listing Games as Free if They Contain In-App Purchases

The European Commission has requested something of Google and the company complied. And no, they didn't ask Google to stop snooping on WiFi passwords. Instead, EU countries have had a lot of complaints about games containing in-app purchases being marked as "free" games. Per the Commission's request, Google will no longer list a game under free games if it has in-app transactions.

The European Commission says that children making in-app purchases are the root of the complaint, which we are all very familiar with. When the number of complaints became significant enough by EU countries, the Commission decided to make the request to Google. EU Commissioner for Consumer Policy Neven Mimica said,

This is the very first enforcement action of its kind in which the European Commission and national authorities joined forces. I am happy to see that it is delivering tangible results. This is significant for consumers. In particular, children must be better protected when playing online. The action also provides invaluable experience for the ongoing reflection on how to most effectively organise the enforcement of consumer rights in the Union. It has demonstrated that cooperation pays off and helps to improve the protection of consumers in all Member States.

Google said that it will comply with the guidelines set out by the EC and that by September, all apps will require verifying your identity and payment information prior to making a purchase. It should be noted that the EC requested Apple to make the changes, and the company chose to agree, but did not outline a timeframe on when the changes would occur. In fact, Apple said that it is implementing policies that secure these purchases "more than others" with things like the new iOS feature Ask to Buy. Interestingly enough, Apple blew right past the fact that it paid over $100 million in a lawsuit to consumers for this same exact thing.

For those curious, here are the guidelines the European Commission set forth.

1. Games advertised as "free" should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved;

2. Games should not contain direct exhortation to children to buy items in a game or to persuade an adult to buy items for them;

3. Consumers should be adequately informed about the payment arrangements for purchases and should not be debited through default settings without consumers' explicit consent;

4. Traders should provide an email address so that consumers can contact them in case of queries or complaints.

The goal here is to not mislead consumers, specifically parents, about the apps they are downloading. I guess in the long run that's kind of fair to the end-user. I'm curious if we'll see the same thing happen here in the States, too, especially considering the precedent Google is setting in Europe. As we mentioned last week, Amazon is under fire by the FTC about this identical issue. Perhaps we'll see more regulation and less perceived deception in the coming months from State-side developers as well.

Russian Government Tries to Rewrite History on Wikipedia

posted Friday Jul 18, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Russian Government Tries to Rewrite History on Wikipedia

As the world recovers from the shock of the attack on the Malaysian passenger flight, the race to create the history of the event is already underway. Building on the @CongressEdits Wikipedia monitor software, @RuGovEdits detected an edit made to a Wikipedia article by the Russian government. Someone within the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK), the state-owned "news" agency, edited the Russian language article List of aircraft accidents in civil aviation.

The original text, as translated by Bing, read,

The aircraft (was) shot down by terrorists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk people's Republic of China of missile launchers "Beech", which were obtained by terrorists from the Russian Federation.

The edited text, also translated by Bing, reads,

The plane (was) brought down (by) the Ukrainian military.

While the allure of being the first one to write history is strong, this shows strong evidence of the truth of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. The technology and process could not have been imaginable to him, but the outcome certain was. Today, personal marketing is all about character assassination, or character protection, depending on which side you stand. In this case, it is character protection for the Russian government, who clearly do not want the world to associate them with this incident.

The problem here lies in the issue of truth over nonsense. There has been evidence of Russian involvement, even just in the supplying of the weapons, but the Russian government has denied all involvement, continuing to claim that the perpetrators acted alone. Here, they are going so far as to insist it, even online. Even though we may not know for sure what the truth is, we can be sure that the Russian government wants us to believe this as the truth, thanks to a little code from a socially conscious programmer.

Why the Cellular Unlocking Bill Doesn't Really Matter

posted Friday Jul 18, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Why the Cellular Unlocking Bill Doesn't Really Matter

This week, the US Senate passed a bill making the unlocking of personal cellular devices legal. This bill does not include any conditions that would allow for bulk unlocking, or the ability for someone else to unlock your personal device for you. This language, which was making passing the bill nearly impossible, was included in the House version of the bill, but removed to get it passed through the Senate. Once the bills are identical, it will be sent to the President.

These bills come after the expiration of an exemption to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allowed for unlocking of personal devices, expired in 2013, making the practice illegal once again. By passing this as a law, as opposed to the odd Library of Congress exemption that was granted before, we do not have to worry about it expiring in the future.

The important question here is how will this affect the lives of wireless phone owners? Well, the short answer is, for most people it will matter very little. Here's why; the exemption and now the law are targeted to allow people to take their existing phone and change carriers with it. Unfortunately, that isn't entirely the way the industry works, mostly because of the way spectrum is handled in the US.

Let's take, for example, the Samsung Galaxy S5, offered by most major carriers. The phones for all carriers are nearly identical, with one glaring difference: the spectrum on which they run. The CDMA version, offered by Verizon and Sprint, shares almost no bands with the GSM version, offered by AT&T and T-Mobile. This means that if you wanted to switch from AT&T to Verizon, you still could not keep your phone, no matter how much you complain to the carrier or Congress.

Now, this is not to say there is zero benefit to handset unlocking. If you are a Sprint customer and want to switch to Verizon, this bill would allow you to unlock the handset and accomplish that goal. It would not, however, allow you to transfer to AT&T or T-Mobile. So, while it does not eliminate the handset silos, it does shrink the quantity for a dozen or so to about 2. This, theoretically, increases your options, but not by as much as it might seem.

Sprint has allowed transferring of handsets to and from their subsidiaries several times in the past, never with much interest. They have even offered the ability to take your handset to compatible carriers dating back to 2007. This option was also never really used, bringing us back to the question of why. It would appear that this is either a bill created to make people feel good about a Congress that has accomplished very little in the public's eyes, or a bill created by a group of people who didn't take the time to research it before bowing to the public pressures of other people who don't understand what they are asking for.

Either way, if this bill does become law, it will change very little for the general population. It will, however, make the lives of those who like to alter their devices significantly easier.

Xbox Entertainment Studios Closes as Microsoft Shifts Focus to Cloud and Mobile

posted Friday Jul 18, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Xbox Entertainment Studios Closes as Microsoft Shifts Focus to Cloud and Mobile

If you didn't catch the memo from earlier in the week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella laid out a plan to cut 18,000 jobs from the corporation. Most of the layoffs, of which is the largest in tech history, will be from the Nokia merger. However, not specifically listed in the note was the purge that will unfortunately be coming out of the Xbox Entertainment Studio.

Microsoft's venture into original programming is coming to an end in a weird kind of way. Santa Monica's Xbox Entertainment Studios will be closed, with 200 employees likely to be finding new lines of work. From our understanding it is being said that there are no "new" projects being started up. The Halo, Quantum Break and Atari projects will all remain intact and will be completed.

There is no word yet on former CBS exec and head of XES Nancy Tellum's status. And, the only thing we had in writing from Nadella was kind of dancing around the Xbox commitment.

The single biggest digital life category, measured in both time and money spent, in a mobile-first world is gaming. We are fortunate to have Xbox in our family to go after this opportunity with unique and bold innovation. Microsoft will continue to vigorously innovate and delight gamers with Xbox.

Luckily, Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Studios and Xbox, sent out an official statement, confirming the closure of the studio, the retention of the current projects and the future of the Xbox brand.

As part of the planned reduction to our overall workforce announced today and in light of our organization's mission, we plan to streamline a handful of portfolio and engineering development efforts across Xbox. One such plan is that, in the coming months, we expect to close Xbox Entertainment Studios. I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the accomplishments from the entire team in XES. They have built an impressive slate of original programming and pioneered interactive entertainment on Xbox, such as the innovative reality series 'Every Street United' that succeeded in uniting audiences around the globe during the recent World Cup. I am pleased that Nancy, Jordan and members of the XES team remain committed to new, original programming already in production like the upcoming documentary series 'Signal to Noise' whose first installment takes on the rise and fall of gaming icon Atari and of course, the upcoming game franchise series 'Halo: Nightfall,' and the 'Halo' Television series which will continue as planned with 343 Industries. Xbox will continue to support and deliver interactive sports content like 'NFL on Xbox,' and we will continue to enhance our entertainment offering on console by innovating the TV experience through the monthly console updates. Additionally, our app partnerships with world-class content providers bringing entertainment, sports and TV content to Xbox customers around the world are not impacted by this organizational change in any way and remain an important component of our Xbox strategy.

In the end, it comes down to Xbox really being great at putting out a platform in which media can be contained and consumed, but it made less sense for them to develop original programming for the platform. So Spencer aligns with Nadella's vision on remaining committed to the Xbox brand as a whole, while agreeing that perhaps its own TV studio might not be the best fit. Microsoft execs understand that having internal hardware is a great idea, and especially a console that still remains the center of all entertainment in a family's living room.

We hope for the best for the laid off employees and are still really looking forward to the handful of endeavors that will still come out of the now defunct Xbox Entertainment Studios.

Twitter Bot Posts Congressional Wikipedia Changes

posted Sunday Jul 13, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Twitter Bot Posts Congressional Wikipedia Changes

Combining data sources to produce interesting results has become a popular trend in software lately. It is a great way to experiment with development without having to create your own data. There have been lots of mobile apps created, some by talented developers and others by hacks, that take advantage of other people's data to produce unique results.

One such example is the @parliamentedits Twitter bot. This account monitors anonymous edits to Wikipedia that originate within the British Parliament's IP addresses. The system was created using the popular IFTTT platform for reacting to data. Based on this idea, another developer, Ed Summers, has created a full platform for monitoring IP addresses and posting their results.

The Twitter account is @congressedits, and this bot does almost the same thing, only by monitoring US Congressional IP addresses. Since Congress's IP range is significantly alrger than that of Parliament, this meant that IFTTT was not possible. Summers posted on his own blog,

The simplicity of combining Wikipedia and Twitter in this way immediately struck me as a potentially useful transparency tool. So using my experience on a previous side project (Wikistream, a Web application that watches Wikipedia editing activity), I quickly put together a short program that listens to all major language Wikipedias for anonymous edits from Congressional IP address ranges… and tweets them.

While nothing career-ending has happened as of yet, there are a couple of interesting changes. For example, one page had the political affiliation changed. Another changed the term "corporate lawyer" to "attorney." Both of these are, most likely, about public opinion. Another edit, however, seems to be a Congressional staffer with a love for both grammar and terrible movies, making a fairly benign edit to the page for the film Step Up 3D.

Whether or not this will ever turn up any scandals, it has certainly inspired many others to produce similar projects. Based on his code, which he posted on GitHub, there are now accounts for Australia, Germany, Berlin specifically and many others. If you are interested in following the odd edits from Congress, or want to create your own watcher, head to the source link and join the fun.

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