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Why Free Services From Telecoms Can Be a Problem On the Internet 89

HughPickens.com writes: T-Mobile said last week that it would let customers watch as many movies as they wanted on services like Netflix and HBO as well as all other kinds of video, without having it count against their monthly data plans. But the NYT editorializes that there are real concerns about whether such promotions could give telecommunications companies the ability to influence what services people use on the Internet, benefiting some businesses and hurting others. Earlier this year, the FCC adopted net neutrality rules to make sure that companies like T-Mobile, Verizon and Comcast did not seek to push users toward some types of Internet services or content — like video — and not others. The rules, which telecom companies are trying to overturn in court, forbid phone and cable companies to accept money from Internet businesses like Amazon to deliver their videos to customers ahead of data from other companies. The rules, however, do not explicitly prevent telecom companies from coming up with "zero rating" plans like the one T-Mobile announced that use them treat, or rate, some content as free.

"Everybody likes free stuff, but the problem with such plans is that they allow phone and cable companies to steer their users to certain types of content. As a result, customers are less likely to visit websites that are not part of the free package." T-Mobile has said that its zero-rating plan, called Binge On, is good for consumers and for Internet businesses because it does not charge companies to be part of its free service. "Binge On is certainly better than plans in which websites pay telecom companies to be included," concludes The Times. "But it is not yet clear whether these free plans will inappropriately distort how consumers use the Internet."
Christmas Cheer

'Twas the Week Before the Week of Black Friday 145

theodp writes: It's almost time for America's answer to the Running of the Bulls (YouTube), kids. So, if you're dreaming of a cheap tech Christmas, it's time to peruse the 2015 Black Friday ads and make your game plan. Get lucky at Best Buy this year, and you could score a $299.99 Dell 15.6" touchscreen laptop (i3, 8GB memory, 1 TB HD), a $399.99 Microsoft 10.8" Surface 3 (Atom x7, 2GB memory, 64GB storage), $899.99 MacBook Pro 13.3" laptop (i5, 4GB memory, 500MB HD), $99 Acer 11.6" Chromebook (Celeron, 2GB memory, 16GB storage), or, for those on a tight budget, a $34.99 7" Amazon Fire tablet. Fight the crowds at Walmart, and you could snag a $199 HP 15.6" laptop (Celeron, 4GB memory, 500GB drive) or $199 iPad mini 2. And for stay-at-home shoppers, Dell's Windows 10 price-breakers include a $149.99 14" laptop (Celeron, 2GB memory, 32GB storage) and a $229 15.6" laptop (i3, 4GB memory, 500MB HD). So, in your experience, has Black Friday been like a claw machine — suckering you with big prizes, but never delivering — or have you actually walked away with a great deal?

Beats Music To Shut Down November 30 (fortune.com) 61

UnknowingFool writes: After November 30, Beats Music subscriptions will be cancelled and no longer work, according to Apple. Subscribers can use Apple Music, which has many of the same features. This shutdown was not unexpected when Apple purchased Beats last year for $3 billion, as Apple has a history of buying companies for various reasons other the products. Many former companies have been absorbed into Apple in one form or another in this manner: the technology of Fingerworks peripherals was the start of multi-touch for iPhones; PA Semi and Intrinsity personnel were the core of Apple's internal chip design teams; and AuthenTec made biometric technology that became the backbone of Touch ID.

Star Trek: Renegades Working On Episodes 2 and 3 (kickstarter.com) 35

JoSch1337 writes: The last time Star Trek: Renegades was on Slashdot was in 2013. It's an independent, canon-faithful Trek series with high production values and some of the actors from the TV shows. Since their original campaign, the team has produced an amazing pilot episode 1 and is now gathering support to produce episode 2, and even episode 3 if they reach their stretch goal. From the Kickstarter page: "Star Trek Renegades is an independent, fan-funded and supported Internet television series, executive produced by Sky Conway. Renegades features a combination of familiar Star Trek character and actors, plus a collection of hot, new rising actors. Set a decade after Voyager's return from Delta Quadrant, ST: Renegades focuses on a team of fugitives, who are on the run from the Federation while secretly working for the head of Starfleet intelligence, Admiral Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Tuvok (Tim Russ, who also directs) to root out internal corruption within the Federation as well as external threats."

Hour of Code 2015 Star Wars Tutorial: Spare the IF Statement, Spoil the Child? 156

theodp writes: Teaching U.S. K-12 kids their programming fundamentals in past Hours of Code were an IF-fy Bill Gates and a LOOP-y Mark Zuckerberg. Interestingly, the new signature tutorial — Star Wars: Building a Galaxy with Code — created by Lucasfilm and Code.org ("in a locked room with no windows") for this December's Hour of Code, eschews both IF statements and loops. The new learn-to-code tutorial instead elects to show students "events" after they've gone through the usual move-up-down-left-right drills. With the NY Times and National Center for Women & Information Technology recently warning against putting Star Wars in the CS classroom ("Attracting more female high school students to computer science classes might be as easy as tossing out the Star Wars posters," claimed an Aug. 29th NCWIT Facebook post), the theme of the new tutorial seems an odd choice for Code.org, whose stated mission includes "increasing [CS] participation by women." But if Star Wars is, as some suggest, more aimed at boys, perhaps Code.org has something up its sleeve for girls (a la last year's Disney Princesses) with another as yet unannounced signature tutorial that it teased would be "just as HUGE" as the Star Wars one. Any guesses on what that might be?

MST3K Is Kickstarting Back To Life 83

New submitter kevin lyda writes: The creator of MST3K wants to bring it back. Anywhere from just three episodes up to a full season. Joel is also including options to make it DRM-free. Wired reports: "Hodgson officially launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund new episodes of the series. The initial goal of $2 million would fund only three episodes, but if the campaign does well enough, the project could make as many as 12 episodes (that maximum order would require $5.5 million). The rewards run the gamut from the typical t-shirt all the way up to fans contributing riffs to the episodes or hosting live installments of the show. But the real fun begins if MST3K finds an angel investor willing to splash some serious cash: 'Finally, if we raise $1 BILLION—stay with me on this one—we’re going to adopt a real live teenage boy and "Truman Show" him into believing he is the Pumaman!'"

TV Networks Cutting Back On Commercials (bloomberg.com) 242

An anonymous reader writes: Cable providers aren't the only ones feeling pressure from cord cutters. The TV networks themselves are losing viewers the same way. A lot of those viewers are going to Netflix and other streaming services, which are often ad-free, or have ad-free options. Now, in an effort to win back that audience (and hang on to the ones who are still around), networks are beginning to cut back on commercial time during their shows. "Time Warner's truTV will cut its ad load in half for prime-time original shows starting late next year, Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bewkes said last week on an earnings call. Viacom has recently slashed commercial minutes at its networks, which include Comedy Central and MTV. Earlier this month, Fox said it will offer viewers of its shows on Hulu the option to watch a 30-second interactive ad instead of a typical 2 1/2-minute commercial break. Fox says the shorter ads, which require viewers to engage with them online, are more effective because they guarantee the audience's full attention."

Viewing Data Harvested From Smart TVs Used To Push Ads To Other Screens? (securityledger.com) 148

chicksdaddy writes: In the latest episode of EULA overreach, electronics maker Vizio Holdings has been called out by the non profit investigative reporting outfit ProPublica for an on-by-default feature on its smart TVs called "Smart Interactivity" that analyzes both broadcast and streamed content viewed using the device. ProPublica noted that the company's privacy policy failed to clearly describe the tracking behavior, which included the collection of information such as the date, time, channel and whether the program was viewed live or recorded.

According to ProPublica, the monitoring of viewing information through IP addresses, while it does not identify individuals, can be combined with other data available in commercial databases from brokers such as Experian, creating a detailed picture of an individual or household. Vizio has since updated its privacy policy with a supplement that explains how "Smart Interactivity" works.

The bigger issue may be what that updated privacy policy reveals. As The Security Ledger notes, the updated Vizio privacy policy makes clear that the company will combine "your IP address and other Non-Personal Information in order to inform third party selection and delivery of targeted and re-targeted advertisements." Those advertisements "may be delivered to smartphones, tablets, PCs or other internet-connected devices that share an IP address or other identifier with your Smart TV."

In other words, TV viewing patterns will be used to serve ads to any device user who happens to be connected to the same network as the Vizio Smart TV — an obvious problem for households with a mix of say... adults and children?! Vizio does provide instructions for disabling the Smart Interactivity features and says that "connected" features of the device aren't contingent on monitoring. That's better than some other vendors. In 2014, for example, LG used a firmware update for its smart televisions to link the "smart" features of the device to viewer tracking and monitoring. Viewers who applied the update, but refused to consent to monitoring were not able to use services like Netflix and YouTube.


In Ireland, All RC and Drones Over 1kg To Be Registered (suasnews.com) 108

New submitter charliehotel writes: The Irish Aviation Authority announced that it will have its drone registry up and running by December 21st this year. This registry will be the first of its kind in Europe, and the Irish Aviation Authority will require all RPA / drones that weigh over 1kg to be registered; this includes model aircraft. I hope that the U.S.'s gathering storm of regulation doesn't start quite that small.

Coming Set-top Box Mandate May Help Break Pay TV Firms' Hold Over Viewers (latimes.com) 153

Joe_Dragon sends a report from the LA Times about proposed regulations that could disrupt the cable industry's hold on consumers by targeting set-top boxes. These boxes are required to view most pay-TV programming these days, and consumers often require multiples if they have more than one TV. The rental fees add up to almost $20 billion in revenue for the industry each year. Yet the technology within these boxes is nothing special, and alternatives could easily arise if there was incentive to create them. "The changes aren't coming fast enough for some lawmakers and consumer advocates as well as tech companies such as Google Inc., which are eager to jump into the set-top box market. They want the Federal Communications Commission to require that pay TV providers make their services more easily compatible with third-party set-top boxes or similar devices. ... Such a mandate could allow consumers to access their pay TV and streaming services through one device instead of having to switch between two or more. And it could lead to innovations such as an ability to search for programming across services to determine, for example, whether a movie is available on Netflix or on-demand via a pay TV provider."

ABC's 'BattleBots' Reboot Will Come Back For a Second Season (thewrap.com) 37

An anonymous reader writes: Good news if you're a fan of watching robots fight or just flail around in a corner. ABC has renewed BattleBots for a second season. According to The Wrap: "Following the summer ratings hit "Celebrity Family Feud," the six-episode first season of "BattleBots" earned an average of 5.4 million total viewers and a 1.7 rating among adults 18-49. Season 2 will keep the single-elimination tournament format of the first, but will double the size of the field to include expert roboticists, garage builders, families on a mission and past winners returning to defend their turf."

Before Barbie's Brainy Makeover, Mattel Execs Met With White House, Google 125

theodp writes: Mattel came under fire last November over its portrayal of Computer Engineer Barbie as incompetent. But the toymaker is now drawing kudos for its new Imagine the Possibilities Barbie ad campaign (video), which shows little girls pretending to be professionals in real-life settings, including a college professor lecturing students about the brain. Ad Age, however, is cynical of the empowering spin on Barbie, which it says "comes across as a manipulative way to silence criticism." Interestingly, some of that criticism may have come from the White House.

WH Visitor Records show that Barbie's brainy makeover came after Mattel execs — Evelyn Mazzocco, Julia Pistor, Heather Lazarus — were summoned to the White House last April to meet with the White House Council on Women and Girls. A little Googling suggests other attendees at the sit-down included representatives of the nation's leading toy makers (Disney Consumer, Nickelodeon, Hasbro, American Girl), media giants (Disney Channels, Viacom, TIME, Scholastic, Univision, Participant Media, Cartoon Network, Netflix), retailers (Walmart, Target), educators, scientists, the U.S. Dept. of Education (including the Deputy Director of Michelle Obama's Reach Higher Initiative), philanthropists (Rockefeller, Harnisch Foundations) — and Google. Representing Google was CS Education in Media Program Manager Julie Ann Crommett, who has worked with Disney to shape programming to inspire girls to pursue CS in conjunction with the search giant's $50 million Made With Code initiative.

The April White House meeting appears to be a reschedule of a planned March meeting that was to have included other Mattel execs, including Stephanie Cota, Venetia Davie, and Lori Pantel, to whom the task of apologizing for Computer Engineer Barbie fell last November. For the first time in over a decade, Barbie was no longer the most popular girls' toy last holiday season, having lost her crown to Disney Princesses Elsa and Anna, who coincidentally teamed up with Google-backed Code.org last December to "teach President Obama to code" at a widely-publicized White House event.

Finland Releases National Emoji Collection (theguardian.com) 93

jones_supa writes: Finland has rolled out images of a couple in a sauna, a legendary Nokia phone (the 3310) and a heavy metal music fan as part of a set of official national emojis to be used in communication. Billing the use of national symbols for themed emojis as a world first, the government plans to publish the full set in December – for anyone in the world to download on its promotional website. "The Finland emojis were designed with a tongue in cheek approach, but I hope that they will tell the world not only about our special features but also something about our strengths," said Petra Theman, director for public diplomacy at the foreign ministry.
The Media

BBC Lets Viewers Buy Shows and Episodes Permanently, But No 'Extras' (thestack.com) 80

An anonymous reader writes: The BBC has opened a new online store which lets viewers purchase TV programs that do not expire in its iPlayer streaming outlet after thirty days, but which apparently remain stored for streaming in the same style as Amazon's video purchases. The BBC claims the extensive archive inventory is available only to UK-based viewers, though its VPN-blocking attempts do not currently seem to prevent purchases from outside the country. Additionally the BBC's high-quality disc extras do not seem to have made the jump from disc to digital, signifying possible further decline for 'value added' features such as commentaries and documentaries in the future.

TV Networks Open Neuroscience Labs To Improve Their Shows and Ads (reuters.com) 109

An anonymous reader writes: NBCUniversal's recently-opened Orlando neuroscience lab is trying to develop methods of delivering advertisements related to the scene in the show preceding them, such as delivering a food advertisement directly after a scene which has been shown to make test-subjects hungry. Viacom is building a lab right now to take electroencephalagrams of viewers while they watch. "And ratings firm Nielsen Holdings, which just bought neuroscience firm Innerscope Research earlier this year, is adding facial coding and biometrics to its labs, which currently conduct eye tracking and perform EEGs." NBC doesn't trust what viewers say when asked for their opinion on shows. They want to use science to determine which scenes trigger an emotional response, whether the viewer acknowledges it or not.