10 Predictions About The Media Industry In the New Year

3-D Movie Viewers. Formally-attired audience sporting 3-D glasses during opening night screening of film Bwana Devil, the 1st full-length color 3-D (aka Natural Vision) motion picture, at Paramount Theater.2018 was a year of massive mergers and acquisitions, with AT&T/Time Warner, Disney/Fox and Comcast/Sky. The #MeToo movement made headlines, and the dominant emotion in boardroom discussions around Hollywood and beyond was fear … lots of fear in the ranks of our tech-infused world of media and entertainment (as well as in the world itself).

So what does the crystal ball predict for 2019?

Here are some of the narratives that will shape the world of entertainment next year and set the stage for the roaring 20s of the media industry.

PREDICTION #1 – Blood continues to spill in the relentless battle amongst premium OTT video giants, as Apple and Disney join the subscription video fray and add to the epic collective assault on Netflix. In the midst of it all, smaller “niche” players either find their singular voices that attract “fandom” and broader monetization, or risk being marginalized and swallowed up by their strategic investors (for a fraction of what they would have commanded a couple years back).

Originals continue to be the primary weapon used in the premium subscription streaming video battlefront, extending media’s new “Golden Age” for creators and further skyrocketing content-related development and production costs (including the price tags for A-list marquee talent). Fierce premium OTT video competitors increasingly use content both offensively and defensively, like Disney withholding its crown jewels from Netflix (Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, Princesses, X-Men, Avatar). Netflix feels the heat, as will its investors, as the collective crew of “Netflix-Killers” put increasing pressure on its pure-play business model.

Meanwhile, the newly expanded list of virtual MVPDs (multichannel video program distributors) fix their initial flaws, offer consumers real competitive choice, and hasten consumer cord-cutting even further.  Whereas we started 2016 with 2-3 real, viable mainstream choices in the U.S. for live television, as of 2019, consumers now can access nearly 10 (cable, satellite, Hulu Live, YouTube TV, DirecTV Now, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, fuboTV, etc.). And, even in these nationalistic times, let’s not forget about massive international players like Tencent, Alibaba or Baidu’s iQIYI, which went public in the U.S. markets this past year.

Amidst this battle of video giants, several smaller so-called “niche” or segment-focused video players either expeditiously find their uniquely compelling voice and build a fandom-fueled multi-pronged monetizing brand around it, or simply get lost in the noise.

FILE – This June 27, 2015, file photo, shows the Hulu logo on a window at the Milk Studios space in New York. Hulu said Monday, Aug. 8, 2016, that the company is dropping the free TV episodes that it was initially known for as it works on launching a skinny bundle of streaming TV.
PREDICTION #2 – Media-Tech driven M&A continues to rule the day in all segments. On the video side, both traditional media companies and undercapitalized and underperforming privately-held new media companies languish in this beyond-crowded OTT video space and become logical M&A targets.

M&A is a hallmark of the overall digital, multi-platform tech-infused transformation of the media and entertainment business. Just like AT&T closed its acquisition of storied traditional (yet slow-moving) Time Warner ($85 billion), Disney beat back Comcast to acquire Fox’s entertainment assets in 2018 ($71.3 billion), Comcast struck back and acquired Sky ($39 billion), and SiriusXM acquired the remaining 81% of Pandora it didn’t already own ($3.5 billion), expect more massive deals in 2019, together with a number of smaller, yet still significant ones. Viacom/CBS is one likely candidate.

And don’t just look within U.S. borders. No virtual wall exists in our borderless new media world, which means that M&A’s pace will accelerate internationally as well. Remember, the Comcast/Sky deal represents a U.S. behemoth’s ambitions to significantly expand its footprint into multiple European territories. Lots of mega-companies around the globe desperately hope to expand their footprints to places where, up to now, they have never been.

To be clear, not all M&A will flow from weakness. Sometimes the numbers offered simply will be too high to reject. But make no mistake. Weakness will abound amidst hyper-competition, and winners will swallow up losers in an environment of accelerating M&A. Many of the so-called niche-focused OTT video services still primarily rely upon ad dollars (especially the younger ones), but remember, Google and Facebook already own about 2/3 of that global digital advertising market. That means that most pure-play OTT video players simply cannot succeed on ad dollars alone. And, for most, other means of monetization will be beyond their reach, as they fail to deliver a sufficiently compelling, differentiated and emotionally connected media experience. So, much like Uproxx did this past year when Warner Music Group acquired it (likely for a song), expect several of the new media players to lose their Indie status.

PREDICTION #3 – The music industry’s streaming-driven turnaround continues and streaming revenues accelerate, but pure-play music services led by Spotify continue to hemorrhage money as losses mount. Meanwhile, the giant “big box” retailers of the day — Apple, Amazon and YouTube (particularly YouTube) — brazenly march on, indifferent to that suffering with their fundamentally different underlying marketing-driven business models. 

Yes, Spotify boasts massive scale. Yet, scale alone does not financial success make. In fact, pure-play growth success leads to higher and higher losses due to sobering industry economics these pure-plays can’t stomach, but the behemoths can due to their multi-pronged business models. These harsh realities mean that investors of many pure-play streaming music services will take a hard look at themselves in 2019 as they contemplate their next strategic next steps. Many will realize that they can’t go it alone. And that leads to more M&A, much like we saw this past year with SiriusXM buying Pandora and LiveXLive buying Slacker. Spotify is not immune here. Unless it successfully expands its business model and drives major new revenue streams, it too could be bought. Facebook anyone?


NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 03: The Spotify banner hangs from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on the morning that the music streaming service begins trading shares at the NYSE on April 3, 2018 in New York City. Trading under the symbol SPOT, the Swedish company’s losses grew to 1.235 billion euros ($1.507 billion) last year, its largest ever.
PREDICTION #4 – Tech-driven media companies thrive and increasingly dominate the entertainment world by using data to their advantage. They use AI, voice and machine learning to dominate further and even more broadly infiltrate our lives and impact our media and entertainment experiences.

Netflix, Amazon and Facebook increasingly mine their deep data about all of our hopes and dreams to maximize “hits” and minimize “misses” as compared to traditional media companies. In many respects, the studios simply can’t compete. Faced with that reality, the quest for data — and the services that provide analysis and inform – takes on new urgency. Further, the Hollywood establishment and creative community still have yet to understand – at least in large numbers — the power of new cost-effective tech-driven ways to test and measure new characters, stories and engagement in order to more smartly and efficiently place their big expensive bets.

Meanwhile, the new tech-driven media giants hope to increase their overall Media 2.0 dominance through the soothing voices of Alexa and Siri (sorry Google, yours is a little less so) and the overall AI/machine learning revolution. “Virtual assistants,” “smart speakers” (or whatever you want to call them) increasingly dominate our home conversations, improve significantly over time, and serve up our favorite content via “intelligent” recommendations (as well as increasingly targeted and smarter incentives, promotions, ads and goods). 71% of us already use voice assistants at least once per day (most frequently for selecting the music we like to hear), so voice most definitely is here to stay.

More exotically, and perhaps somewhat alarmingly, AI also increasingly drives so-called “intelligent” creation. AI already develops movie trailers that some believe approach the impact of their human-generated counterparts. You be the judge — check out the first AI-produced movie trailer, care of IBM’s Watson, for the fittingly AI-themed 2016 motion picture thriller Morgan. And, just imagine how much AI has advanced in just these past two years since then. Can AI screenwriters be far behind?  Gong Yu, founder and CEO of China’s leading streaming platform iQIYI certainly doesn’t think so. In his words, AI “will reshape the entertainment industry over the next 10-15 years, much more so than the Internet did over the past three decades.”  Just chew on that for a bit.

So, AI may become a real threat even to creative pursuits that, up to this point, most in Hollywood believe are untouchable by computers, bots, and robots. Tesla maven and global futurist Elon Musk is downright dystopian and takes things even further, warning that AI may be an ultimate global threat to us all. Musk tweeted in 2017 that “competition for AI superiority at a national level most likely cause of WW3.”   Those were his precise words, so that was either Musk’s particular form of Twitter-speak, or his mind had become a bit hazy during one of his notorious cannabis-fueled interviews!

Amazon is releasing a software development kit that will let developers integrate Alexa into smart screen devices.
PREDICTION #5 – Behemoths Apple, Google and Facebook, together with other tech-driven media giants and deep-pocketed financiers from around the world, increase their already-massive investments in immersive technologies and accelerate mainstream adoption of AR.

AR’s gold rush means continued growth in the related wearables market and consumer adoption of AR-driven eyewear. Investors of all stripes also continue to throw boatloads of cash into the overall immersive space to fuel the development of experiences (including real-world live entertainment and storytelling, not only games) to feed these new platforms. Expect significant investment in content. The immersive market opportunity is still so nascent, yet its ultimate promise is so great, that the money working to capture it in 2019 and beyond will seem endless. And, when so much money chases a market, that market becomes our consumer reality.

The onset of 5G wireless networks will only hasten the growth of extended reality (XR) in all its forms. Speaking of 5G …

Attendees look at 5G mobile phones at the Qualcomm stand during China Mobile Global Partner Conference 2018 at Poly World Trade Center Exhibition Hall on December 6, 2018 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China.

GUANGZHOU, CHINA – DECEMBER 06: Attendees look at 5G mobile phones at the Qualcomm stand during China Mobile Global Partner Conference 2018 at Poly World Trade Center Exhibition Hall on December 6, 2018 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China. The three-day conference opened on Thursday, with the theme of 5G network.
PREDICTION #6 – 5G Networks launch, reveal their early media and tech promise and possibilities, and begin to transform our media and entertainment experiences (as well as the overall ecosystem that supports them). 

5G networks are critical for media experiences that require low latency, including AR, VR, and eSports. For AR, 5G reduces the size of consumer headsets, because processing is now done on the network itself rather than on the device. That makes wearables increasingly user-friendly and fuels further innovation and adoption. 5G also accelerates more high-quality video consumption on our mobile phones, thereby pushing purveyors of premium OTT video like Netflix to increasingly focus on mobile-first content experiences.

Jeffrey Katzenberg’s and Meg Whitman’s new mobile-driven Netflix-like premium video service Quibi (formerly NewTV) certainly saw this train coming and jumped on first.

PREDICTION #7 – The oft-overlooked, yet potentially game-changing, live entertainment and event plank increasingly finds itself in multi-platform Media 2.0 strategies, deepening overall brand engagement and monetization possibilities. Expect more significant “offline”-related experiments, initiatives and M&A by both traditional and new tech-driven media companies.

Call this the “Amazon Effect,” as players across the Media 2.0 ecosystem stop scratching their heads about Amazon’s direct-to-theater film releases, brick and mortar retail expansion, and Whole Foods superstore operations – and, instead, increasingly study, respect and emulate them. Netflix certainly did in 2018. After trashing Amazon one year earlier for releasing its features first in theaters, Netflix announced it would begin to do the same.

Amazon understands what most still haven’t even considered – that direct, non-virtual offline consumer engagement may be the most impactful plank of them all, driving online engagement into the real world (and then back again) to create a virtual cycle of daily brand engagement and consumer monetization every step of the way. Even traditional media company Viacom now shows signs of understanding these online/offline brand synergies. It bought both youth-focused video industry conference VidCon and music festival SnowGlobe in 2018.

So, while MoviePass may go the way of the Dodo bird in 2019, movie theaters themselves will not die. They simply will be re-imagined. We humans, after all, are social creatures. We like to get out, and we won’t be satisfied binging on Netflix alone. Movie theater subscription services most definitely are here to stay, and Amazon will offer one soon for Prime members. After all, in a fun fact that may surprise you, more museums populate the planet – significantly more – than McDonald’s. See, there is hope!

ANAHEIM, CA – JUNE 23: General view of panelists at the 7th Annual VidCon at Anaheim Convention Center on June 22, 2016 in Anaheim, California.
PREDICTION #8 – The #MeToo Movement continues to transform the face (and faces) of both old and new media. And, new faces will invest new industry dollars in new (and frequently very different) content choices, bringing us new (and frequently different) stories and transforming our media and entertainment experiences.

Revelations aren’t over. Abuse was simply far too pervasive. Old players are gone. New, frequently younger, tech-driven media savvy faces get a seat at the decision-making table. They change the game of “what” and “how” we experience content.

Ultimately, #MeToo both cleanses the overall new media industry and fills our plates with very different media and entertainment choices.

PREDICTION #9 – Fake news, fraud and breaches of privacy continue unabated and accelerate, as does marketing concern for “brand safety.”  These seemingly unstoppable negative forces continue to place downward pressure on ad-dependent open platforms. 

Make no mistake, we are in the midst of hacking wars, the likes of which we’ve never seen. This “good versus evil” reality is here to stay, and players across the tech-driven media and entertainment ecosystem either significantly increase their investments in counter-measures and related PR, or risk the wrath of consumers and the overall ad market (much like Facebook did this past year).

Twitter cleaned 70 million fake and automated accounts in a two month span last year (and 1 million more daily), Instagram conceded that over 50% of engagements on its posts tagged as #sponsored are fake, Spotify similarly conceded prevalent ad fraud and decreased its total reported content hours streamed by hundreds of millions of hours, and competing music service Tidal faced accusations that it had falsified tens of millions of streams. Just a few examples of how pervasive fraud and audience manipulation has become in our Media 2.0 world. These fake accounts create, in the words of Variety“a shadow army of followers that has comparatively little monetary effect. But perform the same manipulation with music streams, and it constitutes fraud.” 

PREDICTION #10 – Blockchain technology and crypto-currency-fueled investment and experimentation, already over-hyped and under-performing, continues apace. Yet, once again, there will be little to show for it in the world of media and entertainment. At least for now.

Early blockchain leaders continue to be irrationally overvalued, which is always the case with any nascent market. But, on a happier note, the voice of blockchain technology – heard thus far mostly in investment circles with promises of “instant millions” (or even billions) – becomes increasingly heard for its more positive potential for the world of media and entertainment. Blockchain technology conceptually holds revolutionary industry-transforming new offensive and defensive power. On the offensive front, blockchain enables new ways to monetize content via micropayments and direct creator-to-consumer distribution sans today’s leading middlemen. These possibilities begin to reveal themselves in 2019. On the defensive front, blockchain promises to eradicate piracy, but that happens in years, not this coming year.

The bottom line

2019 certainly will push 2018’s Media 2.0 boundaries noticeably further, driven by these and other industry meta-forces. But, these changes will be barely noticeable compared to the seismic shifts to follow in the next ten years.

I close with Paramount futurist Ted Schilowitz’s perspective on all of this. In our conversation, Ted points to two phenomena — the first of which he calls “the known unknown,” and the second he calls “the ten-year curve.”  “The known unknown” refers to what he calls the “scary” fact that we all know that massive tech-driven change is coming, but we don’t know the “twists and turns that get us there.”  Meanwhile, “the ten-year curve” refers to “big dynamic change waves” that follow ten-year cycles. In Ted’s view, we just recently finished the YouTube and iPhone 10-year cycles, and now essentially everyone around the globe participates in those dual phenomena.

So, what’s “the next big thing?”  Ted calls it the “the evolution of the screen” – so-called “visual computing” via new forms of eyewear (wearables) that replace our smartphones. Think Minority Report-like data and content interaction, and you get the general idea. “Surprisingly little has changed with human/screen interaction in the past 30 years,” Ted points out. He reminds me that while user interfaces have become more sophisticated, actual screen interaction is not massively different — comparing interaction on Mac screens 30 years ago and on iPhones today.

That is all changing right now — as you sit, read and soak in Ted’s thoughts either in print or more likely on your own v.2019 screen. According to Ted, we are only about 3.5 years into this 10-year visual computing cycle. “In 2013-2014, we saw the first idea of commercializing a track-able screen, a spatial screen. That is a massive change. We will fundamentally change how we use our screens. I see a very distinct future where these things will emerge from their cocoon and replace the iPhone, laptop, etc. You will notice an evolution of 30 minutes per day, then one hour, then two hours, etc.” 

Think that overstates things a bit?  Well, Ted cautions you this way. “It’s the exact same paradigm shift we saw with mobile phones decades ago. Just imagine back then that you would – decades later (i.e. today) — carry a device with you almost every waking moment of your waking life. Even Bill Gates would have said that is ridiculous.”

Yet, here we are. Today. In that “unimaginable” world. That’s how fast it goes.

Ted is adamant about this inevitable “evolution of the screen” reality, and he is convincing. “I know the next evolution is coming. All of these experiments today are on their way to something really, really significant. 2019 will be very subtle in this revolution. Still for the early adopter, because none of these head-mounted immersive devices today will replace our smartphones. But the constant and continuous evolution of this tech is happening.


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Data Breaches Can Sucker-Punch You. Prepare To Fight Back

One of the most valuable assets you have as a business owner is your server, and IT security issues like a data breach is a huge business nightmare.

When a big data breach makes the news, there’s one thing that can get lost in the noise — the harm that hacking causes regular people like you.

Experts tend to focus on the number of people whose records hackers stole, or whether the breached company could have prevented the hack. Those are important questions, but you can be forgiven for wondering what they have to do with you. What, really, is the worst that could happen to you personally?

Plenty, according to consumer advocates. That’s because data breaches make crimes such as identity theft and other scams much easier for criminals to carry out. That includes the blockbuster data breaches of 2018, such as when sophisticated attackers breached millions of Facebook accounts in September, or when a hacker accessed information from 27 million Ticketfly accounts in May or when hackers stole information from 500 million travelers in a breach of a database owned by Marriott.

After your data gets stolen, it often goes up for sale on black market websites, where criminals can buy it and then pretend to be you.

“With the invention of the internet, we’ve built this Amazon for fraudsters,” said Eva Velasquez, president of the Identity Theft Resource Center.

But you don’t see that part of the equation happen. Maybe you hear about a data breach, and then later you experience identity theft. What happened in between is anyone’s guess.

And this year showed there’s an end in sight for serious data breaches. We saw the theft of payment information from about 429,000 British Airways customers at two different points this year, the hack of credit card data belonging to an unknown number of NewEgg customers in September and hackers even stole old login information from Reddit in June. That’s why advocates say it’s important that victims of each hack keep in mind what could go wrong for them individually and develop a plan. You can’t stop a major data breach, and you can only do a little to prevent criminals from stealing your identity. But you can work out what to do if that happens and stop things from getting even worse.

Start with the company that lost your data

It might sound odd, but your first layer of protection against identity theft and other crimes is actually the companies or organizations that lost your data to hackers, to begin with. Organizations that suffer data breaches pay a high cost when hackers break in, and it’s growing every year — each data breach cost companies $3.86 million on average in 2017, according to an annual data breach report sponsored by IBM. (Our sister site, TechRepublic has a guide for how companies should handle breaches.)

Lots of that money goes to things like forensic investigations to learn how hackers were able to breach the systems and the legal fees to deal with lawsuits and regulators. Some of it also goes directly to helping you. Companies insulate their customers from harm by paying for credit-monitoring services and, in the case of credit card issuers, covering the cost of stolen funds for most customers.

So when a data breach or other hack happens, make sure you take advantage of any services offered by the breached company. For example, after someone gained unauthorized access to 2.65 million healthcare records at a company called Atrium in September, the company is offering free credit monitoring services for some patients whose Social Security numbers were exposed.

It may take some calls to customer service, but it’s worth it to protect yourself from further harm and recoup any money you may have already lost.

Prevent identity theft

After a data breach, don’t just accept a company’s offer of credit monitoring services and leave it at that. You can also freeze your credit and set fraud alerts to keep you apprised of any fishy activity on your credit cards and bank accounts. Remember to keep up regular checks of your credit report, and follow up on anything that doesn’t look right.

Luckily for you, it’s relatively easy to do these things in the age of the internet, said Kelvin Coleman, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.

“Several years ago, it was much harder to do,” he said. You had to send for your credit report in the mail, for example. “Now it’s just a click away.”

Of course, the same internet technology that lets you quickly check your bank statement online also makes it easier for cybercriminals to do their work. “I say that knowing there’s some irony there,” Coleman said.

With data like passport numbers, which were stolen in the Marriott breach, there are no action consumers can take that’s an equivalent to a credit freeze. You can’t flag your passport number with the State Department unless you’re in the process of applying for a new one, said Michael Bruemmer, vice president of breach resolution at Experian. So if you learn from Marriott that your passport number was stolen — and you want to put a total stop to abuse of your passport numbers — you can consider replacing your current passport.

You should also avoid compromising yourself on social media. With lots of information about you already floating around on internet black markets, publicly sharing things that flesh out a broader picture of you only makes it easier for someone to steal your identity.

That can include things like sharing your dog’s name if your dog’s name is also the answer to your bank’s security question. (A better solution, of course, is to avoid security questions by using a different technique for verifying your identity, but not every online service offers this option yet.)

To limit the self-inflicted damage, change your privacy settings. Share your social media posts only among friends. Or, if you must have a public profile, consider being a little more circumspect. Remember that criminals could be among the people checking your timeline.

It’s all about taking as much ownership of your data as possible, said Darrell Laffoon, chief technology officer of EZShield, a company that provides identity protection services, including monitoring dark web markets for an individual’s personal information.

“You are your first line of defense,” Laffoon said.

Know the different kinds of identity theft

Identity theft doesn’t just happen when someone opens up new credit cards in your name and goes to town. It can also include medical identity theft when someone else uses your insurance benefits. According to the US Federal Trade Commission, this can affect not just your future medical treatment by changing your medical record, but also your credit report if you never receive the bill for treatment someone else got under your name.

Signs of medical identity theft are bills for the treatment you never received or calls from collections agencies about those charges. The FTC recommends reading your explanation of benefits and keeping track of all the care noted in your medical record.

Criminals may also try to steal your government benefits, like Social Security payments, veterans’ benefits or tax refunds. You may receive alerts in the mail from government agencies when new accounts are opened in your name, or if your personal information gets changed. That’s why it’s important to open and read any mail from these agencies.

Scammers use stolen personal information, too

Another way a data breach can harm you down the line is through scammers. The best defense against this is to keep your head.

In an effort to sound more legitimate, scammers can use true information about you to make their demand for money sound more credible.

In July, internet users started receiving threatening emails from criminals. We hacked your computer and captured embarrassing images of you, they told their intended victims. Now pay us in bitcoin or we’ll send the pictures to your family and friends.

To show they were for real, they included the recipient’s actual password in the email.

Except the scammers were tricking their victims, and they hadn’t hacked them at all. More likely, they bought a big batch of stolen passwords from online black markets. That helped make the threat seem more credible to victims.

It can be hard, but when you receive a threatening email or phone call demanding money that seems convincing, the best response is to take a step back and reassess the situation. Short timelines — or threats to arrest you or send the police if you don’t pay immediately — are signs that a scammer is using pressure tactics to get you to pay up before you realize something isn’t right.

But if you find you’ve fallen victim to a scam, don’t be ashamed. Put your recovery plan into place. The first step is a little compassion for yourself.

“Smart people fall for scams,” said Velasquez, from the Identity Theft Resource Center. “They are relentless, and it can happen to anyone.”

The same can be said for any kind of identity theft.

For more information on how to avoid identity theft or respond when it happens to you, visit the FTC’s resource page or the Identity Theft Resource Center.


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2018: Tech’s Biggest Stories And What Happened Next

2018 collage

When tech historians of the future look back at 2018, it may stand out as the year that the wheels came off Facebook or at least it’s original platform.

Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus all had their troubles but managed to escape the year without seeing their brands trashed in quite the same way as their parent.

So, it’s no surprise to see articles related to Facebook’s various scandals secured it three of the spots in BBC Tech’s most-read stories list for 2018.

Two other controversy magnets – Elon Musk and Huawei – however, narrowly missed out.

And for the first time since we started compiling this list in 2012, none of the placings went to a product launch.

Below are the most clicked on articles for each month of the year – a mix of controversy, endeavor and sparkly revenge.

short presentational grey lineComputer chip in flames

Software flaws have long been a bane of computing, but when news emerged of serious vulnerabilities in popular processor chips there was a serious intake of breath from the cyber-security community.

Billions of PCs, smartphones and other devices were said to be susceptible to the Meltdown and Spectre bugs – including, as it emerged, Apple’s products. At one point there was talk of owners having to brace themselves for their machines feeling noticeably more sluggish as a result of the workarounds that would be needed or even needing to send their computers in for component swap-outs.

A year on, there doesn’t appear to have been any malware related to the flaws reported in the wild, even though further variants of the originally disclosed exploits have been discovered. And as far as personal computers are concerned, the patches released don’t appear to have caused much of a hit to performance.

short presentational grey line
Emma Watson

Deepfakes gave the internet something else to worry about in February after it emerged that free software meant anyone could replace the face of one person with another’s in video footage so long as you had enough photos of the latter. Inevitably, the tool was used to create pornography with a range of predominantly young female celebrities’ features generated to supplant those of the original adult actresses. One after another website lined up to ban the content until Reddit, which had been home to much of it, decided to do likewise.

As the algorithms involved have improved, there has been much discussion about the danger of fake news creators adopting the face-mapping technique to create bogus videos of politicians.

But there’s another worrying trend. It appears that some Deepfakers are attempting to scrape social media for images of acquaintances that they can turn into pornography, and have been sharing details of their progress in chat forums.short presentational grey lineMark Zuckeberg

Donald Trump’s election in 2016 helped put Cambridge Analytica in the public eye after reports that its psychological profiles of US voters had helped his campaign target messages. But the London-based consultancy only became a household name after a report in the Observer explained how the firm had made use of millions of harvested Facebook accounts’ details, while a follow-up Channel 4 TV report recorded the consultancy’s chief on tape discussing how beautiful girls could be sent to a politician’s house as a honey-trap.

Facebook also found itself in the firing line. It didn’t help itself by first trying to suppress the story and then quibbling over whether it warranted being described as a “data breach”.

When Mark Zuckerberg did finally apologize several days later, he made a promise that has been repeatedly thrown back at him since.

“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you,” he said.

short presentational grey lineLeaky Facebook

By early April, Facebook was estimating that up to 87 million of its members’ details had been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. More than a million of them were thought to belong to UK-based users.

This was based on the number of accounts that an academic at the University of Cambridge – Dr. Aleksandr Kogan – had harvested from the social network via a personality quiz. Soon after, Cambridge Analytica responded that its parent, SCL Elections, had in fact “only” licensed 30 million people’s records from Dr. Kogan, and all, it said, had been from US citizens.

That wasn’t enough to save it – the political consultancy folded in May.

But it now forms part of Facebook’s defence against a fine from the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office, which was imposed despite the watchdog acknowledging that it had found no evidence that UK citizens’ data had been passed to Cambridge Analytica.

The £500,000 amount is peanuts to the social network – it makes more in half an hour, and the reputational damage it has incurred has arguably been far more costly.

But Facebook is concerned that the penalty could set a precedent for other data regulators to follow.

short presentational grey lineJohn Bain

The British video games critic John “TotalBiscuit” Bain had first told his fans and wider following that he had cancer in 2015.

By April 2018 the 33-year-old had announced he was retiring from journalism as the medication he was on was preventing him from thinking clearly. Even so, his death shocked and saddened many of his 2.2 million YouTube fans when it was confirmed. The obituaries that followed mostly focused on how he had championed indie games and criticized some of their bigger-budgeted rivals, which he had said sometimes prioritized profit over all else.

But on social media and in some later articles, there was criticism of the role Mr. Bain had played in the GamerGate movement.

It was claimed he had given legitimacy to a misogynistic campaign that had been responsible for the harassment of others. But this, in turn, spurred on his supporters to defend his legacy. They said his involvement had been mischaracterized and noted that Mr. Bain had called for ethics in games journalism for several years before GamerGate existed.

short presentational grey line

The phrase “the cloud” conjures up images of our data being stored in some nebulous form high above us. In reality, tech firms are investing billions of pounds in racks of computer servers housed in gigantic data centers across the globe to power the apps we use and internet services we call on. For the most part, these are built at ground-level. But in June, Microsoft sank an experimental data centre into the sea off Orkney in the north of Scotland. The idea is to reduce cooling costs by keeping the equipment in a sealed vault underwater. The tech giant intends to monitor Project Natick for five years to see if the scheme is a practical proposition for a wider rollout.

Google TensorFlow processors

But elsewhere, Google revealed it had already made the switch to liquid-cooling to tackle the heat given off by its latest artificial intelligence-focused computer servers. But rather than dropping its equipment overboard, it is piping coolant to each chip.short presentational grey line

Lindsay Durdle

PayPal was guilty of a major faux pas when it wrote to Lindsay Durdle, one of its recently deceased customers, to say her death was a breach of its rules. To make matters worse, it added that it might take legal action as a consequence. Her husband Howard Durdle was appalled, and to be fair so was PayPal’s PR team when the BBC brought the matter to its attention. Although the firm was unable to confirm exactly what had gone wrong it attempted to make good on the situation by writing off a debt his wife had owed.

“PayPal has been in touch, have apologized sincerely and have promised to change whatever they need to internally to ensure this can’t happen again,” Mr. Durdle tweeted after the BBC’s article was published. “I just hope more organizations can apply empathy and common sense to avoid hurting the recently bereaved.”

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Earth graphic

As official statements go, the US State Department’s wasn’t the most reassuring: “We don’t know for certain what it is and there is no way to verify it.” The subject was a Russian satellite that had been launched 10 months earlier and was displaying abnormal behavior. One US official suggested it could be a space weapon designed to destroy other satellites – an allegation a Russian diplomat slammed as being “unfounded [and] slanderous”.

For those who track such developments, the US’s suspicions echoed those raised about another Russian launch four years earlier when what was thought to be a bit of debris started zipping about in orbit. In any case, at the end of the year, we are officially none the wiser about the objects true capabilities. But with the Trump administration pursuing its own plan to create a Space Force by 2020, off-planet militarisation looks set to remain a hot topic.

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View As flaw

With the Cambridge Analytica scandal still rattling along, Facebook revealed that a separate problem had exposed almost 50 million accounts to being hijacked.

The cause was a vulnerability in the code of its View As privacy facility, which was designed to let users see what their profile looked like to others. At the time, Facebook said it was “temporarily turning off” the tool while it conducted a review. Three months on, it remains disabled.

The firm did, however, revise its estimate down to 30 million accounts.

While we’re on the topic, here are some of Facebook’s other controversies in 2018:

  • being accused by the UN of having played a “determining role” in stirring up hatred against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims
  • being sued by advertisers who alleged the firm took more than a year to disclose its video view figures had been over-estimated after discovering the problem. Facebook says the complaint is “without merit”
  • getting into a spat with the philanthropist George Soros after chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg questioned if the billionaire was shorting Facebook’s stock because he had described it as a “menace”
  • losing WhatsApp’s co-founders over a privacy clash, and then Instagram’s two co-founders because of other tensions
  • launching first a dating service and then Portal, a video chat device for the home, while still embroiled with its various privacy breaches, leading to suggestions the company was “tone deaf”
  • having details of its data-sharing practices with other companies revealed via a series of newspaper exposes and a House of Commons parliamentary committee
  • Mark Zuckerberg telling Congress that he was not familiar with the phrase “shadow profiles” – a term used to refer to information gathered about non-members – despite the fact complaints had been made against the practice since at least 2011
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iPhone XS

Many of us have experienced the sinking feeling that comes from leaving the home in the morning to discover your smartphone battery never recharged overnight. Typically, it’s a case of failing to properly plug the handset in. But a YouTuber’s tests of the latest iPhones indicated some of the new devices only topped up their power if their displays were “woken up” first. Inevitably this was dubbed “chargegate”, and when the BBC published its take on the issue Apple had yet to comment. But a week later, when it released the next version of its mobile operating system, Apple’s accompanying notes confirmed it had fixed a bug that had caused the flaw.

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Google walkout

At the start of the year, the Time’s Up movement was founded to take a stand against sexual assault, harassment, and inequality in the workplace. It was a response to the allegations against Harvey Weinstein but also marked an effort to tackle problems faced by women more widely. Eleven months later, seven of Google’s employees declared “time’s up” on the tech giant after accusations of misconduct emerged involving two past male high-fliers as well as dozens of other staff. As a result, workers at Google’s offices across the world staged a series of walkouts. Managers were delivered a set of demands, including a call to end the firm’s requirement that sexual harassment disputes be dealt with internally.

About a week later, Google’s chief Sundar Pichai confirmed that the business would indeed stop its policy of forced arbitration, opening the door to it being sued over the matter in the future.

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Glitter bomb

The internet fell in love with a revenge prank staged by an ex-Nasa engineer earlier this month. After having a package stolen from his porch, Mark Rober constructed a “bomb” that married a centrifugal motor, lots of glitters, fart spray and several smartphones. He then hid the device within an Apple Homepod speaker box and left it on his porch. When thieves subsequently stole it, it recorded the moment it sprayed them with its contents. After which, Mr. Rober retrieved the package and repeated the exercise. In an ideal world, the story would have ended there, with Mr. Rober’s YouTube fame assured thanks to the compilation video he made. But a couple of days after uploading the footage, the inventor replaced the video with a shorter edit.

Some viewers had voiced suspicions about parts of the footage, and Mr. Rober acknowledged that when he had chased up their concerns he had discovered that one of his helpers had recruited acquaintances to pose as two of the five featured thieves.

“I’m especially gutted because so much thought, time, money and effort went into building the device and I hope this doesn’t just taint the entire effort as ‘fake’,” he tweeted. Most viewers seem to have been forgiving, but it’s unfortunate that what was a fun stunt might cause many to be more suspicious and cynical about what they see online in the future.


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People Are Losing It Over This Alleged Car Thief’s Mugshot

A police mugshot of a man arrested for stealing a car has sparked a frenzy online because people cannot believe the suspect’s age.

19 going on 40: Murad Mansurovich Kurbanov has been the butt of countless jokes on social media because of his prematurely aged appearance. Picture: Salt Lake City police source: Supplied

People are losing it over this alleged car thief’s police mugshot because they cannot believe the suspect’s listed age. Murad Mansurovich Kurbanov was arrested on Tuesday and charged with stealing a rental vehicle, failure to stop at the command of police and reckless driving, according to KUTV2News. The station shared the story on its Facebook page and sparked a social media frenzy. But it wasn’t the suspect’s alleged crime that tickled readers, it was age. Kurbanov is just 19.

“Where’s the 19 yr old?? I only see the 40 yr old,” wrote Princess Hernandez.

“OTOH, He’ll never have to worry about getting carded for the senior discount at KFC,” quipped Mike Finnegan.

“If that dude is 19 then I’m 12,” said Bob Wilks.

“He’s listed as 19 but his hairline is definitely 52,” added Arden Parker.

And Jenn H Hudson joked: “Someone stole his youth, he’s just trying to get it back.”

Others simply refused to believe it, prompting the station to post a screenshot of the charge sheet listing Kurbanov’s date of birth.


Still, that wasn’t good enough for John Kahananui, who wrote: “KUTV2News, anyone can doctor a screenshot …”

That sparked another round of laughs, with Christina Roble remarking: “KUTV2News I think it’s even funnier that you posted this pic to prove that he is 19”.

As of this morning, the picture had generated almost 1000 comments on the news outlet’s Facebook page — most of them dig about Kurbanov’s appearance. Police will allege the teenager ran through multiple red lights and illegally passed other cars while driving a stolen trailer truck in Murray, Salt Lake City on December 25. When officers tried to pull him over Kurbanov alleged accelerated, leading police on a high-speed chase through the city. He was arrested later that day in a local apartment complex after police received a tip-off about his location.

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Cyber Breaches Abound In 2019

Internet Cyber Security

News of high-profile cyber breaches has been uncharacteristically subdued in recent quarters. However, we recently learned that Marriott International/Starwood was the victim of the multi-year theft of personal information on up to 500 million customers — rivaled only by hacks against Yahoo in 2013 and 2014.

Is this a harbinger of a worse hacking landscape in 2019?

The answer is unequivocally yes. No question, cyber breaches have been a gigantic thorn in the global economy for years. But expect them to be even more rampant in the new year as chronically improving malware will be deployed more aggressively on more fronts.

In addition, as companies increasingly pursue digitization to drive efficiency, reduce costs and build data-driven businesses, they simultaneously move into the “target zone” of cyber attacks. As the digital economy expands, the threat landscape naturally follows suit. Compounding the situation is the use of machine learning and AI as hackers and other bad actors look to scale their bad behavior.

Look for AI-driven chatbots to go, rogue, a substantial increase in crimeware-as-a-service, acceleration of the weaponization of data, a resurgence in ransomware and a significant increase in nation-stage cyberattacks. Also on a growth track is so-called cryptojacking — a quiet, more insidious avenue of profit that relies on invasive methods of initial access and drive-by scripts on websites to steal resources from unsuspecting victims.

Then, too, we will also see a substantial increase in software subversion, including the specific targeting of developers for attack and the likely proliferation of software update supply chain attacks. Here is a mini dive into the top pending threats:

The emergence of AI-driven chatbots. In the new year, cybercriminals and black hat hackers will create malicious chatbots that try to socially engineer victims into clicking links, downloading files or sharing private information. A hijacked chatbot could easily misdirect victims to nefarious links rather than legitimate ones. Attackers are also likely to leverage web application flaws in legitimate websites to insert a malicious chatbot into a site that doesn’t have one.

Attacks on cities with crimeware-as-a-service, a new component of the underground economy. Adversaries will leverage new tools that among other things attack data integrity, disabling computers to the point of requiring mandatory hardware replacements. Terrorist-related groups will be the likely culprits.

A significant increase in nation-state attacks. Russia has been a leader in using targeted cyberactions as part of larger objectives. Earlier this year, for example, the FBI disclosed that Sofacy group, a Russian persistent threat actor, infected more than 500,000 home office routers and network attached to storage devices worldwide to remote control them. Look for other nation-states to follow the same sort of playbook, helped by billions of poorly secured IoT devices.

The growing weaponization of data. Already a huge problem, it is certain to worsen, notwithstanding efforts among some technology giants to enhance user security and privacy. Balancing the negatives with the positives, tens of millions of comprised web users have begun to seriously question how much they really benefit from the internet.

Consider, for example, Facebook, which has made no secret of using personal data and “private” correspondence to annually generate billions of dollars in profits. Users willingly “like” interests and brands, volunteering personal information. This enables Facebook to provide a more complete image of its user base — a gold mine for advertisers.

Much worse, Facebook earlier this year tried to manipulate user moods through an “emotional contagion” experiment. This pitted users against their peers to influence their emotions, i.e. the weaponization of data.

A resurgence in ransomware. Ransomware exploded onto the scene in 2017 following the WannaCry outbreak and a series of successful follow-up ransomware attacks targeting high-profile victims. According to the FBI, total ransomware payments in the U.S. have in some years exceeded $1 billion. There were scant high-profile ransomware victims in recent months, but the problem is highly likely to bounce back strongly in 2019. Ransomware attacks come in waves, and the next one is due.

Increased subversion of software development processes and attacks on software update supply chains. Regarding software development, malware has already been detected in select open-source software libraries. Meanwhile, software update supply chain attacks violate software vendor update packages. When customers download and install updates, they unwittingly introduce malware into their system. In 2017, there was an average of one attack every month, compared to virtually none in 2016, according to Symantec. The trend continued in 2018 and will become worse next year.

More cyber attacks on satellites. In June, Symantec reported that an unnamed group had successfully targeted the satellite communications of Southeast Asia telecom companies involved in geospatial mapping and imaging. Symantec also reported attacks originating in China last year on a defense contractor’s satellite.

Separately, we learned in August at the annual Black Hat information security conference that the satellite communications used by ships, planes and the military to connect to the internet are vulnerable to hackers. In the worst-case scenario, the research said, hackers could carry out “cyber-physical attacks” that could turn satellite antennas into weapons that essentially operate like microwave ovens. Fortunately, the cyber outlook for 2019 is not altogether grim.

On the cybersecurity side, a growing number of experts believe that multi-factor authentication will become the standard for all online businesses, abandoning password-only access. In addition, a number of states are expected to adopt some version of Europe’s strict General Data Protection Legislation. California, for one, has already passed legislation that will make it easier for consumers to sue companies after a data breach, starting in 2020. The upshot is that individuals, businesses and government entities need to do everything possible to improve the state of their cybersecurity. They cannot eliminate breaches, but they can avert some and improve the chances of mitigating them.


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How Tech Giants Are Taking Over Top Cities Around The World

Cities are being used as laboratories for tech giants to experiment with, one observer points out.

MADRID: Global tech players such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon – the so-called Big 4, or GAFA – Airbnb and Tesla are redefining work, mobility, leisure and the everyday of how we live. Our cities are increasingly being used as laboratories for countless innovations. Cities are expected to be home to nearly 70 percent of the world’s population by 2050, with 95 percent of urban population growth taking place in developing countries.

The Big Four have a combined global workforce of more than 400,000 people and market capitalization of more than US$2.3 trillion, which is roughly equivalent to France’s GDP. Many people demonize them for their excessive power, but how about considering the ways they are contributing to urban life?

These giant technological gurus are carrying out experiments with cities themselves. For example, Belmont is a futuristic city in southwestern Arizona, conceived by Bill Gates and very much looking to the future. Oakland, California, is another field of social experimentation in which Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sam Altman is analyzing the social impact of universal basic income.

Beyond these exercises in urban acupuncture, we need to know who is making the decisions that will define the day-to-day life of our cities, places where we find ourselves swinging between digital and analog realities, between the physical and the virtual. The speed and impact of change, means we have a duty to know who is charge of our cities. The following are just some of the initiatives being driven by the tech giants.


Apple is building stores it says will redefine the shopping experience. Instead of just buying something, the idea is to generate excitement about entering a space-cum-event in which something is always going on thanks to free WiFi. It’s a kind of private-development town square – a place where we can expect to experience a range of interactive activities, as well as buying stuff, of course.

A new store at the Carnegie Library in Washington DC will open soon. Designed by Foster & Partners, it will occupy the space previously reserved for library users who can now sniff the aroma of the latest iPhone while watching what happens on the stage.


Sidewalk Toronto brings together Waterfront Toronto, a government agency, and Sidewalk Labs, belonging to Alphabet, Google’s parent company.

The project aims to create a mixed residential and commercial community on Toronto’s eastern shore. It’s the right choice of city, as the economist and town planner Richard Florida would say when describing the best locations for innovation based on the three Ts: Technology, tolerance, and talent.

Toronto has a culturally diverse creative community within a highly technological cluster. This didn’t go unnoticed when the decision was made to create the first internet city.

Data will be monitored by an independent organization called the Civic Data Trust in response to some residents’ fears about privacy. Meanwhile, the eyes of the world are on the initiative.


When Uber recently announced it was going to distribute Uber Eats by drones, we all looked skyward. Autonomous driving is now a reality and Uber one of its great explorers.

At its Pittsburgh HQ, located on “Robotics Row” next to the headquarters of other companies developing AI and machine-learning technology, the outside of the Uber building gives little indication of what is happening within.

Some 200 high-tech Volvo cars, equipped with 360-degree rotating LIDAR cameras, are constantly coming and going, collecting data from tests on vehicles carrying Uber passengers.

In line with research in the Netherlands, China, and Switzerland, Uber is also studying autonomous public transport options. These include driverless electric ferries that can carry up to nine people, along with full-size self-driving buses. Initiatives like these will redefine transportation and the design of our cities.

All this involves important, seemingly unconnected changes: Along with the rising value of property located close to public transport nodes, reduced revenue sources from fuel taxes, traffic tickets and parking fees for local authorities, there is also the transformation of the future of work, from driver to mobility manager.

If millennials no longer want to own a car and mobility becomes a basic service like electricity, there are new opportunities to explore that must involve consulting citizens and taxpayers.


While Amazon continues to use its Seattle headquarters as a laboratory to test new retail and logistics models such as Amazon Go and Storefront Pickup, cities throughout the United States have been vying to be the location for the e-commerce giant’s joint new headquarters in a process likened to the bidding process to host the Olympics.

The winning bid for Amazon HQ2, as the dual initiative has come to be known, was decided last month after almost a year of uncertainty.

The mayor of Frisco, Texas, had promised to build the remaining 40 percent of the town around Amazon, while Stonecrest, Georgia, said it would construct a new urban centre called Amazon, and Newark, New Jersey, offered extensive tax cuts. But the decision came down in favor of Arlington, Virginia, and Long Island, New York, and was rightly based on the three Ts mentioned above.

A building in the Crystal City area of Arlington, Virginia that Amazon.com is reportedly considering as part of its new second headquarters is seen in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago

The winds of change are blowing. There was a time when governments invested in infrastructure and taxpayers had a voice in decision-making.

Now Apple tells us how to interact in the city, Google controls our data, Uber redefines transportation as a service, and Amazon chooses whether a city is suitable or not to host its headquarters. Are these companies our new mayors?

Cristina Mateo is Executive Director at IE School of Architecture and Design at IE University, and a specialist in urban ethnography, branding, communication, and E-Transformation & New Business Models. This commentary first appeared on The Conversation.

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