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Scott Ertz Piracy is on the rise thanks in large part to streaming services
(2022-05-09)
In the early days of streaming media services, the amount of pirated media dropped significantly. The relatively low cost of Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and Xbox Music was low enough to make the process of piracy more trouble than it was worth. You had a single music streaming service (for most it was Spotify or Hulu), and possibly both streaming video services. All in, you might be paying $30 per month and you had everything you could ever want. But, as the streaming landscape has fragmented, piracy is on the rise and no one except the streaming services is surprised.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Back when streaming was easy[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Some of our younger readers may not know that Netflix used to send you DVDs in the mail. But, when Netflix launched its streaming service, nearly every content provider wanted to talk with them about making content available. Sure, it wasn't always the latest and greatest, but that's because broadcast rights were already in place with Turner, HBO, etc. But, media owners took a strong notice of Netflix as more and more people signed up for the service. In fact, seemingly everyone was subscribed - the fairly low cost versus ease of content acquisition made it an easy decision.

Then came Hulu. The streaming service was started as a joint venture between ABC, Fox, and NBC. Hulu separated itself from Netflix by focusing on TV shows, while Netflix focused on movies. You could choose between the services if you wanted or you could sign up for both and get the best of both worlds. In fact, it drove many people to drop their cable subscriptions because Netflix and Hulu together were far less expensive than a standard cable subscription.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">When streaming became challenging[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
The success of Netflix and Hulu, however, drove copycats. Today, it seems like everyone has their own streaming service. Before the merger with Discovery, WarnerMedia had several paid services just for itself. But, with competition comes challenges. Netflix and Hulu, plus HBO Max, Paramount+, Disney+, Peacock, and Prime Video make for a lot of costs. But, you can't just choose one because shows and movies are scattered across the services like paint. If you're a fan of The Office, you need Peacock. But, if you want to see Jim in A Quiet Place, you'll need to add Paramount+.

Services have fostered this idea, too. Each service has exclusively licensed content, plus they all make original content in hopes of attracting new customers. But, the end result is subscription fatigue, with users simply deciding toforego some or all of the services. But, you still want to see the next season of Stranger Things, so what is a streamer to do?

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">The re-emergence of piracy[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
According to the Sandvine Global Internet Phenomena Report for January 2022, BitTorrent is one of the top 7 platforms to see increases in power users for fixed network data, and the 9th biggest user for overall traffic. It also ranks #1 for upstream traffic - beating out even HTTP (meaning all web traffic).

This is a change from just a few years ago, when BitTorrent had stalled out and even shrunk in network usage. The increase has a lot to do with the fragmentation of media resources and the availability, and therefore cost, of streaming content legally. For many items, depending on how they are shared and their availability on the network, you can actually stream movies through BitTorrent nearly as easily as you do on Netflix.

In total traffic, Netflix is significantly higher for overall traffic. However, on mobile, BitTorrent is #5 and Netflix doesn't make an appearance in the top 15. That's an important note, as more traffic is moving towards mobile devices. In fact, we've seen a decrease in personal computer ownership. This shows a large percentage of the growing mobile category is going to wards BitTorrent.

It's important to note that BitTorrent traffic is not always illicit. Movies, TV shows, web content, and even software updates are handled through the BitTorrent protocol. However, this increase is unlikely to be caused by software updates so much as media usage.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">What is the solution?[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Swapping to piracy is not a good solution to the problem, though we understand the move. Illegal activity is never a solution to a problem. However, the industry does seem to be the cause of the issue. There is no good way to address the issue, as every media company wants to have its own service. As subscription growth slows, or companies end up with subscriber loss, they will need to address the issue themselves. Either lowering costs or merging offerings (as Warner Bros. Discovery is planning to do with HBO Max, Discovery+, CNN+, and more), may be the only way to ease the tides. Only time will tell if they recognize and respond to the problem correctly.
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Scott Ertz Big Tech has a plan to finally end passwords once and for all
(2022-05-09)
Passwords are terrible, I think we can all agree. Every site has its own rules for what does and does not constitute a valid password, making it nearly impossible to create something that works regularly. Then, some sites require that you change your password regularly, ensuring that you'll never remember your password. Some of us write it down somewhere, but that creates a new mess - is it the current one? What is this password even for? You can use a password manager, but there's got to be a better way. Apple, Google, and Microsoft believe they have that better way.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">What's coming[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
This week, Apple, Google, and Microsoft all announced that they will formally support a password-less future powered by the standard created and managed by the FIDO Alliance (Fast IDentity Online). This standard allows for locking services and devices behind a fingerprint, facial print, or PIN. The capabilities are not new for the companies, but working together through this standard means interoperability of services, and ease of implementation for developers.

The FIDO standard will allow users to sign in to a service on one device using the face or fingerprint capabilities built into another device. So, imagine that you're sitting at your Windows 11 laptop that has no fingerprint reader or facial recognition capable webcam. You're trying to sign in to eBay on the laptop using Google Chrome and the service asks you to authenticate. Rather than entering an email address and password, you grab your Apple iPhone and authenticate yourself via Face ID. Once you do, your laptop signs into eBay in Chrome. This is what we can expect once the standard is implemented across the ecosystems.

For enterprises and businesses, this change will reduce most if not all phishing attempts, as the attacker will not be able to track the victim's keystrokes or steal a password. Organizations of various sizes have been plagued by these types of attacks for years, with the growth rate going nuts over the past few years.

For individuals, this move will make life a lot easier. So many consumers have services that they do not know the password for. The service stays signed in for months at a time, but when something changes, such as an app update, it requires you to sign back in. Then you have to figure out the password rules for the service and likely reset the password at the end. Being able to bypass all of that with a password-less option will make life far easier for everyone.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">The current offerings[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Of course, this is not a new set of features for any of the companies to support. The big difference is that currently everything is built into a single ecosystem, and usually only on-device. Yes, you can use your Apple Watch to authenticate into your iPhone, but that's a very different situation.

[subheading" class="UpStreamLink">Apple[/subheading" class="UpStreamLink">
Apple offered Touch ID on devices dating back years and switched to Face ID when the Home Button was retired with the iPhone X. Developers had access to both of these features, allowing banks and more to lock their apps behind a non-password lock. But, if you switched devices or platforms, you had to start over.

[subheading" class="UpStreamLink">Google[/subheading" class="UpStreamLink">
Google has offered a similar feature on Android. You can use facial or fingerprint identification to unlock your phone, use Google Pay, or sign in to your bank. But, like Apple, once you change devices or platforms, you're back at square one.

[subheading" class="UpStreamLink">Microsoft[/subheading" class="UpStreamLink">
Windows Hello has been offered on Windows for years, but not all hardware supports it. Your laptop's webcam might not support facial identification, and your device likely doesn't have a fingerprint scanner (most do not). You can add external capabilities through hardware like a Yubikey, but that means another piece of hardware and another thing to go wrong. Plus, you must set it up on each device you own individually.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">The response[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Some have responded negatively to this change. Part of the response has been because they don't understand the way the system works. Fortunately, this is similar to how much of the password-based systems already work, but with a geographical fencing system added on top. And it means that you're not going to be forgetting password.

In addition, some are responding negatively because change is scary. We've all been there, of course. Rearranging the living room can cause emotional responses. Moving to a new city can cause anxiety. But, in the end, it can be a big positive change - not everything is life is bad.

In reality, this has a lot of potential to make everything more secure AND more convenient. It's unusual that new technology brings us both of those things, and this one can do it.
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Scott Ertz Microsoft and Epic bring Fortnite back to iOS against Apple's wishes
(2022-05-07)
Microsoft and Epic bring Fortnite back to iOS against Apple's wishes One of the biggest topics in the tech industry over the past year or so has been the battle between Epic Games and Apple. Epic Games added the company's internal payment service to Fortnite and Apple lost its collective mind. The company banned the game from iOS and revoked the company's developer key, meaning that not only Fortnite, but all Apple-based development was dead, including Unreal Engine. But now, with the help of Microsoft, Fortnite is back on iOS devices.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">The backstory[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Epic Games has long disagreed with the rules of the mobile app stores - particularly the forced integration of their payment systems. For example, Apple takes 30% of the cost of anything purchased in-app. But, if you are a studio like Epic Games whose titles are available across various platforms, you've already got your own payment processor, for which you pay a lot less than 30%. This is why Epic took the step to introduce its own payment processor into the iOS and Android versions of Fortnite. To add insult to injury, they offered a discount for using their system.

Apple pulled the game and the company's developer key, which nearly immediately resulted in a lawsuit from Epic. The suit, which exists within the United States and European Union, has been filed with wild revelations, unexpected participants, and surprising defeats. Epic has contested the result but has also been looking for a way to get around the rules.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">The workaround[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
This week, Microsoft and Epic Games announced that Fortnite has come to the Xbox Cloud Gaming. The move brings the game back to iOS devices through Microsoft's popular game streaming service. Bringing the game to streaming through the browser means that Epic Games and gamers are now able to get around the Apple rules and around the block from the company. To keep the ban in place, Apple would need to also ban browsers from their devices, which seems like an overreaction.

For gamers who want to get back into the mobile Fortnite experience (or play on a computer without needing to install the game), you'll only need a browser on your device and internet access. Head to the Fortnite game on Xbox Cloud Gaming, sign in with your Microsoft account, and you're ready to play. You can interact with the game via touch or controller, making it a good experience for all gamers.

This represents the first time that Microsoft has made a game freely available on Xbox Cloud Gaming. Normally, to play a streaming game through the service, you need to be a subscriber to Game Pass Ultimate, which costs $15 per month. However, Epic Games has said that Fortnite will remain free on the service, which means that it is a perfect replacement for the previous offering, plus a great way to annoy Apple.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Next steps[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
The big question that this moves raises is, could this be a viable business option for Microsoft and Google (whose Stadia service is on life support) to offer to publishers for games that want to avoid iOS and Android's policies? It would seem unlikely that Google would do something to so directly undermine themselves, but this could be a big deal for Microsoft and Xbox Cloud Streaming. In fact, there's no real reason to limit the feature to just games - they could make it so you could stream the Amazon app to your phone so you can still purchase digital assets.

The other possibility is that this will reawaken the web as a place for business and entertainment instead of directly installed apps. Many companies already offer Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), which can be installed on your iOS, Android, and Windows devices. Being able to stream games really does make the web a solid place once again.
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Scott Ertz $36 million in Juno crypto lost forever thanks to copy-paste error
(2022-05-07)
For many, there is a lot of fear surrounding cryptocurrency. Is it safe? Is it a good investment? What even is it? There are definitely a lot of scams out there, including in dating, but it's not the only way to lose your money in the crypto space. The team from the Juno cryptocurrency learned this the hard way this week when they accidentally sent a bunch of currency to no one.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">The backstory[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
Earlier this year, a single user acquired a ton of Juno tokens through a "stakedrop." However, the community claims that the user, who turned out to be 24-year-old Japanese national Takumi Asano, gamed the system in order to acquire more tokens than he was allowed to during the process. Asano claims that he did nothing wrong and that the tokens were acquired by him for a consortium of investors.

In March, a straw poll of sorts was conducted amongst the Juno community. As it turned out, the community wanted to take the tokens away from Asano. However, despite the majority opinion, a controversy arose over whether it should happen or not. Acquiring for investors makes him an exchange, according to the community, and makes him ineligible for the drop. Finally, another official vote was conducted, and the decision was made to take the tokens away from Asano.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">The mistake[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
The drama led to attacks on the system, including a collapse of the blockchain for several days. The price of the currency dropped by over 60%. But the biggest problem to arise out of the situation came just recently when the organization overseeing the currency enforced the community's decision.

A developer on the team was given several pieces of information in order to begin the draw from Asano's wallet: Asano's wallet address, the wallet address to transfer to, and a hash value. The wallet address, for those who are not actively involved in cryptocurrency, is essentially your bank account number on your checks. It's how transactions are targeted at the correct place. The hash value is used to verify that a transaction is valid. Unfortunately, both of these values look similar and therein lies the problem.

The developer who was initiating the transaction copied and pasted the wallet addresses into the system. Except, he didn't. Instead, the destination wallet address was actually set up as the transaction hash rather than the wallet address for the wallet. So, when the transaction was executed, 3 million Juno tokens were transferred from Asano's wallet to absolutely nowhere because the hash value is not a wallet address. The end result is that this currency is always and forever lost to the insatiable gods of chaos.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">The real issues[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
The first issue here, of course, is the ease with which so much currency was thrown into the incinerator. The ecosystem has a system for verifying transactions via a proof of stake process. Unfortunately, not a single verifier tried to invalidate the transaction for being nonsense. This highlights the holes in the "bulletproof" argument that cryptocurrency and blockchain advocates use. Obviously, the system, in this case, is far from bulletproof.

If you tried to send money from your bank to an invalid bank account, the transaction would fail. The money wouldn't be transferred into the ether never to be heard from again. If that happened, you can be sure that governments would be looking into Bank of America and Chase tomorrow. With crypto, however, this issue is likely to go completely ignored by everyone - except possibly the development team and Takumi Asano.

The other issue this brings up is the non-decentralized nature of the currency. Sure, we can say that cryptocurrency runs on blockchain which decentralizes data. However, in this case, the decentralized platform was still able to take tokens away from a user's wallet without the user's permission. That's far less decentralized than we are regularly told.
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Scott Ertz Activision shareholders approve Microsoft sale, regulators are next
(2022-05-06)
Activision shareholders approve Microsoft sale, regulators are next Activision took this week to drop a couple of big pieces of information about the company's future. Most importantly, we learned about the fate of the company's acquisition with Microsoft.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">Microsoft clears next hurdle[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
In January, Microsoft and Activision announced they had entered into an agreement for Activision to join the Microsoft Gaming family. This would bring big franchises like Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo, Call of Duty, and Overwatch into the Microsoft collection of first-party titles. But, the announcement was just the first step of many before the actual transition can happen. Two important and fairly high hurdles still stood in the way: a shareholder vote and regulatory approval.

This week, Activision announced that its shareholders had overwhelmingly approved the transaction. In fact, over 98% of the shareholders voted in favor of selling the company to Microsoft. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick said,

Today's overwhelmingly supportive vote by our stockholders confirms our shared belief that, combined with Microsoft, we will be even better positioned to create great value for our players, even greater opportunities for our employees, and to continue our focus on becoming an inspiring example of a welcoming, respectful, and inclusive workplace.

For stockholders, this is not a major surprise. The value of the stock at the time of the announcement was around $76 per share, while the sale to Microsoft will bring $95 per share. This represents a large increase in value, especially as the stock price has been on a fairly steady decline since the surge following the announcement. At closing on January 14, the last day before the announcement, the stock was trading at $65.39. On January 18, the price surged to $82.31. The price has leveled out right in the middle of those two.

[heading" class="UpStreamLink">What's next?[/heading" class="UpStreamLink">
The next step for Microsoft and Activision is to get through the regulatory approval process. This could be a complicated process and is what is keeping the stock price low. The companies will face an environment in which the "consolidation of market power" is considered a problem as studios join publishers and console companies. However, if they can get past the issue, it will be smooth sailing for the companies.
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