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Everything About the Fortnite Situation Sucks – Kotaku UK

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I woke up yesterday morning to the news that Epic Games, a plucky corporate underdog worth $17 billion, was trying to enlist the world’s help in taking on Apple’s “anti-competitive” practices. And my skin wanted to crawl right off my body.

In case you’re just joining us, yesterday Apple booted Fortnite from the App Store for violating its payment policy. Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite, responded quickly by filing a complaint of legal injunction against Apple. Google later followed suit, and so Epic filed a law suit against them, too.

In addition to the legal struggles between the two companies, which are essentially built around a disagreement over the fact Apple takes 30% of App Store money, and Epic doesn’t want to pay that, Epic Games also launched a concerted public relations campaign built around a parody of a TV ad made (by Apple!) at least 15-30 years before most Fortnite players were even born.

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I don’t have the time or emotional bandwidth to delve into just how fucking stupid this video is, enlisting the spirit of resistance to totalitarian government (already diluted by appearing in an advertisement) to…get people onside in their quest for some more money.

I would, however, like to give a shout out to the people responsible for looking back at the last ten years of video game community relations and deciding that “weaponising a fanbase of angry gamers” was a really healthy and fun thing to do here.

So let’s instead move right onto the legal battle itself, which has already seen plenty of people taking sides. That’s an easy, and very human thing to do! Fortnite players on iOS (and now Android as well) will want their game back. Other companies equally frustrated with Apple’s sizable cut of their profits have someone to cheer on from the sidelines.

People who don’t like Epic, meanwhile—and there’s no shortage of them in the video game space—can root for Apple, and people who like Apple have someone to defend their favourite home and mobile computing company against.

Before you go deciding to take a side in this, though, keep in mind shit like this:

Ah yes, Spotify, fellow champions of the people, who pay the artists at the heart of their service an average of $0.00318 per stream, and whose CEO complained earlier this year that albums aren’t being released fast enough. Real feel-good stuff.

So perhaps the safer thing to do is not take a side at all, right? Maybe, but that’s also complicated! Despite claiming to do this for the benefit of everyone, Epic is obviously doing this for Epic, but Apple’s store policies are terrible, and any kind of progress made in this space would greatly benefit a lot of folks, especially smaller studios and indies.

If that sounds like a similar dilemma to the one at the heart of the Epic Games Store v Steam debate, that’s because…it’s almost exactly the same situation.

In the end, then, there is no right or wrong here, no champion or underdog. It’s just 2020’s latest example of everything sucking all at once, and all we can do is sit by and watch helplessly as it continues to suck even more.

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Apple Decides to Waive 30% Cut of Paid Events on Facebook, but Only for 3 Months – Motley Fool

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After weeks of verbal back-and-forth, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has agreed to waive its 30% take of paid events hosted on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). In an effort to help businesses adapt to the times, Facebook had already said it wouldn’t charge its own fees until the summer of 2021. And earlier in September, Apple had blocked a message Facebook sent to its event hosts on its app that Apple would take a cut of transactions. 

Apple’s decision comes with some caveats, though. For one, the suspension of its 30% cut only lasts through the end of 2020. It is also excluding paid events from video-game companies, saying they don’t apply because video games aren’t affected by the pandemic, and they’ve always been digital-based businesses.  

Image source: Getty Images.

A growing number of developers sharpening pitchforks

Facebook’s feud with Apple isn’t an isolated instance. The feud also extends to the iOS 14 operating-system update that asks Apple device users to opt-in to apps able to track their information for ad targeting. Other developers are taking issue with Apple’s hefty fee for the ability to distribute applications via the App Store. 

Apple’s exclusion of video-game companies from its new fee waiver, for example, may not be by accident. Fortnite developer and Tencent (OTC:TCEHY)-backed Epic Games is locked in a legal battle with Apple over the 30% fee. The rub for many other developers and app distributors is that the mobile world is dominated by Apple and Alphabet‘s (NASDAQ:GOOGL)(NASDAQ:GOOG) Android mobile-operating system — both of which take 30% off the top of purchases via their respective app stores. Apple calls its App Store “a great opportunity” for software developers and businesses to reach a digital audience in the hundreds of millions. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and other execs call it a monopoly, and the one-third haircut developers and businesses take on their Apple and Android sales would seem to support the argument.  

Don’t get me wrong, Apple and Android deserve a cut from sales on their platform. That’s just how retail works. But such a large piece of the pie? And, interestingly, both companies in the duopoly charge exactly the same percentage. Apple has at least waived its 30% fee for the sake of small businesses for a few months but plans on re-instituting its take rate in 2021. It likes to play high-and-mighty, but Apple could soon find itself under the same antitrust scrutiny that its tech titan peers — including Facebook and Alphabet — are under.

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Amazon Sidewalk is coming to your neighborhood. Here's what you should know – CNET

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James Martin/CNET

Amazon has had its sights set on the smart home ever since Alexa came along — but now the online mega-retailer is thinking bigger, and envisioning entire smart neighborhoods. First announced in 2019, the effort is called Amazon Sidewalk, and it uses a small fraction of your home’s Wi-Fi bandwidth to pass wireless low-energy Bluetooth and 900MHz radio signals between compatible devices across far greater distances than Wi-Fi is capable of on its own — in some cases, as far as half a mile, Amazon says.

You’ll share that bandwidth with your neighbors, creating a sort of network of networks that any Sidewalk-compatible device can take advantage of. Along with making sure things like outdoor smart lights and smart garage door openers stay connected when your Wi-Fi can’t quite reach them, that’ll help things like Tile trackers stay in touch if you drop your wallet while you’re out on a walk, or if your dog hops the fence.

Amazon Sidewalk is coming this year as a free feature for Alexa and Ring users.


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Maybe most noteworthy of all is that, for a lot of us, Amazon Sidewalk won’t require any new hardware. Instead, it’ll arrive as a free software update to the Echo speakers and Ring cameras people already have in their homes. That means that the infrastructure is already in place for Sidewalk to be a robust, large-scale network right at launch — and it also means that you’ll soon see it pop up as a new feature in your Alexa app (and yes, you’ll be able to turn it off).

Amazon didn’t have a whole lot to say about Sidewalk at its September products showcase, but it’s likely that we’ll hear a lot more about it in the weeks ahead, as Amazon draws closer to a launch. For now, here’s everything we know about it.

How exactly does Sidewalk work?

Amazon is designating many of its existing Echo and Ring gadgets (and presumably the majority of its new devices from here on out) as Sidewalk bridges. That means that they’re equipped to siphon off a tiny amount of your home’s Wi-Fi bandwidth and then use it to relay signals to Sidewalk-compatible devices using BLE and 900MHz LoRa signals. Those kinds of low-energy signals can’t carry much data at all, but they can travel great distances.

Amazon claims that the 900MHz band, which is the same band used for amateur UHF radio broadcasts, allows for range of up to half a mile. So, if you have an Echo speaker or a Ring camera in your home that works as a Sidewalk bridge, you’ll be able to send wireless signals to Sidewalk-compatible devices across a huge area. And, if you had a Sidewalk-enabled device like a Tile tracker paired with your Sidewalk bridge, you’d be able to connect with it so long as it was within half a mile of anyone else’s Sidewalk bridge.

With Amazon Sidewalk, data travels from the device to the application server and back by way of the Sidewalk bridge (or gateway) and Amazon’s Sidewalk Network Server.


Amazon

Are there any security or privacy concerns?

There’s definitely a lot to think about. By design, smart home tech requires the user to share device and user data with a private company’s servers. By extending the reach of a user’s smart home, Sidewalk expands its scope and introduces new possible uses. That means new features and functionality, yes — but it also means that you’ll be sharing even more with Amazon.

Jeff Pollard, an analyst at Forrester, took the example of a dog with a Tile-type tracking device clipped to its collar when he described his concerns to CNET last year.

“It’s great to get an alert your dog left the yard, but those devices could also send data to Amazon like the frequency, duration, destination and path of your dog walks,” Pollard said. “That seems innocuous enough, but what could that data mean for you when combined with other data? It’s the unintended — and unexpected — consequences of technology and the data it collects that often come back to bite us (pardon the pun).”

In this example, a Ring motion alert passes through three levels of encryption on its way to the Ring server. During the trip, Amazon can’t see the inside of that packet — just the data needed to authenticate the device and route the transmission to the right place.


Amazon

Now, as Sidewalk prepares to roll out across Amazon’s entire user base, the company is looking to get out ahead of concerns like those. This week, Amazon released a detailed white paper outlining the steps it’s taking to ensure that Sidewalk transmissions stay private and secure.

“As a crowdsourced, community benefit, Amazon Sidewalk is only as powerful as the trust our customers place in us to safeguard customer data,” Amazon writes.

To that end, Amazon compares Sidewalk’s security practices to the postal service. In this analogy, Amazon’s Sidewalk Network Server is the post office, responsible for processing all of the data your devices send back and forth to their application server and making sure everything gets to the right place. But the post office doesn’t get to read your mail — it only gets to read the outside of the envelope. And when it comes to your device data, Amazon says, it uses metadata limitations and three layers of encryption to create the digital version of the envelope.

“Information customers would deem sensitive, like the contents of a packet sent over the Sidewalk network, is not seen by Sidewalk,” Amazon writes. “Only the intended destinations [the endpoint and application server] possess the keys required to access this information. Sidewalk’s design also ensures that owners of Sidewalk gateways do not have access to the contents of the packet from endpoints [they do not own] that use their bandwidth. Similarly, endpoint owners do not have access to gateway information.”

In other words, Amazon’s server will authenticate your data and route it to the right place, but the company says it won’t read or collect it. Amazon also says that it deletes the information used to route each packet of data every 24 hours, and adds that it uses automatically rolling device IDs to ensure that data travelling over the Sidewalk network can’t be tied to specific customers.

Those are good standards that should help Sidewalk steer clear of creating new privacy headaches for consumers — but as Pollard points out, it’ll be important to keep an eye out for any unexpected data consequences of such an expansive and ambitious smart home play.

How much of my home’s Wi-Fi bandwidth does Sidewalk use?

Not much at all. The maximum bandwidth of each Sidewalk bridge transmission to Amazon’s Sidewalk server is just 80Kbps. Each month, Amazon caps the total data allowance at 500MB, which the company notes is roughly equivalent to the amount of data you’d move to stream 10 minutes of HD video.

And keep in mind that you aren’t going to use Sidewalk to stream video or anything else that needs a lot of bandwidth. The signals Sidewalk devices pass back and forth are things like authentication requests and quick commands to turn the lights on, things that don’t require very much data at all.

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Ring cameras and a wide range of existing Echo devices — including every version of the ultrapopular Echo Dot — will now double as Sidewalk bridges.


Ry Crist/CNET

Which devices will work as Sidewalk bridges?

A lot of them, as a matter of fact. Here’s the list of the ones that will work once Sidewalk launches later this year:

It’s noteworthy that the list includes so many Echo devices, including some that date back nearly five years, including the very first Echo Dot. That suggests that Sidewalk is something that Amazon’s been planning for quite some time, and it also means that there are already millions and millions of Sidewalk bridges installed and ready to go in people’s homes. That might even be understating it. At the start of last year, Amazon claimed it had sold more than 100 million Alexa devices.

Also noteworthy: There aren’t any Eero devices on the list. Amazon bought the mesh router maker in early 2019 and released a new version of its mesh system later that year. This year, Amazon introduced two new versions of the Eero system, each of which support the new, faster Wi-Fi 6 standard — but none of them will double as Sidewalk bridges. 

Does Amazon Sidewalk cost extra?

Nope. It’s a free feature for Amazon device users, with no installation or subscription fees.

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Expect to see things that typically push your Wi-Fi range to the limit, like outdoor smart lights, to join Sidewalk’s network in the coming year.


Ry Crist/CNET

What else will work with Sidewalk?

We’ll likely know a lot more about that in the weeks ahead, but judging from Amazon’s imagery, it’s safe to assume that the list will include Ring smart lights and accessories. Tile is also working on a new, Sidewalk-enabled tracker for the platform, and it’s likely that other manufacturers will follow suit with new devices of their own. Things like outdoor lights, connected car tech and smart garage openers that might typically sit on the fringes of your home’s Wi-Fi range seem like especially strong bets, but we’ll update this space as we learn more.


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Google Maps will now show COVID-19 outbreaks for users – National Post

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Google Maps is set to launch a COVID-19 filter showcasing global coronavirus cases and regional trends, the company announced Wednesday.

Google will begin showing users weekly averages of cases per 100,000 using a colour-coded filter. Areas will be one of six colours to signify the severity of the outbreak — Green areas have less than one instance per 100,000 people whereas more than 40 cases per 100,000 people are indicated by dark red, Forbes reported.

This optional filter will show users if cases are trending upwards, remaining stable, or heading down. This is available for all 220 Google Maps supported countries at a national, state or local level depending on available data.

“(It’s) a tool that shows critical information about COVID-19 cases in an area so you can make more informed decisions about where to go and what to do,” wrote Google.

Google will aggregate data from multiple sources, including Johns Hopkins, the New York Times, and World Health Organization. They are also relying on data from varying levels of government.

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