While it’s likely that in the end, Sony and Microsoft will produce pretty similar, pretty powerful consoles in the PS5 and Xbox Series X, the two companies do differ in philosophy a bit.
Microsoft has been hyper focused on not just backward compatibility, with countless old titles playable on the new system, but also…forward compatibility, for lack of a better term. They’ve said that all their first party Xbox Series X will also be able to run on Xbox One for at least the next few years.
Sony is taking a different approach, and it’s one that I have to say I agree with. PlayStation’s Jim Ryan spoke about this recently (via Eurogamer), why Sony has no interest in making sure that PS5 games run on PS4.
“We believe that when you go to all the trouble of creating a next-gen console, that it should include features and benefits that the previous generation does not include….”In our view, people should make games that can make the most of those features…whether it’s the DualSense controller, whether it’s the 3D audio, whether it’s the multiple ways that the SSD can be used… we are thinking that it is time to give the PlayStation community something new, something different, that can really only be enjoyed on PS5.”
Fundamentally, I agree with this philosophy, and I think Microsoft is off-base to devote time and energy to ensuring next-gen games can be played on the previous generation for a time period well past the launch window.
Why? Isn’t that just a win-win and a nice, pro-consumer thing to do? I mean, in theory. But in practice, I worry about games artificially limiting what they can do when they have to consider last generation consoles. There are already countless examples of cross-gen games from the last time around that were held back because they had to support older hardware, and to see that as a goal for Microsoft’s games strikes me as bizarre. You give Series X a worse version of the game than they might have had otherwise if the devs didn’t have to consider last-gen at all, and you give Xbox One players a worse version of the game than they can clearly see across the pond on Series X anyway.
I also think Ryan is right when he goes on to say that there are 100+ million PS4 players and Sony will continue to support that system, on its own, for quite some time. There will naturally be some cross-gen games at the beginning, but no, two years after launch I don’t see a reason why God of War 2 or whatever needs to have PS4 support. That is a waste of dev time and resources that could better be spent elsewhere, in addition to whatever damage it might do to the final product.
I know Microsoft is trying to be all peace love and happiness with the Xbox family these days by putting so much focus on bridging generations. Sometimes I think they’re right, like their Smart Delivery system that allows you to upgrade a copy of a game from one gen to another for free. Sometimes I think they’re taking it too far, like this situation that mandates that Series X games need to run on older and wildly less powerful hardware for the indefinite future. Sony has the right idea here, and I think PS5 will benefit because of it.
Fortnite for Android has also been kicked off the Google Play Store – The Verge
Following its removal from the Apple App Store, Fortnite has also been kicked off of the Google Play Store for Android. Earlier today, Epic Games snuck in an update for both the iPhone and Android versions of the game that allowed users to pay Epic directly for in-app purchases instead of using the officially sanctioned system for both platforms.
What followed was a wild ride: Apple kicked Fortnite off the App Store, then Epic sued Apple, and finally there was an in-game video parodying Apple’s own 1984 commercial, positioning Apple itself as the monopolist.
Now, Google is in the conversation. As with Apple, Google requires that games use the Google Play system for in-app purchases. Although the Play Store’s rules are somewhat more lax than Apple’s when it comes to in-app purchases, Google does draw the line at games. It’s quite clear-cut: “Developers offering products within a game downloaded on Google Play or providing access to game content must use Google Play In-app Billing as the method of payment.” Google’s system takes a 30 percent cut, just as Apple’s does.
Epic’s update earlier today ran afoul of that rule, and while Google took longer to make a decision to ban Fortnite over it than Apple, both companies reached the same conclusion.
The open Android ecosystem lets developers distribute apps through multiple app stores. For game developers who choose to use the Play Store, we have consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users. While Fortnite remains available on Android, we can no longer make it available on Play because it violates our policies. However, we welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play.
A Google spokesperson emphasized to The Verge that Android is an open ecosystem that allows multiple stores and that Google Play’s policies need to apply equally to all developers. It has no problem with those other stores existing nor with Epic distributing its game on them, the spokesperson said.
You can still install Fortnite on Android, however. Epic itself points visitors to its website, where they can either download Fortnite through the Epic Games app or via the Samsung Galaxy Store on Samsung devices. This is different from iPhone and iPad, where it’s now impossible to install the game if you hadn’t already done so.
Epic has a history of tussling with Google over this Play Store rule. In August 2018, Epic pulled Fortnite from the Google Play Store and began distributing it directly. That is only possible because Android allows installs from third-party sources, though it does make that process seem a bit dangerous because of the security warnings that appear when you do.
Eighteen months later, Epic capitulated and put Fortnite back into the Google Play Store, though not without some very angry rhetoric about it. Here’s Epic’s statement from April 2020:
Google puts software downloadable outside of Google Play at a disadvantage, through technical and business measures such as scary, repetitive security pop-ups for downloaded and updated software, restrictive manufacturer and carrier agreements and dealings, Google public relations characterizing third party software sources as malware, and new efforts such as Google Play Protect to outright block software obtained outside the Google Play store.
An app as popular as Fortnite being installed via other means — specifically other stores — has the potential to lessen the centrality of the Google Play Store on Android — and maybe increase fragmentation. There are already competing stores — Samsung is pushing its own store heavily on its Android devices, for example. But in general, the Google Play Store has been the go-to software source for most people.
Epic is already actively encouraging users to also use the version that comes from Samsung’s store, telling users that they can get the discount that started this whole mess if they do: “You’ll find that V-Bucks and real-money offers are now discounted by up to 20% through the Epic Games app at epicgames.com and the Samsung Galaxy Store.”
If Epic can get users in the habit of using other stores, that could mean users will start to want to use other stores for other app installs. If you’ve used any recent Samsung Galaxy phone, you have seen it offer the option to handle the installs for some major apps. It could mean that Google may be able skirt a monopoly issue with its decision, it would argue that there is real competition for app stores on Android.
For just one other gaming-related example, look to Microsoft. Its upcoming Game Pass Ultimate streaming service (you know it as xCloud) will be available both on Google Play and on Samsung’s Galaxy Store. If you install it via Google Play, you won’t be able to purchase DLC content for Xbox games because of that 30 percent cut. If you happen to install it via Samsung’s store, however, you are able to make in-app purchases. Here’s Microsoft’s statement on the issue:
Our vision is to bring a complete, full-featured experience with in-app purchase capabilities to app stores. However, we are complying with all store policies and do not offer in-app purchases in some stores at this time. To access complete, in-app purchase capabilities, Samsung customers can download the Xbox Game Pass app from the Galaxy Store; SK Telecom customers can also get a complete experience through ONE Store.
(Meanwhile, Microsoft’s game streaming service isn’t allowed on the iPhone at all — and Microsoft isn’t happy about that, either.)
Given Epic’s outsized response to Apple’s ban — the lawsuit and the 1984 ad — it’s a sure bet that the company will have a response to Google as well. We’ll obviously let you know what that is when it happens.
Canada's COVID Alert app is a case of tech-driven bad policy design – The Conversation Canada
The July 31 release of Canada’s COVID Alert app was greeted with almost universal praise. Privacy experts applauded its strong privacy protections, echoing the official app website’s extensive detailing of how “your privacy is protected,” including a link to an entire other page that explains “how COVID Alert protects your privacy,” which in turn links to Health Canada’s privacy assessment of the app.
The focus on privacy was so overwhelming that you could be forgiven for thinking the app’s entire purpose was to protect people’s privacy rather than to save lives.
Despite this near-universal praise, when you focus on the actual purpose of the app, rather than on its elegant design, red flags start popping up everywhere.
The design and rollout of the app all suggest that considerations of the app’s medical effectiveness have been secondary to its technical design.
The website contains no information about how effective the app might be in reducing COVID-19 transmission. It does say that “COVID Alert is just one part of the public health effort to limit the spread of COVID-19,” but provides no details about what that means.
A poorly designed policy
More troubling, the app was released without anyone having created a framework for evaluating its success. Instead, Health Canada is currently deciding how to evaluate it, meaning it was released without anyone having a clear idea about what they wanted it to do, and now anything it does can be treated as a success.
The Logic, meanwhile, reports that Liberal Digital Government Minister Joyce Murray says that the government doesn’t have “a particular threshold below which it considers the app to be ineffective.”
If COVID Alert had been presented as a regular government mitigation policy, it would have been given a much rougher ride. Consider:
Rather than targeting the groups most vulnerable to COVID transmission, it focuses on those least likely to spread the disease, namely higher-income Canadians who can afford expensive smartphones and data plans. Meanwhile, it’s low-income communities that are most at risk of COVID-19 transmission.
The program will follow best practices in its setup (privacy), but it was designed without setting any criteria for judging its success or failure in helping to flatten the curve, and without embedding it in an appropriate regulatory framework to ensure that apps like COVID Alert aren’t misused by businesses. And the government is spending $10 million to advertise it.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reports that “the effectiveness of digital proximity tracking to assist contact tracing remains unknown,” with many variables affecting its potential utility, none of which have been publicly accounted for by the government.
Would you fund an unproven policy that likely wouldn’t reach the people most at risk of getting the disease, and with no way to know if it is working?
Focusing on the tool, not the problem
Instead, COVID Alert’s presentation and reception benefited from what tech critic Evgeny Morozov calls technological solutionism. Technological solutionism describes the all too prevalent tendency to assume that technology can solve all our problems.
When we make this leap, as the government and all too many others did here, we begin to focus on the technology’s design — on how effectively it protects privacy — rather than its effect on the problem it was supposedly designed to address.
Instead of starting from the more open question, “What is the best way to fight the pandemic?” technological solutionism asks the leading question, “How can we use apps to do this?”
Technological solutionism is a terrible way to set policy. It leads policy-makers to ignore other, potentially more effective alternatives. It downplays problems caused by the app’s design. In this case, the fact that people most at risk likely won’t be able to access the tool is treated as a minor bug, rather than as a policy-impairing flaw: if it can’t actually reach the people spreading the disease, it’s practically useless.
Technology is policy
Make no mistake: apps like COVID Alert are government programs, not neutral tools. They deliver services and benefits in ways that can create winners and losers. Their creation involved the allocation of scarce resources and the choice of policy pathways that necessarily involved discarding or delaying other options.
In this case, it shifts yet more responsibility onto individuals to battle the pandemic, rather than onto a dedicated bureaucracy. Rather than, say, closing potential COVID-19 hot spots like bars and providing income support to owners and workers, it relies on an incomplete technological fix to deal with failures to socially distance.
Because they are government programs, apps and technology generally should not be exempt from well-established policy-evaluation frameworks. All the privacy guarantees in the world are meaningless if the app doesn’t actually help to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
As digital technologies become increasingly pervasive and private-sector tech firms attempt to insinuate themselves ever deeper into government policy-making (as Apple and Google, the progenitors of this app, are trying to do here), it’s essential that governments avoid technological solutionism.
Otherwise, they will end up outsourcing basic policy-making responsibilities to private tech companies, just as was narrowly avoided when Sidewalk Labs abandoned Waterfront Toronto’s Quayside project in May.
And all of us need to stop thinking about social problems in terms of how tech can help address them. Because when all you have is an app, everything looks like data.
Misconceptions persist about effectiveness and privacy of Canada's COVID Alert app – CBC.ca
After closing his Barrie, Ont., café for the day recently, René Segura checked his smartphone and saw a reassuring message.
“No exposure detected,” the screen read.
Like 1.9 million other Canadians, Segura downloaded the COVID Alert app on the understanding it would notify him if he spent time in close contact with a known coronavirus carrier.
Launched by the federal government on July 31 — and so far only operational in Ontario — the app is designed to warn users if they’ve spent at least 15 minutes in the past two weeks within two metres of another user who later tested positive for the coronavirus.
Having survived a near-death encounter with COVID-19, Segura has extra incentive to use the app.
“I still have my guard up,” Segura said. “I don’t want to go through the same episode again.”
The app, which works on later-model Apple and Android devices, has received positive reviews from privacy advocates, but myths persist about the data it collects — and doesn’t collect.
Experts in both technology and public health stress that the more people who use it, the better it will be. However, they say it doesn’t need to be adopted by a majority of the population for it to have a positive impact.
Segura installed COVID Alert as a means of extra protection, knowing he would constantly be in close contact with customers at the café he co-owns with his wife. In March, at age 41, he was placed in intensive care with a severe case of COVID-19. He’s fully recovered now but had lingering symptoms for weeks.
With businesses like his recently reopening and students soon going back to school, Segura said the app is “a great tool.” He just hopes it will function as advertised.
Using the app does not lessen requirements for public health measures like physical distancing, handwashing and wearing a mask. It’s also not meant to replace manual contact tracing — where teams reach out to anyone who’s been put at risk of exposure.
So far, there are few ways to measure whether it has been effective, but that appears to be the price for the software’s built-in privacy measures.
WATCH | COVID-19 exposure notification app rolling out in Ontario:
Does it work?
At this point, it’s virtually unknowable whether the app has prevented anyone from contracting COVID-19.
In a nutshell, “you’re trying to measure something that didn’t happen,” said Lucie Abeler-Dörner, a scientific manager at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Medicine in Britain. She said it’s a recurring challenge when reviewing preventative public health interventions.
When a user of the app is diagnosed in Ontario, they’re given a one-time code to input, which then alerts others with whom the patient has been in close contact recently. The feature is built on a framework jointly developed by Apple and Google.
To ensure better privacy, the data is stored on individual devices, not on a central server. The drawback is there’s no way of knowing how many users have received an exposure notification.
What’s more, a user isn’t told when, where or with whom any potential exposure occurred, so it’s impossible to determine whether it’s a real threat or the result of a glitch. The alert would direct the user to seek advice from provincial public health officials.
The app uses Bluetooth to determine the proximity of other smartphones, but the technology’s level of precision is unclear.
Andrew Urbaczewski, an associate professor in business information and analytics at the University of Denver, who examined the effectiveness of similar apps in various countries, said testing such technology in a lab doesn’t guarantee results in the real world.
“We’ve got no reason to believe that it doesn’t work,” he said in an interview, “but we certainly don’t have five years or five months or even five weeks of history as to whether or not this works in the wild as intended.”
Urbaczewski pointed to three indicators of success: the app’s download rate among the population, its capacity to accurately provide exposure notifications and its users’ willingness to follow public health advice in the event of contact with the virus.
An Ontario government spokesperson confirmed to CBC News on Wednesday that COVID Alert has been downloaded almost 1.9 million times “with it being expected that the overwhelming majority of these downloads have come from Ontario.”
Although the app is available across Canada, it has so far only been integrated into Ontario’s health-care system, rendering it virtually useless in the rest of the country for now.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has suggested the Atlantic provinces will join next.
“We hope to see the number of downloads continue to increase across Canada as other provinces and territories connect their health-care authorities to the system,” said Alain Belle-Isle, a spokesperson for the federal Treasury Board, the department that is tracking the download rate.
Once anecdotes emerge of exposure notifications leading users to get tested, that’s “what’s going to be compelling for people to download it more,” said Emily Seto, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation.
“I’ve downloaded it,” she said. “Everybody should — if they can — download it,” because of the potential public health benefits.
How many users are needed?
It’s often been reported that a majority of people in a given country would need to install a coronavirus app for it to be effective. Experts now say that’s not entirely true. Much smaller uptake can help, too.
In April, a team of Oxford University scientists, including Abeler-Dörner, published research suggesting if 60 per cent of the British population installed a contact-tracing app, it would be effective in stopping the epidemic. The number has since been cited around the world to illustrate that high uptake is needed for the app to work.
“It’s the figure from early simulations, and it’s the figure you need to control the epidemic in the absence of all other measures,” Abeler-Dörner said in an interview this week.
“Our latest simulations show that actually you start seeing an impact of the app from about 15 per cent uptake.”
But Abeler-Dörner, who is part of a team of scientists advising the British government and the country’s National Health Service, said she suspects even smaller uptake provides benefits.
She pointed to anecdotal evidence from Germany that young, urban populations living in denser neighbourhoods and prone to take part in group activities — more likely to spread the virus — are also more likely to install a coronavirus app.
In Canada, 1.9 million downloads represents five per cent of the country’s population of 38 million. It’s unclear how many of the downloads have come from provinces where the app is not yet active.
Once downloaded, the app also requires a short installation process before it can monitor for COVID-19 exposure. Data from Switzerland indicates not everyone who downloads a coronavirus app actually uses it. The country’s app has seen more than two million downloads, but as of Monday, it had fewer than 1.25 million active users.
When COVID Alert launched, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said officials would need “an ongoing way of evaluating its effectiveness.” She declined to provide an uptake target but said the more people who use it, “the more useful it would be.”
In July, Australia topped a list compiled by app analytics firm Sensor Tower ranking national coronavirus apps by download rate (21.6 per cent). Ireland is reported to have reached 1.3 million downloads — representing more than 26 per cent of the population — for its COVID Tracker app within eight days of its release.
The Canadian app has only been in use for two weeks. “I think you’re on the right track,” said Abeler-Dörner.
Is it actually secure?
The federal government, digital privacy advocates and software experts have provided assurances that COVID Alert is safe.
“Canadians can opt to use this technology knowing it includes very significant privacy protections,” federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said when the app was released. “I will use it.”
The app only exchanges random codes, not identifying data, with nearby devices. It checks daily for codes belonging to a user who’s said they’ve tested positive.
The app doesn’t provide the government — or anyone else — with a user’s name, whereabouts or health information. It also doesn’t use a smartphone’s GPS function, which could have allowed the app to geolocate a user.
But some Canadians appear to still have deep-seated doubts.
Leger survey results released this week found that 52 per cent don’t believe the government when it says the app does not collect personal information and does not geolocate users. Another 39 per cent did not believe the app “will work.”
The results come from a web survey of 1,513 Canadians carried out Aug. 7-9. The comparable margin of error for a study this size would be plus or minus 2.52 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
A promotional campaign has followed the release of the app, with ads appearing on websites, social media platforms and elsewhere. The U of T’s Emily Seto said targeted campaigns might help clear up misconceptions.
As employees return to workplaces, she said, managers “may want to promote it — maybe not make it mandatory — but to have a campaign to [help] understand the benefits, as well as the privacy measures.”
Could it be better?
The concession for enhanced privacy and security measures appears to be a limited set of public health functions.
“That’s always the tradeoff,” said Urbaczewski. He compared it with Apple’s Siri vocal assistant, which he said sends less data to a central server compared with Amazon’s Alexa, but it can be less responsive as a result.
Coronavirus apps with fewer privacy protections in use elsewhere can provide public health officials with more data to get a better handle on outbreaks. Ireland’s COVID Tracker also uses the Apple-Google framework, but it counts the number of positive test results recorded in the app and how many users get exposure notifications.
Experts say publishing such data can help build trust among the population that the app is working. As it stands in Canada, officials have provided little tangible evidence of its efficacy.
It’s unknown how many users have uploaded a COVID-19 diagnosis through the app since its launch. A federal government representative directed such inquiries to Ontario’s Ministry of Health, which instructed a reporter to ask Ontario’s Treasury Board Secretariat, which in turn declined to provide an exact figure.
Swiss officials regularly post online the number of active users and downloads. In Germany, the federal disease control agency reported Tuesday that 1,320 people had so far been issued codes for uploading their positive tests to the app.
In Canada, the government is considering how to track — and potentially make available — data related to the app once other provinces and territories adopt it.
“Anything that the government can do to continue to promote these types of things and talk about the successes they’ve had will just encourage individuals to participate in the overall effort,” Urbaczewski said.
So far, the only measure made available in Canada is the download rate: 1.9 million in about 12 days.
Abeler-Dörner said she recommends that public health authorities collect additional app data manually, such as by asking people who are reached through traditional contact tracing if they were previously alerted of an exposure through the app. That way, officials could get a sense of whether the app is notifying users quickly, as it’s meant to.
The other persistent criticism of the initiative surrounds the app’s accessibility. COVID Alert can only run on an Apple or Android device released in the past five years, making it unavailable to vulnerable populations without access to recent technology.
Research has consistently shown that lower-income and marginalized communities are at a higher risk of contracting the virus — meaning those who could most benefit from an exposure notification app can’t access it.
Singapore addressed the issue by providing contact-tracing tokens — small devices carried in someone’s pocket or purse — that play a role similar to an app.
In Canada, the flaw arises from the Apple-Google framework, which only works on later-model phones. But according to Sebastian Skamski, a spokesperson for Ontario Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy, that covers “the vast majority of smartphones owned by Ontarians.”
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