This Week in Tech 674: Go Dung Beetles!

Survival of the Richest, Failing Facial Recognition Tech, /r/thanosdidnothingwrong, and More!

— Billionaires prepare for the coming apocalypse: have you bought your missile silo condo yet?
— London police’s facial recognition fail: pilot program results in 98% false positive rate, zero arrests.
–Amazon expanding its cashierless Amazon Go stores.
–Celebrity impersonators, mob justice, and more reasons to stay off social media.
— Prime Day coming on July 16th.
— Netflix’s 2018 content budget expands to $13 billion.
–Thanos inspires Reddit’s biggest ban ever.

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This Week in Tech 654: Bye, Bye Mr. Ajit Pai

News publishers violated copyright by embedding a tweet. Are video games to blame for the Florida school shooting? A drone causes a helicopter to crash. Are we seeing the end of Facebook? Apple isn’t making as much money on the HomePod compared to other products. The controversial Snapchat update. What to expect from Mobile World Congress. An amazing $300M deal for a showrunner at Netflix, and more.

This Week in Tech 612: Sky Pirates of Silicon Valley

Apple slashes affiliate commissions and stops paying Qualcomm royalties. Google’s founders each have their own flying contraptions in the works. Amazon’s new Echo Look wants pictures of your clothes. Uber wants all of your data. WikiTribune wants to fight fake news. Hackers just want money from Netflix. The Juicero was just a bad, bad idea.

–Ashley Esqueda has the last three pairs of chunky hot pink LA Eyeworks glasses in existence
–Greg Ferro points out that American blimps used safe, non-explosive helium.
–Devindra Hardawar begs you not to see The Circle

Microsoft, global law enforcement agencies disrupt Dorkbot botnet

By | Techspot

Microsoft, in cooperation with a number of law enforcement agencies around the world, managed to disrupt a botnet that’s infected over a million PCs across more than 190 countries.

First discovered in April 2011, Dorkbot is an IRC-based botnet that has been commercialized by its creator and is readily available for purchase on underground online forums as NgrBot. The malware relies on USB drives, social networks, IM clients, spam and drive-by downloads for distribution.

It’s most often used to steal login credentials for many of today’s top sites and services including AOL, eBay, Facebook, Gmail, Godaddy, Netflix, PayPal, Steam, Twitter, Yahoo and YouTube.

Over the past six months, Microsoft said it detected Dorkbot on roughly 100,000 systems each month with the majority of infections spotted internationally.

Microsoft said it worked with CERT Polska, ESET, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the Department of Homeland Security’s United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, Europol, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Interpol and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to disrupt the botnet.

Details on exactly what actions were taken to disrupt Dorkbot weren’t mentioned.

The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) advises those that have been infected to use and maintain anti-virus software, change passwords, keep operating system and application software up-to-date, use anti-malware tools and disable Windows Autorun.

Netflix rules out third-party ads amid growing speculation

If there’s one thing Netflix users relish more than being able to feast on virtually unlimited content, it’s the ability to do so completely unmolested. Ads are a no-no! That much is abundantly clear from the events of the past week or so, during which the sudden appearance of pre- and post-roll show teasers led many to conclude third-party were not far off.

The whole issue began when some Netflix users started seeing ads of the streaming giant’s own shows. Initial user accounts suggested these were pre-roll spots limited to the Xbox One. Then reports began pouring in that the ads had spread to other platforms and were being served in a variety of ways.

When asked to comment by Cord Cutters News—the site that broke the story late last month—the company responded with this: “We are always testing new things via the service, many of which never see a rollout. We have nothing more to add at this point.” Unsurprisingly, that did little to allay users’ concerns.

But on Monday the company finally nipped all speculation surrounding the ad trial in the bud, perhaps sensing from the initial reaction that the whole thing had the potential of snowballing into a major public-relations problem.

“We are not planning to test or implement third-party advertising on the Netflix service. For some time, we’ve teased Netflix originals with short trailers after a member finishes watching a show. Some members in a limited test now are seeing teases before a show begins. We test hundreds of potential improvements to the service every year. Many never extend beyond that,” Netflix told Mashable in a statement.

Why this matters: Who knows what would’ve happened had Netflix left the speculation and the accompanying hand-wringing unchecked for a bit longer? One possibility is public opinion would’ve turned against the company to such an extent that even first-party ads might have become a hard sell for Netflix. Judging by the reaction of Netflix users on social media platforms, they don’t seem to find show teasers all that bothersome. That’s good news for the streaming behemoth, especially considering the amount of money it’s pouring into original content.

via Netflix rules out third-party ads amid growing speculation.

Netflix prepares a major overhaul for its video streaming architecture and technologies

Over the past 7 years or so, Netflix has expanded from a few thousand occasional users, to a massive video-streaming giant serving up billions of hours of content a month. Now the company is taking a long look at its current streaming infrastructure and plans to make a fairly major overhaul.

Based on data from a recent Netflix blog post, the company is set to revamp is computing technologies to offer much more efficient content streaming. Previously (and currently) focused on knowing what a person is watching, how far into a certain piece of content they got and what other users on the same Netflix account are watching (family members, etc.), the existing system is largely based on stateless and stateful tiers in order to provide a smart service for users. It also relies heavily on a Memcached system similar to what Facebook switched over to some years ago.

For the time being, Memcached has worked well for the streaming giant, but it is looking to the future for something that can much more efficiently support premium data types:

Memcached offers superb throughput and latency characteristics, but isn’t well suited for our use case. To update the data in memcached, we read the latest data, append a new view entry (if none exists for that movie) or modify an existing entry (moving it to the front of the time-ordered list), and then write the updated data back to memcached. We use an eventually consistent approach to handling multiple writers, accepting that an inconsistent write may happen but will get corrected soon after due to a short cache entry TTL and a periodic cache refresh.

After a number of overhauls to the current system, Netflix is looking to slim down the new architecture with a main focus on availability over consistency, microservices, and a certain type of persistence, which allows for multiple storage technologies to be used in specialized circumstances.

While there aren’t many details as to what this new system is made up of, you can can take a quick glance of the architecture below. What all this means for Netflix users isn’t entirely clear either, but it sounds like a much more accommodating and intelligent system overall, something that is, generally speaking, a welcomed addition to any popular service.

via Netflix prepares a major overhaul for its video streaming architecture and technologies – TechSpot.

Ultraflix wants to become the Netflix of the 4K generation

Aaron Taylor, Nanotech Entertainment’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, directs my attention to a “4K” Doors concert shown on Ultraflix, the company’s infant 4K movie-streaming service.

Blobs of color float on the screen. It looks absolutely terrible. Taylor explains that the footage is from the 1960s. “So this has some scenes that look great, but it’s from 1968,” he said. “It’s only going to look so good.”

It’s not what you’d expect from a 4K movie service. And fortunately, once he led me to another monitor showing a 4K-encoded version of the movie “Ip Man,” I was suitably impressed. But it also points out the problem that Ultraflix must overcome: there’s only so much 4K content out there, and not all of it is great. Most of the great content is encoded in 1080p, for your current HDTV.

Ultraflix ui springboard Ultraflix

Pre-recorded sporting events are also available via the Ultraflix service.

Ultraflix hopes to capitalize on the conversion between 1080p HDTVs and the emerging wave of 4K TVs. “A year ago,” Taylor said, “studios were firmly on the fence” trying to decide whether 4K was worth the investment. Now the balance is tipping toward the higher-resolution format, he said.

But if you own a 4K smart TV, chances are you already have Ultraflix. According to Taylor, an Ultraflix app is on Sony, Samsung, Vizio, and Hisense TVs. Next up are TVs from the Smart TV Alliance: LG, Panasonic, Sharp, and Toshiba. And if ever the Microsoft Xbox One or Sony PlayStation 4 support 4K content, they’ll write an app for those platforms, too. Right now, Ultraflix has an app for Android phones and tablets, but not iOS.

Read More: Ultraflix wants to become the Netflix of the 4K generation.

Netflix begins blocking users who bypass region locks

Netflix has begun blocking users’ access to the service when it detects that a geolocation bypassing utility, such as a proxy or VPN, is being used. Although these blocks are currently limited in scope, it could be a precursor to a wider crackdown by the popular streaming service.

Over the past few weeks, some users who have been bypassing region locks have discovered difficulties watching Netflix content. VPN provider TorGuard noted that there has been a recent spike in errors when connecting specifically to Netflix, indicating the company might be targeting and blocking specific IP addresses linked to bypassing restrictions.

However not all IP addresses were blocked, and many people could continue to watch Netflix simply by changing their VPN location. The same can’t be said for users of the Android app, who recently found that it was forcing Google DNS, preventing people outside the United States from using the app via popular DNS-based geo-unlocking utilities.

VPN- and DNS-based region bypassing services have become a major problem for movie and TV studios, which label their users as “VPN pirates”. Although these users are legitimately purchasing subscriptions to Netflix and not strictly pirating content without paying, they are accessing content not normally available to them.

The reason why content is not available to Netflix users in all locations, and why Netflix libraries and even Netflix access differ from country to country, is down to licensing deals between studios and services.

In some countries, TV shows and movies are exclusively licensed to services that aren’t Netflix. When a user decides to bypass the region lock on Netflix and watch it there, rather than through the local provider with exclusive access, it affects the studio’s licensing and negotiation process. If too many users choose to watch through cheap and easy services like Netflix, media giants won’t be able to sign as many lucrative, restrictive deals in some locales.

Naturally the easiest way to solve region locking, blocking and bypassing is to offer content to users in all regions, but thanks to stubborn and ‘old-school’ media companies, this probably won’t be happening any time soon.

via Netflix begins blocking users who bypass region locks – TechSpot.

FIDO, the protocol behind Google’s Security Key, expected to lead the anti-password push

Fast Identification Online, or FIDO for short, is the key protocol behind the Google Security Key USB drive announced in October. That device was part of a two-factor authentication system that assisted in verifying an identity when logging into Gmail, Chrome or any other Google account.

The group responsible for FIDO has now released version 1.0 of the open standard which means we’ll be seeing a lot more devices utilize it in the coming months.

Google’s Security Key was just one example of FIDO in action. Samsung’s fingerprint reader also used the technology to let users log directly into the native PayPal app (after all, both Samsung and PayPal were early FIDO partners).

As The Verge points out, this isn’t the first version of FIDO but it is the most efficient and stable. There’s no shortage of big-name companies that are signed on including Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Visa and Bank of America, just to name a few.

Because it’ll be a lot easier to implement, we can probably expect to see a flood of new phones and authenticator devices hit the market in the near future. And given the timing of recent hacks involving Target and Sony, it probably won’t be too hard to convince the industry to move away from the ill-fated passwords we rely on today.

FIDO Alliance president Michael Barrett said they now are really within range of seeing the world changing and that’s the exciting part.

via FIDO, the protocol behind Google’s Security Key, expected to lead the anti-password push – TechSpot.