New submitter Muckluck shares an excerpt from a report via Phys.Org that provides "an interesting look at how algorithms may be shaping your life": When you browse online for a new pair of shoes, pick a movie to stream on Netflix or apply for a car loan, an algorithm likely has its word to say on the outcome. The complex mathematical formulas are playing a growing role in all walks of life: from detecting skin cancers to suggesting new Facebook friends, deciding who gets a job, how police resources are deployed, who gets insurance at what cost, or who is on a "no fly" list. Algorithms are being used -- experimentally -- to write news articles from raw data, while Donald Trump's presidential campaign was helped by behavioral marketers who used an algorithm to locate the highest concentrations of "persuadable voters." But while such automated tools can inject a measure of objectivity into erstwhile subjective decisions, fears are rising over the lack of transparency algorithms can entail, with pressure growing to apply standards of ethics or "accountability." Data scientist Cathy O'Neil cautions about "blindly trusting" formulas to determine a fair outcome. "Algorithms are not inherently fair, because the person who builds the model defines success," she said. Phys.Org cites O'Neil's 2016 book, "Weapons of Math Destruction," which provides some "troubling examples in the United States" of "nefarious" algorithms. "Her findings were echoed in a White House report last year warning that algorithmic systems 'are not infallible -- they rely on the imperfect inputs, logic, probability, and people who design them,'" reports Phys.Org. "The report noted that data systems can ideally help weed out human bias but warned against algorithms 'systematically disadvantaging certain groups.'"
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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.
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).
Netflix added the ability to download movies and TV episodes for offline viewing in November last year. Music streaming service SoundCloud, and video hosting service Vimeo have had this feature for quite some time, too. But they are all being sued now by a patent troll. From an ArsTechnica report: The plaintiff is a company few have heard of: Blackbird Technologies, a company with no products or assets other than patents. Blackbird's business is to buy up patent rights and file lawsuits over them, a business known colloquially as "patent trolling." Last week, Blackbird (who tells potential clients about being "able to litigate at reduced costs and achieve results") filed lawsuits against Netflix, SoundCloud, Vimeo, Starz, Mubi, and Studio 3 Partners, which owns the Epix TV channel. [...] The patent-holding company, which filed the lawsuits in Delaware federal court, has good reason to hope for success. The '362 patent already has a track record of squeezing settlement cash out of big companies.
An anonymous reader shares a WashingtonPost report: Silicon Valley is stepping up its confrontation with the Trump administration. On Sunday night, technology giants Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter, Uber and many others filed a legal brief opposing the administration's contentious entry ban. The move represents a rare coordinated action across a broad swath of the industry (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate source) -- 97 companies in total -- and demonstrates the depth of animosity toward the Trump ban. The amicus brief was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which is expected to rule within a few days on an appeal by the administration after a federal judge in Seattle issued late Friday a temporary restraining order putting the entry ban on hold. The brief comes at the end of a week of nationwide protests against the plan -- as well as a flurry of activity in Silicon Valley, a region that sees immigration as central to its identity as an innovation hub.From a TechCrunch report: Notably absent from the list of 97 companies are several who met with Trump prior to his inauguration: Amazon, Oracle, IBM, SpaceX and Tesla. Although Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was highly critical of Trump prior to his election, he has not spoken out against the immigration policy. Oracle CEO Safra Catz is serving as an advisor to the Trump transition team, while SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has defended his decision to remain on an advisory council for Trump.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: New York filed a lawsuit on Wednesday accusing Charter Communications Inc of short-changing customers who were promised faster internet speeds than it could deliver. The lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan accused Charter's Spectrum unit, until recently known as Time Warner Cable, of systematically defrauding customers since 2012 by promising and charging for services it knew it could not offer. At least 640,000 subscribers signed up for high-speed plans but got slower speeds, and many subscribers were unable to access promised online content such as Facebook, Netflix, YouTube and various gaming platforms, the complaint said. The lawsuit seeks "full restitution" for customers, as well as hefty civil fines. Among the allegations in the complaint was an accusation that Time Warner Cable leased older-generation modems to 900,000 subscribers knowing that the modems could not achieve faster internet speeds.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Comcast is making its Xfinity TV service available to subscribers with Roku set-top players via a new app, paving the way for customers of the nation's largest cable provider to watch live programming without the cost or hassle of a cable box. Roku is the first set-stop box to offer the Xfinity TV service, Comcast said in a statement Tuesday. During a test period, subscribers will have to hang on to their cable devices. When the app formally rolls out later this year, they'll be able sign up without renting a cable box. While Comcast expects the majority of its customers to opt for the typical setup, traditional pay-TV providers are trying to be more flexible about where and how people can watch TV given the popularity of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon and the boxes that offer them. Customers with Roku players will be able to watch live TV, browse on-demand libraries and record shows, just as they can with Comcast's boxes. Those who use the Roku as their primary device instead of Comcast's X1 device will receive a $2.50 monthly credit, the company said.
JustAnotherOldGuy quotes a report from Boing Boing: The World Wide Web Consortium's Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) is a DRM system for web video, being pushed by Netflix, movie studios, and a few broadcasters. It's been hugely controversial within the W3C and outside of it, but one argument that DRM defenders have made throughout the debate is that the DRM is optional, and if you don't like it, you don't have to use it. That's not true any more. Some time in the past few days, Google quietly updated Chrome (and derivative browsers like Chromium) so that Widevine (Google's version of EME) can no longer be disabled; it comes switched on and installed in every Chrome instance. Because of laws like section 1201 of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (and Canada's Bill C11, and EU implementations of Article 6 of the EUCD), browsers that have DRM in them are risky for security researchers to audit. These laws provide both criminal and civil penalties for those who tamper with DRM, even for legal, legitimate purposes, and courts and companies have interpreted this to mean that companies can punish security researchers who reveal defects in their products. Further reading: Boing Boing and Hacker News.
With investment firms cutting costs and portfolio managers combating a barrage of information, financial research shops around the globe are looking for new ways to keep their product relevant. From a report: A raft of startups have launched to support that effort, offering tools that can use Google search data to get an edge on retail sales, deploy drones to examine oil supplies or allow investors to rank analysts and bid on their reports, like a Netflix or eBay of research. Whether these innovations will lead to smarter investments, or be used widely enough to prop up research budgets, is yet to be seen. But the startups are forming alliances with banks, brokerages and investors by the dozen. People who use and sell the tools say the trend is changing how research is financed, distributed and consumed for the first time in decades. "We are coming up on a very different age for equity research," said Lex Sokolin, global director of fintech strategy at Autonomous Research. Investors now see research as a product that must stand on its own rather than a freebie offered as part of a broader relationship with an investment bank, Sokolin said. Technology can improve the quality and distribution of research, he said. [...] Perhaps most importantly, investors say they are sick of their inboxes piling up with run-of-the-mill reports each day. At a time when people share snippets of information through WhatsApp and Slack and a tweet can move a stock in seconds, sharing loads of PDF files through email is not only passe, but makes it hard to know what is worth reading, industry sources said.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Consumerist: Now that Netflix has finally opened the doors to offline viewing, subscribers have the ability to download content and watch it later. That's all well and good if you've got plenty of space on your device, but not so useful if you don't. Android users will have some breathing room now, however, as Netflix's most recent app update lets users set their download location to either internal storage or an SD card. As The Verge notes, offline content has a time limit, so it's not like you can download all the movies and TV shows your heart desires and leave them there forever. The feature doesn't support any Android devices that have a microSD slot, either.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Netflix has gleefully poked a stick at its competitors in the video streaming market, after revealing it had added more than seven million subscribers to its service in the last three months of 2016. HBO also got a special mention. In a letter to shareholders, the company's boss Reed Hastings teased the TV drama maker by noting that, if the BBC was willing to stream shows before they air on television, then maybe HBO -- which has rigidly stuck to its strategy of eking out episodes to viewers -- should do the same. He said: "[...] the BBC has become the first major linear network to announce plans to go binge-first with new seasons, favoring internet over linear viewers. We presume HBO is not far behind the BBC. In short, it's becoming an Internet TV world, which presents both challenges and opportunities for Netflix as we strive to earn screen time." But it's worth noting that HBO currently has an exclusive deal with Sky in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, and Italy, allowing the broadcaster to have first-run rights on the likes of Game of Thrones and Westworld until 2020 -- so any such change isn't likely to happen in the near-term. Late last year, it struck a deal with Netflix rival Amazon, allowing Prime members in the US to sign up for a monthly HBO subscription. "We have a very successful partnership with this great company that continues to evolve," said HBO exec Sofia Chang in December. The company's HBO Now streaming service shows no sign of shifting strategy, either, with programs airing simultaneously on traditional TV and online.
Nearly a third of all US adults admit to having downloaded or streamed pirated movies or TV-shows, a new survey has found. Even though many are aware that watching pirated content is not permitted, a large number of pirates are particularly hard to deter. According to a report from TorrentFreak: This is one of the main conclusions of research conducted by anti-piracy firm Irdeto, which works with prominent clients including Twentieth Century Fox and Starz. Through YouGov, the company conducted a representative survey of over 1,000 respondents which found that 32 percent of all US adults admit to streaming or downloading pirated video content. These self-confessed pirates are interested in a wide variety of video content. TV-shows and movies that still play in theaters are on the top of the list for many, with 24 percent each, but older movies, live sports and Netflix originals are mentioned as well. The data further show that the majority of US adults (69%) know that piracy is illegal. Interestingly, this also means that a large chunk of the population believes that they're doing nothing wrong.
Netflix's boom in subscribers is a sign that the world is accepting internet TV, meaning without commercials and on-demand, said CEO Reed Hastings during an earnings call with investors. From a report: "The basic demand is increasing as people get more comfortable and more aware of Internet television where you don't get the commercial interruptions, where you get to watch where and when you want," said Hastings. Netflix reported $2.47 billion in revenue during Q4 2016, and earnings per share of 15 cents. The streaming giant wildly beat its original projections for subscriber additions, bringing in 7.05 million new customers compared to its Q3 estimate of 5.2 million. The majority of adds were from international viewers. Even though some shows -- like "Gilmore Girls" -- started as traditional TV shows before moving to Netflix, a large part of the draw for new subscribers came from original shows. Almost half of the most searched for shows this year were Netflix originals, said Ted Sarandos, chief content officer. The company has 42 launches coming up, including Marvel's "Iron Fist" and Drew Barrymore's zombie comedy "Santa Clarita Diet."
Netflix has become the go-to destination for many movie and TV fans. The service is bringing in billions for copyright holders, but it also has a downside. New research shows that the availability of content on Netflix can severely hurt physical disc sales, which traditionally have been the industry's largest revenue source. From a report: A new study published by researchers from Hong Kong universities provides some empirical evidence on this issue. Through a natural experiment, they looked at the interplay between Netflix availability and DVD sales in the United States. The experiment took place when the Epix entertainment network, which distributes movies and TV-shows from major studios including Paramount and Lionsgate, left Netflix for Hulu in 2015. Since Hulu has a much smaller market share, these videos no longer reached a large part of the audience. At least not by default. The researchers used difference to examine the effect on DVD sales, while controlling for various other variables. The results, published in a paper this week, show that DVD sales increased significantly after the content was taken off Netflix, almost by a quarter. "Our difference-in-difference analyses show that the decline in the streaming availability of Epix's content leads to a 24.7% increase in their DVD sales in the three months after the event," the paper reads.
Last year, publishers worldwide began making live videos on Facebook. The social juggernaut had cut deals with them, offering lofty amounts and promising big future moving forward. Turns out, Facebook's experimental project is over. Recode reports: Facebook spent more than $50 million last year paying publishers and celebrities to create live video on the social network. Now numerous publishers tell Recode that Facebook is de-emphasizing live video when it talks to them. And none of the publishers we've spoken with expect Facebook to renew the paid livestreaming deals it signed last spring to get live video off the ground. Instead, Facebook is pushing publishers to create longer, premium video content as part of a larger effort led by Facebook exec Ricky Van Veen. The hope is to get more high-quality video onto the platform and into your News Feed -- the kind of stuff, presumably, you might find on Netflix.
Todd Spangler, writing for Variety: Amazon is rolling out its first branded on-demand subscription service for Amazon Channels: Anime Strike, offering more than 1,000 series episodes and movies ranging from classic titles to current shows broadcast on Japanese TV. The Anime Strike channel is available to U.S. Amazon Prime members for $4.99 per month after a seven-day free trial, the newest addition to the lineup of around 100 services now available in Amazon Channels. Amazon has struck exclusive U.S. streaming deals for several series on Anime Strike, including "Scum's Wish," "Onihei," "The Great Passage," "Vivid Strike!," "Crayon-Shin Chan Gaiden: Alien vs. Shinnosuke," and "Chi's Sweet Adventure."
The advent of streaming TV services and over the top devices that support them has come at a cost. They used to work on a simple, unwritten principle: being different from normal cable services. You didn't have to pay for large, non-configurable bundles of channels that played shows in linear fashion and required you to use a digital video recorder built into the box (often for an extra fee) if you wanted to create your own collection of programming to watch on your own schedule. But that's not the case anymore, argues veteran technology columnist Walt Mossberg. He writes: The general idea is that each of these TV services will appeal to cord-cutters and cord-nevers who merely consider old-style cable and satellite TV too costly. To overcome that, each offers what are called "skinny bundles" of channels, with fewer choices, at various prices. On Sling, for instance, you start at about 30 channels for $20 a month. On DirecTV Now, it's 60 channels for $35 a month. Both offer other, costlier plans, with more channels, or add-on plans for HBO, or for specialized programming such as sports, or kids' shows. Both are working on DVR offerings. In other words, while the bundles may be cheaper and skinnier, they're still bundles, not unlike the tiers of programming offered by traditional cable and satellite services. And you can't assemble your own custom bundle. Also, unlike in the Netflix / Hulu model, the emphasis here is on networks, not shows.
Amazon's cloud-computing unit says that one day it will rely solely on renewable power. But Greenpeace reports that a ramp-up in data-center construction in Virginia, where electricity comes mostly from coal and nuclear plants, makes that goal elusive. From the report: Apple, Google, Facebook, and newcomer Switch are taking some of the greatest strides towards 100% renewable energy, while companies such as Netflix, Amazon Web Services, and Samsung are lagging. The findings in Greenpeace USA's report outlines the energy footprints of large data center operators and nearly 70 of the most popular websites and applications. "Amazon continues to talk a good game on renewables but is keeping its customers in the dark on its energy decisions. This is concerning, particularly as Amazon expands into markets served by dirty energy," said Greenpeace USA Senior IT Analyst, Gary Cook. "Like Apple, Facebook, and Google, Netflix is one of the biggest drivers of the online world and has a critical say in how it is powered. Netflix must embrace the responsibility to make sure its growth is powered by renewables, not fossil fuels and it must show its leadership here," continued Cook.
Apple said Thursday its App Store generated $20 billion for developers in 2016, a 40 percent increase from 2015, helped by the popularity of games such as Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run and increased revenue from subscriptions. From a report on CNBC: "2016 was an amazingly great year for the App Store," Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, told CNBC. "We continue to advance what is available for developers to create. And our catalog of apps grew 20 percent to 2.2 million." Schiller said the biggest drivers for the App Store included games such as "Pokemon Go," which was the most downloaded app in 2016; "Super Mario," which was the most downloaded app on Christmas and New Year's days; and subscription-based apps, such as Netflix, Hulu and Time Warner's HBO Go. The tech giant said its biggest day of sales on the App Store was on Jan. 1, 2017, when customers spent a record $240 million. The top grossing markets included the U.S, U.K., Japan and China, which saw 90 percent year-over-year growth.
Netflix hasn't forgotten about its DVD service, which millions of people still use. From a report on Quartz: The company is touting a new app that DVD customers can use to manage their Netflix queues, search for DVD and Blu-ray titles, and get movie recommendations. Those features for DVD subscribers vanished from the main Netflix app back in 2011, leaving subscribers to manage their accounts on DVD.com. The new app, called DVD Netflix, is currently only available on Apple's iOS in the US, which is the only country the DVD service is offered in. About 4.2 million people in the US still rent DVDs from Netflix.