The UpStream

Steam Introduces Creater Homepage to Improve Discovery

posted Friday Jun 22, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Steam Introduces Creater Homepage to Improve Discovery

One thing all gamers con agree on is that finding new games on Steam is... challenging. Following a creator has been a majorly manual process, and almost entirely off of the platform. If a published put out a new game, or new content for an existing game, it was actually easier to learn that information on Facebook or Twitter, or relying on press releases published on other sites, that it was on Steam itself. Those days are a thing of the past.

Steam has officially released Steam Creator Homepages into beta, allowing gamers to easily learn new information about their favorite publishers. If you find a creator that you like, and want to see updates and new content from them, you can follow their page and know when something happens in the future. You can also use the feature to find other titles from a creator that you recently discovered that you like.

Take for example an indie developer. They might have published 2 games in their entire history, and you were introduced to their newest by a friend. You like the game so much that you are interested in finding out what else they have worked on. You can head to your search engine of choice and look for the website, which they hopefully have, and look for previous projects. You can search the posts on Facebook, hoping to find something. None of it is good, yet that is currently the best process.

This is where the Steam Creator pages come in, making it easier to find out more about these publishers. As of right now, not everyone has a page. Creators have to take advantage of the new feature by setting up their page before it will be available. If a creator has yet to create their page, you will still be taken to the standard search page that has always existed. In the future, Valve plans to bring more capabilities to the pages, but for now the Beta is way better than what has been available previously.

Law Enforcement "Crippled" by Supreme Court Protecting Privacy

posted Friday Jun 22, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Law Enforcement

A Supreme Court decision this week enforced a law that has been on the books since shortly after the creation of the United States: The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. For anyone unfamiliar, this Amendment prevents unreasonable searches and seizures. In other words, law enforcement cannot collect anything that belongs to you without a judge's permission, ala a warrant.

Over the past number of years, it was believed by law enforcement that the usage of technology essentially meant that the user had given up their legal rights. Obviously, this is a conversation that has been had in both public and private among most people in the country, usually spurred by issues like Facebook privacy issues. However, it never seems to be something that makes enough of an impact within the government, especially the Executive branch, to change the landscape.

The case that re-enforced the Constitution revolves around an instance in 2011 in which law enforcement collected hundreds of days worth of GPS data about a suspect in a robbery in Detroit. This data was collected and compiled without a judge's permission, bringing up privacy and Constitutional law questions, which is how it finally ended up in the highest court in the land. The case got to the Supreme Court after a previous decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that location data was not protected data.

The ruling, which came in as a 5-4 decision, is a landmark decision which makes location data protected. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote,

The government's position fails to contend with the seismic shifts in digital technology that made possible the tracking of not only Carpenter's location but also everyone else's, not for a short period but for years and years.

It's important to note that the headline is sarcastic, as law enforcement is not at all crippled by this decision. This is no different from needing a warrant to enter a building or taking a computer suspected of containing criminal data. It's definitely a win for the country that the government is recognizing that using technology does not mean that you are giving up your legal rights, especially in a time when the usage of technology is far from an option. Printed media is nearly dead, whether we like it or not, and if the act of wanting to learn, or just owning a phone means you have no legal rights, then the Constitution would have no meaning.

Don't Get Your X-Men Underoos Out Just Yet, Comcast Wants Fox

posted Saturday May 26, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Don't Get Your X-Men Underoos Out Just Yet, Comcast Wants Fox

At the end of 2017, Disney announced that they had entered into an agreement to purchase Twenty-First Century Fox. This announcement made Marvel fans rejoice, as it meant that brands like The Fantastic Four and X-Men would be coming back under the purview of Marvel itself, which Disney already owns. Currently, Disney cannot produce and feature films featuring any of these brands, meaning that these characters cannot appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Acquiring Fox would change all of that.

This week, Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, confirmed rumors that they were securing funding to make a competitive bid for the assets from Fox. Whereas Disney offered $52.4 Billion for the assets, Comcast is looking to offer $60 Billion, more than 10% more than Disney is offering. The company is currently preparing the offer to be presented at their upcoming shareholder meeting.

There are a number of scenarios that could happen at this point. First, Comcast's shareholders could decline the bid entirely. For a company under intense scrutiny right now, as the Senate begins the process of implementing Net Neutrality rules, getting a massive purchase of a large content provider through the government is unlikely. AT&T has seen this exact scenario with their attempted purchase of Time Warner. So, with that, even if the board approves, the FCC or FTC could still block the purchase.

Third, Fox could still decline the offer. Fox and Disney worked together to put together the offer, and Fox could be completely uninterested in working with another suitor. Fourth, it is unlikely that Disney will let a competing offer stand against theirs. Disney is not known for letting things go; once they have an idea in their heads, it is not common for them to let it go (despite the song). Even Fox takes the bait, Disney will fight to maintain the offer; they're not letting some of Marvel get away from them.

Facebook Sued Again, This Time for Illegal Data Collection

posted Saturday May 26, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Facebook Sued Again, This Time for Illegal Data Collection

Everyone has that friend who has their conspiracy theory that their phone is always listening to them. Some cite examples of having a conversation near their phones and immediately seeing ads for a product they mentioned during their conversation. Most of us have thought that this friend is just paranoid, but it turns out that might not be the case.

This week, a new filing in an outstanding lawsuit was submitted against Facebook claiming, among other things, that Facebook keeps an open connection to the phone's microphone and listens constantly. Additionally, the suit claims tat Facebook scans texts, listens to calls, tracks locations and watched use of competitive apps. All of these methods are used to further the company's advertising goals.

The information comes to the court care of information obtained from corporate emails and text messages, sent between executives of Facebook. The company claims that the accusations are false, and that the company does not access any of this information for any purposes. However, Facebook Lite, an app available for lower end Android devices, has a specific opt-in process for collecting this exact information on users. Facebook claims that, without opting in, they do not collect this information, and do not collect it on the standard app.

A Facebook representative responded to the claims, saying,

The allegations that they have outlined are meritless, and designed to detract from their complaint which asks the court to order Facebook to grant developer access to the users' friends' data, a capability that was eliminated in 2015. We have made it clear that we will fight this lawsuit and protect users' data.

The company did admit in March that they did collect call and text information with prior approval. This means that the app is capable of collecting this information, regardless of who they collect from.

Apple Drops Bomb, Kills Steam's Gaming on iPhone

posted Saturday May 26, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Apple Drops Bomb, Kills Steam's Gaming on iPhone

Valve has had a very interesting relationship with gaming. While the company absolutely owns the PC gaming market, they have had no luck in branching out beyond the PC. The most famous issue was, of course, the Steam Machines. The company had hoped that building a Steam-powered Linux computer for the living room, they could challenge the dominance of Xbox and PlayStation. The brand was officially retired this year.

The company's most recent solution has been to embrace the trend of videogame streaming. If you have a Steam game on your PC, you can stream it to a number of other devices over your home network. Recently, the company announced that the capability was coming to Android and iOS devices through Steam Link. This would be a huge new feature for Steam, finally being able to expand its gaming dominance beyond the PC directly.

While the Android app is live right now on Google Play, Apple pulled the app from the App Store after initially approving the app. According to Valve,

On Monday, May 7th, Apple approved the Steam Link app for release. On Weds, May 9th, Valve released news of the app. The following morning, Apple revoked its approval citing business conflicts with app guidelines that had allegedly not been realized by the original review team. Valve appealed, explaining the Steam Link app simply functions as a LAN-based remote desktop similar to numerous remote desktop applications already available on the App Store. Ultimately, that appeal was denied leaving the Steam Link app for iOS blocked from release.

Apple's claim of business conflicts was believed to be because Steam Link did not abide by the in-app policy of giving 30% of purchase revenue to Apple. That theory was debunked, however, as Steam Link disables the in-app purchase capability, leaving that feature exclusively for PC-based Steam interactions. There is no explicit explanation given for the decision, but it is likely because Apple is working on their own game streaming service.

This would not be the first time Apple has denied an app because it either provided duplicated feature sets or because it conflicted with a business model that the company itself was working on. Apple famously denied the Google Voice app, because it duplicated features (especially texting). Within days, Google CEO Eric Schmidt left Apple's Board of Directors. They also denied a dictionary app because it contained all of the words in the English language.

Hopefully, Apple will get enough pressure from customers that they reverse their decision, as they eventually did with Google Voice or Ninjawords. For now, though, you might need to get an Android device to be able to stream games on the go.

Couple's Private Conversation Recorded, Sent to Contact by Amazon

posted Friday May 25, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Couple's Private Conversation Recorded, Sent to Contact by Amazon

Since the introduction of smart speakers, watchdog groups have reiterated the dangers of these devices. The idea of having an always-on device listening at all times is equivalent to welcoming a spy device into your home. They have repeatedly warned that the recording of conversations held in the vicinity of these devices could fall into the wrong hands - either through the company or other malicious means.

This weeks, the warning from these organizations have been brought back to light, with a fascinating situation created by an Alexa-powered device. A couple from Oregon was called by an employee of the husband, saying that they should disable their Echo because he had received the recording of a conversation from their home, delivered by Amazon. The husband did not believe the story, until the employee mentioned that they had been discussing hardwood floors.

Following that, the couple, who had multiple Echo devices throughout their home, disconnected all of them. The couple contacted Amazon about the issue, who confirmed that it had happened by reviewing account logs. The engineer, however, did not explain what had caused the bizarre and incredibly inappropriate behavior. The couple then began spreading the story, including speaking to a local news station, KIRO 7.

After becoming public, Amazon responded publicly to the incident. The company, in their FAQs, explains how Alexa works generally with her wake keyword.

Amazon Echo, Echo Plus, and Echo Dot use on-device keyword spotting to detect the wake word. When these devices detect the wake word, they stream audio to the Cloud, including a fraction of a second of audio before the wake word.

With that information in mind, Amazon explained,

Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like "Alexa." Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a "send message" request. At which point, Alexa said out loud "To whom?" At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer's contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, "[contact name" class="UpStreamLink">, right?" Alexa then interpreted background conversation as "right." As unlike as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.

Obviously, Alexa's trigger process was, in this case, far too easy to spoof (assuming the stated process is accurate). Amazon has agreed to look into the issue and work to make the trigger less likely to be triggered accidentally in the future. The best way to limit the behavior is to allow users to turn off the method (as well as others) easily.

This will not be the last time we hear about an issue like this. These types of services are a growing market, with smart speakers featuring Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, Siri and more are on sale everywhere, even your local drug store. Smart appliances, including refrigerators, ovens, thermostats and more all feature these smart capabilities. As these products grow, it is important for the companies behind them to be more open about their policies and more careful with what can be done with their platforms.

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