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Apple, Google ban use of location tracking in contact tracing apps – The Globe and Mail

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Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google on Monday said they would ban the use of location tracking in apps that use a new contact tracing system the two are building to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Apple and Google, whose operating systems power 99% of smart phones, said last month they would work together to create a system for notifying people who have been near others who have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The companies plan to only allow public health authorities to use the technology.

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Both companies said privacy and preventing governments from using the system to compile data on citizens was a primary goal. The system uses bluetooth signals from phones to detect encounters and does not use or store GPS location data.

But the developers of official coronavirus-related apps in several U.S. states told Reuters last month it was vital that they be allowed to use GPS location data in conjunction with the new contact tracing system, to track how outbreaks move and identify hotspots.

Apple and Google said they will not allow use of GPS data along with the contact tracing systems. The decision will require public health authorities who want to use GPS location data to rely on unstable workarounds to detect encounters using Bluetooth sensors.

Privacy experts have warned that any cache of location data related to health issues could make businesses and individuals vulnerable to being ostracized if the data is exposed.

Authorities and their app developers could reject the Apple-Google restrictions and instead use a more basic Bluetooth-based system to log with whom users have crossed paths. But the system likely would miss some encounters because iPhones and Android devices turn off Bluetooth connections after some time for battery-saving and other reasons unless users remember to re-activate them.

Apple and Google also said Monday that they will allow only one app per country to use the new contact system, to avoid fragmentation and encourage wider adoption. The companies said they would support countries that opt for a state or regional approach, however, and that U.S. states will be allowed to use the system.

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Fortnite’s ‘safety and fairness’ ban actually hurts users and developers – VentureBeat

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When the news broke yesterday that Apple and Google banned Epic’s super-popular game Fortnite from their app stores, most people focused on the bans — how could this happen? — and Epic’s nearly instant, comprehensive lawsuits against both tech giants. Given how quickly everything was moving, they might have missed the specific reasons Apple and Google gave for the bans.

In prepared statements, Apple claimed its App Store “guidelines create a level playing field for all developers and make the store safe for all users.” Google used nearly identical language, saying that its Play Store has “consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users.” Both companies suggested Epic violated their policies by offering an in-app route to purchase Fortnite’s “V-Bucks” currency at a discounted price — something that’s currently possible on Mac, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch platforms, or in physical stores with Fortnite gift cards.

These might just be the companies’ canned explanations, but Apple and Google may well die on the hill fighting Epic over supposed developer fairness and user safety. Epic isn’t just any old developer; it’s a 29-year-old company with offices across North America, Europe, and Asia, relied upon by hundreds of developers for the widely respected Unreal Engine. It has operated the developer-centric Unreal Engine Marketplace for six years and the consumer-focused Epic Games Store for nearly two years. Both charge third-party developers a 12% fee — a “permanent rate” that Epic notes “covers the operating costs of the store and makes us a profit.” It has been generous to developers, using its profits to help them pay off student loans and awarding MegaGrants to create content.

It’s therefore no shock that Epic’s view of what’s “fair to developers” isn’t the same as Apple’s or Google’s. The larger tech companies generally take a 30% cut of all app purchases and in-app revenues generated by their developers; Apple goes further than Google, preventing iOS users from installing apps that weren’t downloaded from its own App Store. Too many developers to count have complained about these 30% cuts as unfair and damaging to their businesses, but Apple generally brushes aside their complaints, suggesting that like it or not, everyone’s playing by the same rules. It doesn’t take much to conclude that 12% (or any number lower than 30%) will be more “fair to developers” than the status quo.

Apple’s claim of a supposedly “level playing field” for app developers is equally questionable. The iOS App Store and Google Play Store might offer the same terms to a two-woman independent developer and a company with thousands of engineers, but if they’re selling identical apps, everyone knows the big company will roll over the indie repeatedly on that playing field due to its other resources. It can rig search results with paid ads, acquire customers with cross-promotions, and brute-force updates to copy innovations with comparative impunity.

There’s also no shortage of evidence that certain developers have won different treatment by leveraging existing relationships, size, or legal threats to force either exceptions or changes to the rules. A Congressional antitrust investigation revealed that Apple agreed in 2016 to reduce its cut to 15% for long-time holdout Amazon — a concession undermining Apple’s claim that all App Store developers are treated equally. On the other hand, Epic says that Google used its power to force OnePlus and LG to kill deals that would have pre-installed Fortnite on Android phones using an Epic Games app, rather than the Google Play Store. Sideloading apps is permitted on Android, but Google is apparently willing to aggressively discourage it, citing trust issues.

Is either platform holder actually making these moves to “keep the store safe for users?” From a 30,000-foot perspective, sure. If Apple or Google controls the payment system, screens every app, manages every update, and acts as an intermediary for user-developer disputes, it can theoretically guarantee a safe experience. But so can experienced developers. Amazon has been selling products online since 1995 — years before Apple launched its modern online store (1997) and opened its first brick-and-mortar locations (2001) — so it’s not as if consumers can’t trust its infrastructure. Epic has been selling its own software since 1991 and content from others for years. Everyone else has access to alternate but well-trusted payment systems that merely deny the platform holders a cut.

What sort of additional safety are Apple and Google really providing here? At best, the promise that they will serve as a better intermediary than developers — not necessarily these developers, but less established or scrupulous ones — over time. In Apple’s case, there’s also some likelihood that added screening will keep malware or other issues from impacting users. Google has had at best mixed results and doesn’t seem to have done a very good job with this, but it’s trying, while Apple has achieved at least some of its success here by becoming stricter, forbidding things it previously either permitted or didn’t explicitly stop.

As I’ve said before, the root of Apple’s problem is its obsession with control and exorbitant profits, which Google has tried to emulate with its Play Store to the disadvantage of both companies’ users and developers. Thanks to Epic’s credibility and Fortnite’s popularity, Epic is ideally suited to challenge these platform holders in the courts of both law and public opinion, hopefully forcing the sort of large-scale changes that smaller developers have struggled for years to achieve — plus the benefits to consumers that will follow from greater competition and more reasonable prices.

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News You Might've Missed on 8/13/20: Epic Games Sues Apple, New Hitman 3 VR Details, & More – The Escapist

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It’s almost the weekend, folks, and we’ve got lots of video game news to hold us over until then. The biggest story involves Apple removing Fortnite from the App Store — and Epic Games subsequently filing suit. We also got a new look at Hitman 3‘s VR mode and more. Here’s the video game news you might’ve missed on Aug. 13, 2020.

Fortnite Has Been Removed from the App Store, and Epic Games Is Suing Fortnite

Apple has removed Fortnite from the App Store due to Epic Games implementing its own in-app purchase system. Epic did this to bypass Apple’s own system, which takes a 30% cut of all purchases.

Epic’s new system featured permanent price drops of up to 20% to incentivize players to use it instead of Apple’s system, though the consequence is that players on iOS are now unable to download Fortnite. Apple committed to working on resolving the issue with Epic but noted that a “special arrangement” would not be made. Epic has referred to the App Store as a “monopoly” and defends its decision.

In fact, in a move that was clearly orchestrated far in advance, Epic Games has filed a lawsuit against Apple over the discrepancy and released a video (below), “Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite,” parodying the iconic “1984” Apple commercial and mocking the company’s current business practices. This is surely only the beginning.

Read More: Apple just kicked Fortnite off the App Store

Nintendo eShop Sale Has Discounts on Mortal Kombat 11, Aladdin and The Lion King, and Jackbox Games

In lighter news, you can hop on your Nintendo Switch right now to take advantage of some sweet deals, including discounts on numerous Jackbox Party Pack games, as well as Mortal Kombat 11, which is available for $19.99. You’ll also find a discount on Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King, available for $17.99. Many of the eShop’s current sales are good for a couple weeks, so you’ve got some time if you want to save.

Read More: Sales & Deals

Mortal Shell Will Get a Physical Edition Due to “the Number of Requests”

Upcoming action RPG Mortal Shell has garnered a lot of hype — so much so that it will be coming out in physical format after the game’s initial release on digital storefronts. This game closely mirrors the Souls series, focusing on combat and fantasy themes. The plan had originally been to release digitally only, but due to “the number of requests for a physical release,” publisher Playstack will be releasing hard copies on Oct. 2, 2020. If you can’t wait, you can download it digitally on Aug. 18 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Microsoft Considered Launching Halo Infinite in Multiple Parts Prior to Its Delay

While on Gary Whitta’s Animal Talking show, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer discussed some intriguing points about what could have happened with Halo Infinite. Spencer revealed that Microsoft considered releasing Infinite in multiple parts, but that it ultimately “didn’t feel, to all of us, like the Halo release that we would want.”

The decision to delay it was not taken lightly, and as Spencer explained, the team was “disappointed” by the delay but is committed to delivering a “great game” in 2021. Spencer dove into more on the future of Xbox and other interesting tidbits. And can we just stop for a second to appreciate that the head of Xbox was interviewed from within Animal Crossing: New Horizons? What a time to be alive. The full interview can be seen below.

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Read More: Halo Infinite could have been split up into separate parts, Phil Spencer reveals

Hitman 3 Developer Insights Video Dives Deep into VR Features

Today, IO Interactive released a video (below) that detailed some of the new features you can expect with Hitman 3‘s VR integration. In it, we got to see more footage of the game running in VR and it’s still a mind-boggling sight. Agent 47 sneaks up on an unsuspecting victim and taps them on the shoulder, before taking them out — all in first-person VR.

Enemies will apparently react to your movements in a much more realistic way this time around. The benefits of being in VR will be depicted in its immersion, but the change from third- to first-person will also alter the way you play. Hitman 3 is due out on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC, and Stadia in January 2021.

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Spotify Issues Statement in Support of Epic Games – iClarified

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Spotify has issued a statement applauding Epic Games for taking a stand against Apple. The statement was provided to Recode Media host Peter Kafka.

“We applaud Epic Games’ decision to take a stand against Apple and shed further light on Apple’s abuse of its dominant position. Apple’s unfair practices have disadvantaged competitors and deprived consumers for far too long. The stakes for consumers and app developers large and small couldn’t be higher and ensuring that the iOS platform operates competitively and fairly is an urgent task with far-reaching implications.”

Yesterday, Epic Games launched a direct payment feature in Fortnight that saved users 20% but didn’t give Apple 30% of its revenue. Apple promptly pulled the app from the App Store; however, the company was expecting this response and was ready with a lawsuit accusing Apple of anti-competitive restraints and monopolistic practices. A similar scenario played out with Google and the Play Store but it’s possible to sideload Fortnight on Android so the impact to users isn’t as severe.

Epic Games also launched a #FreeFortnite campaign against Apple, complete with a video calling for users to join the fight to stop 2020 form becoming ‘1984’. Notably, Spotify already has a video and a website dedicated to its fight against Apple. The EU recently announced a formal antitrust investigation into Apple following its complaint.

It’s likely that Epic Games will have support for its lawsuit from Microsoft and Facebook. Both companies have publicly spoken out against Apple this month for refusing to allow their cloud gaming apps on iOS.

Please download the iClarified app or follow iClarified on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and RSS for updates.

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