The UpStream

FBI Sued by Media Outlets Over iPhone Hacking Process

posted Sunday Sep 18, 2016 by Scott Ertz

FBI Sued by Media Outlets Over iPhone Hacking Process

In March of this year, an FBI employee made a mistake while interacting with the iPhone of San Bernardino attacker Syed Farook Rizwan. It locked the device, requiring a long delay between PIN attempts to open the device in an attempt to retrieve important information. The FBI asked Apple to help them unlock the device, but the company refused. A case was scheduled to attempt to force the company to comply, but before it happened, the FBI dropped the case.

In April, FBI Director James Comey spoke at a conference in London at which he made a comment which suggested why they changed directions. Rather than waiting for Apple to refuse a court order, the FBI decided to employ a software firm to exploit a zero-day to unlock the device. The FBI allegedly paid $1.3 million for this exploit, which Comey described as "worth it." Avoiding the time and hassle of Apple for $1.3 million seems less than what it would have cost to fight.

This week, a new suit was filed relating to the situation, and it comes from a surprising place: The Associated Press, USA Today and Vice Media. This small coalition of media companies wants the details on the deal that led to the unlocking of the iPhone. All three companies have requested the information separately under the Freedom of Information Act, which primarily consists of contractual details, including finances. These requests have been denied.

The complaint states,

Information about the FBI's contracting arrangement would also ensure transparency about the expenditure of public funds. Understanding the amount that the FBI deemed appropriate to spend on the tool, as well as the identity and reputation of the vendor it did business with, is essential for the public to provide effective oversight of government functions and help guard against potential improprieties. Further, the public is entitled to know the nature of the vendors the Government finds it necessary to deal with in cases of access to private information, including whether or not the FBI feels compelled to contract with groups of hackers with suspect reputations, because it will inform the public debate over whether the current legislative apparatus is sufficient to meet the Government's need for such information.

Another interesting clash is getting started, between a side that says it is protecting government overreach and a side that will likely argue this type of information could make difficulties for future negotiations, as well as cause problems for the firm that provided the exploit information.

After Public Outcry, YouTube Claims It Isn't Demonitizing Additional Videos

posted Sunday Sep 4, 2016 by Scott Ertz

After Public Outcry, YouTube Claims It Isn't Demonitizing Additional Videos

Early in the week, a video showed up in my Facebook feed from a couple of different sources. The video was from popular YouTube news commentator Philip DeFranco. In it, he talked about an issue he had recently discovered on YouTube: he received an email saying that a few of his videos had been removed from monetization because they were not advertiser-friendly. The first video he investigated had no inappropriate language, tags or content. The only thing that could have been in question was the actual topic of the video, which was the news.

As the week went on, other YouTube personalities began receiving similar emails with similarly vague explanations. Beauty and Lifestyle personality Melanie Murphy received one of these emails over a few videos, including one of her most successful: a video about acne. She said of her video,

There is no bad language in these videos, nothing inappropriate in the tags, so I'm left with the assumption that the fact that acne is visible in the thumbnails... is off-putting to potential advertisers. If that's the case, it's very upsetting.

If you watch any 30 minutes of television on any network, you will likely see several advertisements for health and beauty products, including acne treatments. Clearly that cannot be the problem here - how could advertisers be offended by such a highly marketable video? So, what is actually going on here?

Google has responded to the issue, which prompted the hashtag #YoutubeIsOverParty, saying that they have not changed any policies other than their notification policy. In the past, apparently, they were turning off monetization without even informing the channel owners. This did not sit well with many creators, with DeFranco saying,

So before you were just turning off ads and not emailing us?

It will be interesting to see what the results of some of these channels appeals look like. Will they get their ad revenue back, or will Google ignore their concerns, as it appears they have done initially? Will this actually be the beginning of the end for YouTube as the home for original content? Who can step in to fill that gap? My prediction is, this is the push Facebook needs to make their video delivery platform better, and find a way to share monetization with creators.

AT&T Takes Opportunity to Explain Why Google Fiber Isn't Working

posted Sunday Sep 4, 2016 by Scott Ertz

AT&T Takes Opportunity to Explain Why Google Fiber Isn't Working

Last week it was revealed that Google Fiber might be scaling down, both in number of new cities and in staff size. It is not a surprising move for a brand that has never managed to gain marketshare even close to what they had predicted. This lack of customer acceptance would, naturally, have led to financial troubles for the brand.

While parent company Alphabet might be concerned about how to handle the news, AT&T seems to be enjoying what they are hearing. AT&T and other telecom companies have said for years that building out a market, especially into the far reaches of a market, is difficult and expensive. Consumers have complained that other countries have internet speeds above that in the US, and carriers have always responded by saying that smaller, denser countries are easier to roll out major upgrades.

AT&T VP of Federal Regulatory Joan Marsh, who oversees many of the stumbling blocks that make these build-outs so difficult and expensive, wrote a blog post in which she explains why Google has not succeeded the way they thought they would. In it, she talks about Google's misunderstanding of how pole access works, the intricacies of interacting with local governments and the challenges of getting permits block-to-block.

Google Fiber will no doubt continue its broadband experiments, while coming up with excuses for its shortcomings and learning curves. It will also no doubt continue to seek favoritism from government at every level. Just last week Google Fiber threatened the Nashville City Council that it would stop its fiber build if an ordinance Google Fiber drafted wasn't passed. Instead of playing by the same rules as everyone else building infrastructure, Google Fiber demands special treatment and indeed in some places is getting it, unfairly.

Google Fiber still complains it's too hard... and costs too much... and takes too long... even as it's reported that Google Fiber will now try to do all this with half its current workforce. Meanwhile, without excuses or finger-pointing, and without presenting ultimatums to cities in exchange for service, AT&T continues to deploy fiber and to connect our customers to broadband services in communities across the country. Welcome to the broadband network business, Google Fiber. We'll be watching your next move from our rear view mirror. Oh, and pardon our dust.

It will be interesting to see how Google Fiber decides to proceed. Will they rely on their Webpass acquisition to avoid poles and city ordinances? Will they finish the cities they are currently working on and abandon the project? Obviously, only time will tell, but I suspect, like Marsh, that they will continue their experiment with the same zeal and confusion with which they started. Marsh's view of that future looks like this,

Google Fiber discovers that wireless networks are expensive to build as well and learns that microwave broadband may work well in dense urban areas, particularly where supported by higher cost commercial services, but offers tougher economics when trying to serve residential customers.

Nintendo NX to Return to Roots, Run on Cartridges [Report]

posted Sunday Sep 4, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo NX to Return to Roots, Run on Cartridges [Report]

Little is known about Nintendo's next hardware project: NX. The company has been surprisingly tight lipped on the topic, something that is unusual for them. Traditionally, Nintendo has been more than willing to discuss hardware specs, features and plans up to a year from launch. This time, though, all we know for sure is that the NX will release in March 2017.

That does not mean that we have zero information; it's just everything is based on rumor and conjecture. This week's addition to the rumor pile comes from a reputable source: The Wall Street Journal. In their report, they add some legitimacy to the rumor that Nintendo will return to a cartridge-based game system. While this might sound insane initially, there could be some good reasons for this decision.

Obviously, the first reason Nintendo might consider this is it is their heritage. When we think of cartridge systems, most people immediately think of the NES. It would be fun to see a retro-style Nintendo system that plays modern games. But there are technological reasons for this decision, as well. Flash media prices have decreased significantly over the past few years. Today, you can go to Amazon and buy a brand-name huge microSD card for almost nothing, and that is retail prices. Nintendo, purchasing flash memory wholesale, could get it far cheaper.

In addition to unit price, the process of producing the games on flash is cheaper and easier than discs. Plus, with a cartridge system, it is far harder to bootleg a game. With a disc, duplicating a burn is fairly easy. With a cartridge, you have to have the hardware to read the image, duplicate the memory and then build it into a matching cartridge, which Nintendo will not make publicly available, unlike CD, DVD and Blu-Ray.

For Nintendo, this seems to be a slam dunk for price, ease and intellectual property protection. For consumers, it would give a fun, retro feel to a modern Nintendo console to return to its roots.

Google's Lofty and Unlikely Project Ara has Been Canceled

posted Sunday Sep 4, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Google's Lofty and Unlikely Project Ara has Been Canceled

When Google began work on Project Ara in 2013, the idea seemed like the kind that people would get excited about for a while, but would never make it to market, at least not in the form Google promised. The idea was that Ara would be an entirely customizable phone. You'd be able to replace any independent component, from the camera and screen to the RAM and processor. The purpose, of course, would be to allow for incredibly niche-style phones without the need to manufacture a small number, making the devices less expensive.

Unfortunately, Google has never been able to deliver on any of their promises with Ara. A prototype of the platform, "Spiral 2," was shown off in January of last year, with planned market testing in Puerto Rico later in the year. That market test never materialized, because it turned out that the device was a lot harder to build than they expected. Between issues with component communication and, more importantly, issues keeping the components magnetically connected, the release was delayed, with no new date.

At Google I/O 2016, the company showed off another prototype, dubbed "Developer Edition." This version was not quite the same, with the screen, processor, memory and more built-in to the base plate and no longer replaceable. It was promised that, later in the year, the prototype would be released to developers to begin the process of building modules for the platform, as well as building software specifically for Ara devices and modules. Unfortunately, this promise will go the same way as the last - never coming to pass.

Google has shelved Project Ara, effective immediately. The Developer Edition will not be released, and the consumer market will not see a version in 2017. The concept, however, lives on. In part, the concept still exists in the Moto Z family, the LG G5 and the HP Elite x3. All 3 of these devices offer a proprietary extensibility system, which allows additional components to be added - but only one at a time. For example, the consumer-focused Moto Z offers a Hasselblad camera, and the HP Elite x3 offers a dedicated barcode reader.

While it is a shame that the Ara project never came to fruition, there is some good news. Google is open to the idea of another company picking up the torch and licensing the Ara technology for a future release. Phone manufacturer Yezz had an existing relationship with the project, and is known for dabbling in untested technologies, which could lead to them releasing a phone in this category eventually, but that is pure speculation. For the time being, though, we will have to settle for one component at a time.

Spotify Might be Punishing Competitor Exclusives, Company Denies Accusation

posted Sunday Aug 28, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Spotify Might be Punishing Competitor Exclusives, Company Denies Accusation

Spotify has been one of the largest and longest players in the streaming music service. They brought the idea of controlled streaming to the United States market, inspiring brands like Groove Music and Beats Music. While Spotify may not be the most successful of the brands, it is certainly one of the louder ones. Representatives have said multiple times that album exclusives are bad for everyone, but mostly for consumers. Being a fan of an artist should not be punished for not subscribing to a particular service.

On the other hand, Apple has a very different take on the concept. Apple Music, formerly Beats Music, has begun the process of creating exclusive contracts with artists and labels for new music. These exclusives are good for Apple Music customers, but being as Apple Music is not the market leader, it is not good for most users.

According to a report by Bloomberg, Spotify might be advocating for customers in a way that is unusual: by punishing artists. According to unnamed sources, Spotify has been decreasing the search rank of artists who have signed exclusives with other services. What this means for users is that, when searching on Spotify, less relevant search results could appear before results for artists like Drake. In addition to search, the report also accuses Spotify of preventing previously exclusive tracks from being features in playlists once their music is available on Spotify.

Spotify has been clear and direct in their response to these accusations. A representative for the company said the accusations are "unequivocally false." That is a far cry from the usual response of "we don't comment on the inner workings of the company" that most representatives give when an accusation comes close to the truth, or is not worth dignifying with an answer.

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