The UpStream

Mozilla Accidentally Makes Users Think They Have Spyware

posted Sunday Dec 17, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Mozilla Accidentally Makes Users Think They Have Spyware

Generating revenue from a free product is always hard to do, especially when there is no real place for advertising. It's not a new scenario for a web browser to build a partnership in an attempt to increase revenue. So, the idea of a partnership between Mozilla, who promotes online privacy and security, and an online game from hacker TV show Mr. Robot, is a clear winner.

Unfortunately, a clear winner only works if you can implement the partnership in the right way. One way you can ruin a sure thing is to force-install a plugin on users' browsers, whose description merely reads, "MY REALITY IS DIFFERENT THAN YOURS." Reddit users began to panic, flooding the site with comments, including, "I have no idea what it is or where it came from. I freaked out a bit and uninstalled it immediately."

Finding any software that you have no idea what it is, gives no useful description, and you did not install is never a positive. It gets worse, though, as a browser plugin which also doesn't expose its permissions, and could be logging keystrokes, passwords and browsing history.

Mozilla learned their lesson following the negative attention and removed the auto-installed plugin process. Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, Mozilla's chief marketing officer, said in a statement,

Suffice to say, we've learned a good deal in the last 24 hours... Although we always have the best intentions, not everything that we try works as we want.

This should be a reminder of what control others have over our devices. We all remember Apple forcing its iPhone owners to download a U2 album, whether they wanted it or not. We might also remember Apple remotely uninstalling apps from users iPhones in 2008. Both of these instances resulted in immense customer displeasure, for a variety of reasons. Neither of these incidents, however, created distrust.

Many users on Reddit have said that, following this breach of trust, they will be switching browsers, some of whom had just returned to Firefox following the recent release of Quantum. Others will be disabling the feature that Mozilla used, which it utilizes to test new features, indicating another sign of lost trust. One user said,

In the past I was fine with Mozilla's approach to telemetry and studies, making my browser available for occasional testing/experimenting/data collection to track down bugs or measure improvements or whatever is fine. This is not doing any of those things. This is an advertisement. This is an abuse of the telemetry and shield studies program. If I cannot trust Mozilla to use these tools responsibly I will have to disable them and recommend my friends and co-workers do the same.

A loss of trust here is not something that Mozilla needs, as they try to attract users to their new Quantum browser. If you cannot trust your browser to keep you safe, who can you trust online?

Facebook Can Make Us Unhappy, Warns Facebook

posted Sunday Dec 17, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Facebook Can Make Us Unhappy, Warns Facebook

Anyone who spends any amount of time on Facebook can acknowledge that being there can significantly worsen your mood. In fact, these days, it seems nearly impossible to scroll through your feed without getting mad, either at your friends, family or the world in general.

This week, Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive came out and said that he had "tremendous guilt" about what he helped to create, which he claims is "destroying how society works." Considering what happened a year ago, and continues today, with constant feeds of misinformation, and how easy it is to perpetuate that information, it's hard not to agree. Palihapitiya added,

The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse. No cooperation. Misinformation. Mistruth. And it's not an American problem. This is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem. So we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion.

Facebook responded to the accusations, acknowledging that they are not entirely untrue. In fact, the company says that people who passively scroll through their feed, simply reading posts and headlines, are likely to walk away with a negative emotional state. On the other hand, people who actively participate in the process are likely to walk away feeling better.

In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information - reading but not interacting with people - they report feeling worse afterward. In one experiment, University of Michigan students randomly assigned to read Facebook for 10 minutes were in a worse mood at the end of the day than students assigned to post or talk to friends on Facebook.

On the other hand, actively interacting with people - especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions - is linked to improvements in well-being. This ability to connect with relatives, classmates, and colleagues is what drew many of us to Facebook in the first place, and it's no surprise that staying in touch with these friends and loved ones brings us joy and strengthens our sense of community.

Facebook has created a number of tools and programs to try and counteract this. You've likely noticed an increased number of messages at the top of your feed encouraging you to share past content that had encouraged interaction, as well as posting about engaging topics, such as holidays or the weather. They have also created Take a Break, which allows you to temporarily limit posts from an ex after a breakup. They also limited clickbait links, which never seem to encourage interaction, only disappointment.

Either Facebook is legitimately worried about the negative influence it is having on the world, or they know that they have to do something to put out a public image of interest. Either way, any work towards preventing a product from being a negative influence on our emotions, is a step in the right direction. Another good step might be to spend less time on Facebook.

PlayerUnknown Wants to Stop Battlegrounds Clones, But Should He?

posted Sunday Dec 17, 2017 by Scott Ertz

PlayerUnknown Wants to Stop Battlegrounds Clones, But Should He?

Any time a new game gains popularity, it is guaranteed that clones are not far behind. This is even more true when a game breaks into a new gameplay method. The creator of the massively popular Battle Royale game Battlegrounds, Brendan Greene, better known as PlayerUnknown, has learned this the hard way, as the number of clones of the title, also known as PubG, has been intense.

Speaking with BBC, Greene lamented the state of copyright law, which provides little to no protection for gameplay. He said,

There's no intellectual property protection in games. In movies and music there is IP protection and you can really look after your work. In gaming that doesn't exist yet, and it's something that should be looked into.

The problem with this belief is that it's not quite the reality of the law. PubG brought the Battle Royale genre to the mainstream, and other games came around behind it. Other games can't use the game's characters, worlds, music or other in-game elements, but can create other Battle Royale games. In films, Spider-Man created the modern superhero movie style, but other films, from Marvel, DC and others, have created films that follow a similar cinematic style, but no one else can create a superhero film with the characters, worlds, music, etc. Can you imagine if only one artist could perform hip-hop, or sing a love song? We'd have a total of 8 songs today.

In the gaming world, this scenario has existed for years. Take a look at the multiplayer online battle arena, or MOBA, genre. DotA started the genre with a map editing tool for Warcraft III, and subsequently released a sequel through Valve. Today, the game is still one of the top games in the genre, even with competition from League of Legends and Heroes of The Storm from Blizzard itself.

If it weren't for Blizzard's willingness to allow openness in their environment, the genre may have never existed. In fact, PlayerUnknown himself started out by modifying existing games. If a developer could lock out all competition to a game genre, we would not have some of the most popular modern gameplay styles, and definitely not some of the current favorites.

If a game is the best of the genre, it will certainly stand out against its competition. Take, for example, Battlegrounds, which was not the first game in its genre; it simply popularized it. Previously, titles like H1Z1 and ARC had entered the Battle Royale, leaving an opening for a better title. With competition for Battlegrounds, Greene has motivation to continue to make the game better, and make it stand out in a field. A good developer should not prevent competition, it should encourage it.

Apple Doubles-Down on Face Id in Future iPhones

posted Sunday Dec 17, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Apple Doubles-Down on Face Id in Future iPhones

Before the announcement of the iPhone 8 and iPhone X lines this year, there were some issues in production across Apple. A rumored Apple-branded wireless charging solution might have been canceled over charging distance. The Apple HomePod has been delayed until 2018, possibly sacrificed to the production gods. But the real issue was in the availability of the iPhone X at launch, caused in part by a single piece.

The Face Id sensor, which works nearly identically to the Microsoft Kinect, was not able to be produced at the rate Apple needed. It meant that people who ordered an iPhone X on initial pre-order day might not have received them until this week. This makes Apple's announcement this week even more important.

Apple has invested $390 million into Finisar, the company that produces VCSEL, the vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers that power the TrueDepth camera, which powers features like Face ID and animojis. The investment comes from the company's billion dollar Advanced Manufacturing Fund, created in May of this year, and is designed to help partner companies with new developments. Those developments are intended to enhance manufacturing in the US, rather than continuing to produce the majority of the components in China. This could be a response to the fact that the company has come under fire from manufacturing organizations, unions and even the President over this practice.

This investment will allow Finisar to refurbish a manufacturing plant in Sherman, Texas, which closed in 2012. The renewed 700,000-sqare-foot factory will provide 500 high-skill manufacturing jobs in the community, as well as improve the production capabilities of a company that Apple has placed a lot of their future reputation into. Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer, said of the investment,

VCSELs power some of the most sophisticated technology we've ever developed and we're thrilled to partner with Finisar over the next several years to push the boundaries of VCSEL technology and the applications they enable. Technology is only as good as the people behind it, and Finisar is a company with a long history of putting its employees first and supporting the community it's a part of. We're extremely proud that our involvement will help transform another American community into a manufacturing powerhouse.

Jerry S. Rawls, CEO of Finisar, added,

We're excited to continue our innovation with Apple of a technology that has tremendous potential. When you combine our proven ability to consistently manufacture exceptional products with our new state-of-the-art Sherman facility, we're confident we can achieve our shared goal of providing consumers with incredibly exciting features. Finisar has always been keenly aware it takes great people to power our work and that's why we're thrilled to be adding Sherman to our family.

This is a big opportunity for the area, with millions in new payroll entered into the community, and the entrance of a major tech company into the business environment. David Plyler, Mayor of Sherman, said of the investment,

Sherman is the perfect place for Finisar's significant investment in their operations and facilities and we couldn't be more grateful for their confidence. We're thrilled that Finisar and Apple will be a part of the Sherman business community. The City of Sherman has invested significantly in improved infrastructure and amenities, and that's translated into an unparalleled quality of life. The city has also adopted a pro-business culture, making Sherman the industry and commerce hub of North Texas.

Combined with the company's other facility in Allen, Texas, Finisar will have a payroll of $65 million in Texas and will produce all of the company's VCSELs.

Google Pulls YouTube Support from Amazon Products

posted Saturday Dec 9, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Google Pulls YouTube Support from Amazon Products

Just a few years ago, Google and Amazon overlapped in almost no markets, but that is no longer the case. Both companies offer cloud services, both offer storage options and both have game streaming services, but those are minor when compared to the more serious overlaps. When advertisers abandoned Google over YouTube issues, many publishers moved to Amazon for their targeted ads, and have not come back.

Cutting into Google's core business of advertising dealt a lot of damage to an already fragile relationship. In 2014, Amazon tried to integrate their app store into their Amazon app, which caused Google to remove the app entirely. Since then, a game of one-upsmanship has grown to a nearly absurd level. In recently weeks, however, the battle has spilled over into customer experience.

Amazon is conspicuously missing some popular products, such as Google Home and Chromecast devices. But now, the majority of Nest products have also disappeared, making Google one of the most obviously missing brands from the retailer. If a customer is like many online shoppers, they shop nearly exclusively on Amazon, meaning they might be entirely unaware of these products.

In addition to physical products, there are also media options missing. For example, Amazon Prime Video streaming cannot be used on Chromecast devices. In what appears to be retaliation, Google has announced that they will be removing YouTube from Amazon's products. The Amazon Echo Show will lose access this coming Tuesday, December 13, and FireTV devices will lose access on January 1.

Google claims that this move is a negotiating tactic, similar to how cable networks sometimes need to negotiate with providers: by pulling their content temporarily.

We've been trying to reach agreement with Amazon to give consumers access to each other's products and services. But Amazon doesn't carry Google products like Chromecast and Google Home, doesn't make Prime Video available for Google Cast users, and last month stopped selling some of Nest's latest products.

Given this lack of reciprocity, We are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and FireTV. We hope we can reach an agreement to resolve these issues soon.

Hopefully, this means that YouTube services will return to Amazon products in the near future. This is, however, one of the issues you encounter when purchasing first-party hardware: a lack of third-party, competitor services. You would never expect to see PlayStation Vue available on the Xbox One, or Microsoft Mixer on the PlayStation 4, and the same is likely in this case. Instead of purchasing a product that competes with a top-tier service provider, such as Chromecast or FireTV, the safer option is to choose a product like a Roku, which only aggregates services and does not try to compete with any of them.

As Bitcoin Value Skyrockets, Exchange NiceHash Gets Hijacked

posted Saturday Dec 9, 2017 by Scott Ertz

As Bitcoin Value Skyrockets, Exchange NiceHash Gets Hijacked

There is no doubt that 2017 will be remembered as the year cryptocurrency went mainstream. Bitcoin, and its siblings like Ethereum, have been around for a number of years, but this year made their names household names, especially in the last 60 days. The value of Bitcoin has skyrocketed over the past 60 days, starting at just under $5,000 per coin on October 11, and having a peak price of just short of $20,000 on exchange GDAX just this week.

With the growing popularity of Bitcoin, as well as the surging price, it was only a matter of time before a heist was run on one of the middle-tier exchanges. Going after a top-tier, like Coinbase, would be incredibly risky, as security is high, as is the chances of getting caught. A mid-tier, however, would have lesser security, and therefore a greater chance of success. That heist happened this week, as NiceHash lost an estimated 4,700 coin, valued at over $92 million at the peak price.

This is not the first heist of its kind, where a site has lost bitcoin thanks to the use of its own tools. It's important to note, however, that the timing is anything but coincidental. No data stored on the internet is ever truly secure, especially when the data involves money. As the value of that data increases, so does the chance of theft.

After the heist, the company shut down its service, leaving only a notice on its homepage. The notice apologizes for the service interruption, and that they "are stopping all operations for the next 24 hours." This message has been up, and therefore the service down, for several days, suggesting that whatever happened was large enough that they cannot get past it.

Following the hijack, other exchanges, including Coinbase, were unavailable, and the value of Bitcoin tumbled. For many who lost bitcoin as part of this heist, the loss could have been lessened if they had not maintained their inventory of Bitcoin on an exchange, but instead kept the coins in their offline wallet.

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