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The Internet

Playboy Is Featuring Naked Women Again -- After Dropping Nudity a Year Ago Due To the Internet (nypost.com) 259

mi quotes a report from New York Post: The 63-year-old legendary men's magazine is bringing back nude models in its upcoming issue -- one year after banning naked photos in an effort to boost circulation and attract more mainstream advertisers. That effort obviously has failed. One of the main reasons why Playboy dropped nudity in the first place was because the internet filled the demand. Ravi Somaiya reports in the New York Times, "For a generation of American men, reading Playboy was a cultural rite, an illicit thrill consumed by flashlight. Now every teenage boy has an internet-connected phone instead. Pornographic magazines, even those as storied as Playboy, have lost their shock value, their commercial value and their cultural relevance." The issues published under the no-nudes policy, which featured both scantily clad models and could-be naked women with strategic parts of their body covered up, will all change with the March/April issue now hitting newsstands. The issue trumpets the change with a cover headline: "Naked is normal."
Media

Netflix Geoblocking Loosened Under New EU Law (thestack.com) 56

An anonymous reader writes: "The European Parliament is now finalizing legislation which will allow EU residents to access their paid subscriptions for online media -- such as video streaming, games and music -- while visiting other EU countries," reports The Stack. Under the new rules, companies will not be able to arbitrarily block subscribers from accessing the content catalog of their home countries while visiting other parts of the European Union, with country of origin to be established by various possible methods besides IP address, including payment details, public tax information and 'checks on electronic identification'. The issue was brought to a head last year when Netflix began blocking the known IPs of VPN providers, often used by subscribers to access the catalogs of their home countries while travelling.
Software

Valve Is Shutting Down Steam's Greenlight Community Voting System (theverge.com) 99

Valve's crowdsourced Greenlight submission program, which let the gaming community select which games get chosen for distribution via Steam, is shutting down after nearly five years. It will be replaced with a new system called Steam Direct that will charge developers a fee for each title they plan to distribute. The Verge reports: Steam Greenlight was launched in 2012 as a way for indie developers to get their games on Steam, even if they weren't working with a big publisher that had a relationship with Valve. Steam users would vote on Greenlight games, and Valve would accept titles with enough support to suggest that they'd sell well. Kroll says that "over 100" Greenlight titles have made $1 million or more. But Greenlight has also had significant problems. Developers could game the system by offering rewards for votes, and worthy projects could get lost amidst a slew of bad proposals. Since Valve ultimately made the call on including games, the process could also seem arbitrary and opaque. The big question is whether what's replacing it is better. To get a game on Steam Direct, developers will need to "complete a set of digital paperwork, personal or company verification, and tax documents similar to the process of applying for a bank account." Then, they'll pay an application fee for each game, "which is intended to decrease the noise in the submission pipeline" -- a polite way of saying that it will make people think twice before spending money submitting a low-quality game. Steam Direct is supposed to launch in spring of 2017, but the application fee hasn't been decided yet. Developer feedback has apparently suggested anything from $100 -- the current Greenlight submission fee -- and $5,000.
Piracy

Internet Backbone Provider Cogent Blocks Pirate Bay and Other 'Pirate' Sites (torrentfreak.com) 186

Several Pirate Bay users from ISPs all over the world have been unable to access their favorite torrent site for more than a week. Their requests are being stopped in the Internet backbone network of Cogent Communications, which has blackholed the CloudFlare IP-address of The Pirate Bay and many other torrent and streaming sites, reports TorrentFreak. From the article: When the average Internet user types in a domain name, a request is sent through a series of networks before it finally reaches the server of the website. This also applies to The Pirate Bay and other pirate sites such as Primewire, Movie4k, TorrentProject and TorrentButler. However, for more than a week now the US-based backbone provider Cogent has stopped passing on traffic to these sites. The sites in question all use CloudFlare, which assigned them the public IP-addresses 104.31.18.30 and 104.31.19.30. While this can be reached just fine by most people, users attempting to pass requests through Cogent's network are unable to access them.
Businesses

Jeff Bezos Talks About Music Streaming, and His Political Ambitions (billboard.com) 70

In a wide-ranging interview with Billboard, Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, Blue Origin, and owner of The Washington Post, talked about music streaming business. He also talked about whether he desires to become the president of the United States. Excerpts from the interview: On music streaming business, being one of the late ones to join the party:Well, here's what I would say: We've been in the music category since 1998. It was the second category we launched after books. Our customers listen to a lot of music and we have a couple of freight trains kind of pulling the business along. One is Prime, and the other is Echo and Alexa.

On the prospect of seeing President Bezos and other political interests: Oh, no. I don't think so. No. I love my life. I love being an inventor. I love Blue Origin, my space company. I love The Washington Post. They are very good, but the Internet transition was difficult for them -- so I've been able to help them on that. But basically... I have a very full life. And I really like it.

Businesses

Overeager Investors Seeking Snap Buy Snap Interactive Instead (cnet.com) 55

Stephen Shankland, writing for CNET: Investors eager to cash in on the initial public offering of Snap, makers of the popular Snapchat app, have instead been buying shares of Snap Interactive, maker of the Paltalk video chat app and FirstMet dating app. Snap Interactive stock, traded over the counter and not on major exchanges like Nasdaq, has slid below $6 per share in recent years, according to Google Finance. On Monday, after Snap detailed its IPO plans, though, its stock surged to $15 and remained between $8 and $10 per share Wednesday.
Crime

Police Arrest Five Men For Selling Kodi Boxes 'Fully Loaded' With Illegal Streaming Apps (bbc.com) 105

Five people have been arrested in early morning raids for selling "fully loaded Kodi boxes," which are set-top boxes modified to stream subscription football matches, television channels and films for free. The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) said it believed the suspects had made roughly $250,000 selling the devices online. BBC reports: Kodi is free software built by volunteers to bring videos, music, games and photographs together in one easy-to-use application. Some shops sell legal set-top boxes and TV sticks, often called Kodi boxes, preloaded with the software. The developers behind Kodi say their software does not contain any content of its own and is designed to play legally owned media or content "freely available" on the internet. However, the software can be modified with third-party add-ons that provide access to pirated copies of films and TV series, or free access to subscription television channels. The five arrests were made in Bolton, Bootle, Cheadle, Manchester and Rhyl.
EU

EU Agrees To Cross-Border Access To Streaming Services (variety.com) 55

Putting in place the first piece of its hoped-for unified digital market, the European Union has agreed on new rules allowing subscribers of online services in one E.U. country access to them while traveling in another. From a report: "Today's agreement will bring concrete benefits to Europeans," said vice president in charge of the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, in a statement. "People who have subscribed to their favorite series, music and sports events at home will be able to enjoy them when they travel in Europe. This is a new important step in breaking down barriers in the Digital Single Market." Variety explain: That said, "portability" is the least contentious of DSM regulations being advanced by the European Commission. Reached yesterday, the agreement between the Commission, the E.U.'s executive arm, the European Parliament and the E.U.'s Council of Ministers, representing its 28 member states, will allow consumers to fully use their online subscriptions to films, sports events, e-books, video games or music services when traveling within the E.U. The online service providers who will be mandated to make these services available range from video-on-demand platforms (Netflix, HBO Go, Amazon Prime, Mubi, Chili TV) to online TV services (Viasat's Viaplay, Sky's Now TV, Voyo), music streaming services (Spotify, Deezer, Google Music) and game online marketplaces (Steam, Origin).
The Almighty Buck

World of Warcraft Gold Can Now Be Used To Buy Other Blizzard Games (arstechnica.com) 69

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: It has been almost two years now since Blizzard began letting World of Warcraft players pay for their monthly game-time subscriptions using in-game gold rather than real money. Now, Blizzard is expanding that effort by letting players indirectly trade WoW gold for in-game items in other Blizzard games like Hearthstone and Overwatch. The new feature is really just a slight tweak to the WoW Token, a specialized item that can be purchased for $20 (£15/€20) in real money or for a free-floating, in-game gold price at World of Warcraft auction houses. Those Tokens can still be exchanged for 30 days of World of Warcraft subscription time, but as of this week, they can also be redeemed for $15 in balance on your Battle.net account. (European figures TBC.) That balance can then be spent on packs of Hearthstone cards, Overwatch Loot Boxes, Heroes of the Storm skins, or even downloadable copies of games like StarCraft II and Diablo III. That means that a dedicated WoW player can now fund a multigame Blizzard habit simply by earning enough in-game gold. You'd better be prepared to farm a lot of gold, though. The purchase price for a WoW Token at the auction house can fluctuate wildly -- as of this writing, the tokens have gone for anywhere from 59,833 gold to 108,924 gold in the last 24 hours, according to tracking site WowToken.info. That gives each in-game gold piece a rough value between 1/100th and 2/100th of a cent, when converted to Blizzard.net balance.
Piracy

Movie Industry Wants Irish ISPs To Block Pirate Movie Streaming Portals (torrentfreak.com) 55

The Motion Picture Association is trying to have three popular streaming portals blocked by Irish Internet providers. In a new court case, the movie studios describe movie4k.to, primewire.ag and onwatchseries.to as massive copyright infringement hubs, with each offering thousands of infringing movies. From a TorrentFreak report: RTE reports that the MPA's fresh blocking demands are targeting a total of eight ISPs -- Eir, Sky Ireland, Vodafone Ireland, Virgin Media Ireland, Three Ireland, Digiweb, Imagine Telecommunications and Magnet Networks. Based on yesterday's hearing it appears to be only a matter of time before the three sites will be blocked. None of the ISPs have raised principle objections against a court determination in this case. That said, reports suggest that there are still a few finer details that have to be worked out, which could include issues regarding costs and the technical implementation.
Software

Overwatch Director Speaks Out Against Console Mouse/keyboard Adapters (arstechnica.com) 262

Striek quotes a report from Ars Technica: Regardless of where you fall in the long-running debate between keyboard/mouse and analog stick controls, you could historically be relatively sure that everyone on a single platform would be playing with the same control scheme. Recently, though, third-party adapters have started allowing console players to use a mouse and keyboard effectively on dedicated consoles, throwing off the competitive balance in a way that Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan doesn't appreciate. "The Overwatch team objects to the use of mouse and keyboard on console," Kaplan wrote on the Battle.net forums. "We have contacted both first-party console manufacturers and expressed our concern about the use of mouse and keyboard and input conversion devices. We have lobbied and will continue to lobby for first-party console manufacturers to either disallow mouse and keyboard and input conversion devices or openly and easily support mouse and keyboard for all players," he continued. "I encourage you to reach out to the hardware manufacturers and express your concerns (but please do so in a productive and respectful way)." Kaplan is talking about products like the XIM4, a $125 hub that lets certain USB keyboards and mice work natively with some Xbox One and PS4 games (as well as PS3 and Xbox 360 titles). IoGear's $100 Keymander does much the same thing, claiming to be "compatible with all console games." These devices essentially emulate a standard controller through a combination of hardware and software settings, disguising the keyboard and mouse inputs in a way that makes them hard for a developer to detect. This is a problem in competitive online games like Overwatch, where the quickness and precision of mouse aiming can give a decisive advantage over players using a slower and clunkier analog stick.
Communications

Vizio Settles With FTC, Will Pay $2.2 Million and Delete User Data (venturebeat.com) 44

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today announced that smart TV maker Vizio has agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a case involving the TVs' data collection techniques. From a report on VentureBeat: Vizio allegedly collected data on what people viewed on 11 million of its TVs and then shared the data with third parties, without informing people about the data collection or receiving consent. As part of the settlement with the FTC and the New Jersey Attorney General, Vizio must also delete data that it collected prior to March 1, 2016, and implement a data privacy program that is to be evaluated twice a year, according to a statement. The commission voted 3-0 in favor of the ruling, according to the statement.
Businesses

'The End Of The Level Playing Field' (avc.com) 108

Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson writes in a blog post: When the Internet came along in the early 90s, we saw something completely different. Here was a level playing field where anyone could launch a business without permission from anyone. We had a great run over the last 25 years but I fear it's coming to an end, brought on by the growing consolidation of market power in the big consumer facing tech companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, etc, by the constricted distribution mechanisms on mobile devices, and by new leadership at the FCC that is going to tear down the notion that mobile carriers can't play the same game cable companies played. It is certainly true that consumers, particularly low-income consumers, like getting free or subsidized data plans. There is no doubt about that. But when the subsidies are coming from the big tech companies, who can easily pay them, to buy competitive advantage over that nimble startup that is scaring them, well we know how that movie ends.
Blackberry

The Brief, Bumbling Tech Careers of Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, and Will.i.am (backchannel.com) 97

"Four years ago this week, Blackberry named Alicia Keys its global creative officer... Keys was really going to work for Blackberry -- to participate in weekly calls addressing product development; develop ideas and content for the Keep Moving Projects, which targeted artists and athletes; and of course, promote the brand during her upcoming tour... It didn't work." Slashdot reader mirandakatz writes: For a minute in history, it was oh-so-cool for legacy tech companies to hire pop stars... In 2005, HP brought Gwen Stefani on as a creative director. In 2010, Lady Gaga landed the job of creative director at Polaroid. In 2011, Will.i.am was the director of creative innovation at Intel. In 2012, Microsoft brought on Jessica Alba as creative director to promote its Windows Phone 8.

These roles were all touted as far more involved than the mere celebrity pitchman: The artists promised, to varying degrees, to dive into the business. But in all of these cases, the strategy failed. At Backchannel, Jessi Hempel dives into why that is, and how big names in entertainment are now finding other ways to harness the momentum of tech.

Lady Gaga left Polaroid in less than a year after "collaborating" on video camera sunglasses that offered playback through LCD lenses. While they weren't popular, this article argues most of these tech companies "faced structural business issues too significant to be addressed through celebrity branding and artistic energy." One digital ad agency even tells the site that "It's always been a flawed strategy," and calls the hiring of a celebrity "a press cycle hack."

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