Scott Ertz - Staff

Scott Ertz

Scott Ertz

Former Segment Host

Current Host

Current UpStream Contributor

Current Product Reviewer

Current Episode Author

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Scott is a developer who has worked on projects of varying sizes, including all of the PLuGHiTz Corporation properties. He is also known in the gaming world for his time supporting the DDR community, through DDRLover and hosting tournaments throughout the Tampa Bar Area. Currently, when he is not working on software projects or hosting F5 Live: Refreshing Technology, Scott can often be found returning to his high school days working with the Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), mentoring teams and judging engineering notebooks at competitions. He has also helped found a student software learning group, the ASCII Warriors.

Recent UpStream Articles

Apple Tax suspended for video subscription services - for now

posted Saturday Apr 4, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Apple Tax suspended for video subscription services - for now

One of the biggest limiting factors for media services on Apple is the Apple Tax. The company requires that all subscriptions made available through apps on the platform be run through its App Store. While this may make the process a little easier for users signing up on Apple devices, it is not ideal for the companies themselves. Apple charges a 30 percent fee on all App Store transactions, commonly referred to as the Apple Tax. This means that a company like Spotify or Netflix must give 30 percent of their revenue, not profit, to Apple for providing a service that neither company wants nor needs.

Currently, however, some subscription services are receiving a tax break from Apple. The company is suspending its controversial revenue split for "premium subscription video entertainment providers." The move allows a company like Netflix to implement App Store subscriptions in their apps for new subscribers without losing much of their profit margin.

Publicly, the reasoning behind this is to expedite the process for the flood of new customers flocking to streaming services while stuck at home. However, the tax-free holiday is not a permanent situation, and, if services implement this feature in their apps during the waiver, they will still lose that revenue in the future when the Apple Tax has returned. That future trapped revenue is what Apple is hoping for.

It's not a completely surprising move, considering how many companies have been removing the feature from their platforms in recent months. Most notably, Google canceled all YouTube TV subscriptions that were being billed through the Apple App Store in March 2020. Netflix removed the ability to sign up for service through the store years ago to recover revenue. It is unlikely that any premium services will take Apple up on this temporary offer, knowing what the company's goal truly is.

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Zoom is seeing increased usage, exposing its major security flaws

posted Saturday Apr 4, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Zoom is seeing increased usage, exposing its major security flaws

Teleconferencing platform Zoom has been around for a few years, but it has gained popularity care of the current work from home scenario. While there's a lot of excitement around the app, there isn't anything particularly special about it. That is assuming you don't consider the constant and massive security issue in the platform.

Since the increased usage, new security issues have been discovered. The biggest issue is inherent in the design of the platform. Being referred to as zoombombing or zoom-bombing, it involves people who are not supposed to be part of a Zoom call joining the call and causing havoc. This can be done one of two ways. The most common is by randomly entering numbers until a call opens. This means that the bomber doesn't know what they are getting into but can still start posting inappropriate comments and photos. Even before the current environment, I have been involved in Zoom calls that had been zoombombed.

A more targeted but limited attack surface is by watching the social media feeds of people who don't know how to use the internet. This has included prime ministers and other government officials, corporate executives, etc. These people share photos or screenshots of their Zoom conferences in some misguided attempt to look like they are still doing work in the wake of COVID-19. However, what they are doing is exposing the conference ID for their call, making it easy for anyone to join and disrupt.

In addition to posting inappropriate content, bombers were taking advantage of another issue in the Zoom platform. By including a malicious link into the chat of these random or targeted conferences, bombers were able to gain access to security information on the user's computer. That information includes computer passwords, in many cases exposing an entire computer network to vulnerability. By gaining access to a corporate or government user's credentials, an extended level of damage can be created. After extended knowledge of the issue, the company finally patched the flaw once the issue was publicly covered by tech publications.

This is not the first time Zoom has had serious security issues. Last year, another security vulnerability was discovered which allowed attackers to activate a Zoom call on another user's computer with the camera activated without the user's permission or knowledge. The issue only affected users of Zoom on macOS but was knowingly exploited.

Because the company is so susceptible to security and privacy violations, I have repeatedly recommended that people use another platform. There are plenty of other, better services that provide the same capability without the problems we see with Zoom. Try Skype, Teams, Slack, Google Hangouts, or Facebook Messenger instead.

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Activision can use Humvee in its games care of the First Amendment

posted Saturday Apr 4, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Activision can use Humvee in its games care of the First Amendment

The Humvee is an iconic vehicle, especially regarding wartime imagery. Because of this, Activision has featured the vehicle in many of its Call of Duty titles over the years. Since the intention of the company's popular games is to replicate the environments and experiences of the battles that they represent, it is a logical move to include these vehicles. Unfortunately for Activision, AMG, who holds the trademark on the design, did not believe that including the vehicles in the games was in compliance with the law.

In 2017, the company filed a trademark infringement suit against Activision, claiming that players were being "deceived into believing that AM General licenses the games or is somehow connected with or involved in the creation of the games." It's not outlandish, considering game developers often acquire licensing for their in-game items, such as vehicles and weapons.

This week, a federal judge ruled that Activision did not require a license to include the Humvee in the games because there was no implied licensing in the game. The including of the vehicles was not an active aspect of the game, in the way that it would be for a racing game. The inclusion of the vehicles, even according to an AMG-sponsored survey, only resulted in 16 percent of gamers believing that AMG was officially involved in the game, a percentage that the judge said only led to "some confusion" which is not enough to warrant action.

The ruling falls in line with a 1989 precedent which allows for artistic works to include external trademarked content, so long as the inclusion was relevant to the piece. The inclusion of a vehicle designed for military use in a game that replicates military scenarios for which the vehicle would have been used in real life is not just relevant, but essential. District Judge George B. Daniels wrote,

If realism is an artistic goal, then the presence in Modern Warfare games of vehicles employed by actual militaries undoubtedly furthers that goal.

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Sprint is no more, as T-Mobile merger is officially completed

posted Saturday Apr 4, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Sprint is no more, as T-Mobile merger is officially completed

It's been three years since the initial rumors of a Sprint/T-Mobile merger surfaced. Over six months ago, the companies received Department of Justice approval for the merger, having already secured FCC approval. It was not a done deal, however, as Attorneys General from fourteen states filed a suit to stop the merger, but all states except California have now approved it. As such, the companies have officially completed the merger, marking the end of the Sprint brand.

The new communication company will be known as T-Mobile, currently being referred to as "The New T-Mobile" in marketing. The service, which combines the numbers three and four US carriers, creates the new number three carrier by subscribers. The merger has taken a while because of the constant complaints of limited competition, lower innovation, and higher prices. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel argued following the FCC's approval,

We've all seen what happens when markets become more concentrated after a merger like this one. In the airline industry, it brought us baggage fees and smaller seats. In the pharmaceutical industry, it led to a handful of drug companies raising the prices of lifesaving medications. There's no reason to think this time will be different.

It's not the only time this argument has been made, but it is massively flawed logic, based on an incorrect premise. It requires the belief that Sprint is capable of surviving on its own, which it is not. The company has been in a downward spiral for years, having made poor choices like purchasing Nextel, choosing WiMAX for their initial 4G rollout, followed by acquiring RadioShack's retail space. These mistakes have consistently caused excessive costs for the company with absolutely no return on value. Without this merger, all that was going to be left of the company was going to be the assets.

The face of the company is going to be different after the merger, as well. CEO John Legere is out, and his former COO, Mike Sievert, has taken the helm. Other executive shakeups are guaranteed in the coming months, as the two brands try to create a single, cohesive management team.

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Free, ad-supported movies might be coming to Google Play Movies

posted Sunday Mar 29, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Free, ad-supported movies might be coming to Google Play Movies

The business to get your viewership time is a crowded one, and seemingly getting more crowded every day. Movies and television are the focus, but short-form services have also been gaining popularity. But, while Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and Netflix proved that a paid subscription service could produce great original content, the focus of licensed content has been shifting. Services like Crackle, IMDb TV, Pluto, and Tubi have shown that a free and ad-supported model works for licensed content.

Following that model, some of the bigger companies have tried to find where they might fit in the market. Crackle from Sony and IMDb TV from Amazon have done a decent job of testing the waters, but other content holders have been looking into the space as well. NBC's upcoming Peacock service will offer a free tier and, if code found in the most recent version of Google Play Movies is to be believed, Google might be right behind.

Inspection of the latest APK has uncovered a tier of content that would be free and ad-supported. This could be an important move for Google, as the Play Movies service has never been terribly popular. Like the Play Music service, which will soon be shuttered in favor of YouTube Music, Play Movies has never been able to attract a large audience. Users tend to find themselves either in the Apple or Amazon ecosystems for purchasing and renting movies. However, neither of these platforms offer free content (with the exception of Prime Video, which is a different model). By offering free content in Play Movies, Google could entice users to live, at least partially, in the Google ecosystem instead.

The code suggests that this launch will not be a small one, either. The safe move would be to try it out with a dozen or so titles, but Google appears to be planning to launch with hundreds of movies. That is a suggestion that Google is not just testing the waters, but planning a big, full-scale launch. A big launch doesn't guarantee success, though, as the Google Play brand has been a huge failure for the company. Play Music is on its way to the graveyard, and most people don't know that Play Magazine and Play Newsstand even exist. Play Movies could eventually become a YouTube branded spinoff, like YouTube Music, which is replacing Play Music.

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