Microsoft’s Xbox Plans Revealed In Emails Tied To FTC

A huge collection of purported Xbox files related to the Federal Trade Commission’s case against Microsoft have been published online, spilling some of the company’s plans for the gaming console into public view, NBC News reported.

The files were uploaded Friday to a website hosted by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where the FTC is suing to block Microsoft’s acquisition of the video game company Activision Blizzard.

According to NBC News, the files include more than 100 documents, many of them partially redacted, related to Microsoft’s Xbox plans.

Douglas Farrar, director of the FTC’s office of public affairs, told NBC News that “Microsoft was responsible for the error in uploading these documents to the court.”

The files include emails from corporate executives like Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer and timetables for gaming releases.

Windows Central  reported that the FTC v. Microsoft case has the news cycle on fire right now with all the leaked plans coming out from both Microsoft and Bethesda, but a new diskless console and a Fallout 3 Remaster are just a few of the spicy leaks we’ve had this morning.

Documents have been published by The Verge that details Microsoft’s plans well into 2028 for a full amalgamation of cloud gaming and physical consoles to create a perfect hybrid device and “cloud hybrid games.”

According to Windows Central, the idea, pitched by Microsoft, is to create a platform that seamlessly combines the power of the cloud and device to enable gaming anywhere. This may already be in the works at Xbox HQ, and the presentation shows it planned to partner with AMD for the required chips by early 2023 to secure the Navi 5 graphics technology.

Other considerations were made like using Zen 6 CPU cores and Arm. Microsoft also anticipated using the power of AI to improve resolution, reduce latency and smooth frame rates.

The documents show a possible timeline for the technology that would have started hardware design in 2024, sent out the first dev kits in 2027, and created the first hybrid cloud games from 2024 to 2026.

Engadget reported that a massive leak from the FTC v. Microsoft court battle showed Microsoft’s roadmap for a mid-generation Xbox Series X console, but that wasn’t the only news.

The same document also revealed Microsoft’s tentative plans for the next-generation X-box – what it calls a “hybrid game platform.” The system would combine local hardware and cloud computing to create an “immersive game & app platform” arriving around 2028, according to a leaked May 2022 presentation hidden inside another PDF.

In my opinion, someone at Microsoft made a big mistake when they sent the documents to the FTC. Was this an accident? Or was it done intentionally? Either way, this is likely going to be problematic for Microsoft now that the FTC appears interested in those documents.

Microsoft Announces Paint App Update

Microsoft announced a “Paint app update adding support for layers and transparency begins rolling out to Windows Insiders” It was written by Dave Grochocki. From the announcement:

“Today we are beginning to roll out an update for the Paint app to Windows Insiders in the Canary and Dev Channels (version 11.230818.0 or higher.) With this update, we are introducing support for layers and transparency!

You can now add, remove, and manage layers on the canvas to create richer and more complex digital art. With layers, you can stack shapes, text, and other image elements on top of each other.

To get started, click in the new Layers button in the toolbar, which will open a panel on the side of the canvas. This is where you can add new layers to the canvas. Try changing the order of layers in this panel to see how the order of stacked image elements on the canvas changes. You can also show or hide and duplicate individual layers or merge layers together.

We are adding support for transparency as well, including the ability to open and save transparent PNGs! When working with a single layer, you will notice a checkerboard pattern on the canvas, indicating the portions of the image that are transparent. Erasing any content from the canvas now truly erases the content instead of the area white. When working with multiple layers, if you erase content on one layer, you will reveal the content in layers underneath…”

BleepingComputer reported that Microsoft is finally rolling out support for layers and image transparency to the Paint image editor application 38 years after its launch.

According to BleepingComputer, the Windows Photos app was also updated last week with support for background blur, content search for One-Drive-backed photos, and Motion Photos captured on Samsung and Google devices.

ArsTechnica provided what might be the most hilarious headline: “Hell freezes over, MS Paint adds support for layers and PNG transparency”

According to ArsTechnica, the venerable, equally derided and beloved MS Paint app has been on a roll lately, picking up a major redesign, dark-mode support, better zoom controls, and other fit-and-finish updates all within the last couple of years. But today, Microsoft announced that it is finally adding two features that could make the app a bit more useful for power users: support for Photoshop-esque image layers and the ability to open and save transparent PNGs.

Support for creating, editing, and saving transparent PNG images goes hand in hand with support for layers, ArsTechnica wrote, since its been useful to be able to pull a single object out of an existing image so you can put it in a new one. Transparent PNG support goes well with the automated background removal button that Microsoft added to Paint builds earlier this month.

In my opinion, Microsoft did something great for the Paint app. The more features it has, the more likely artists will use it to create things. That said, it appears to be a Microsoft/Windows app, and I don’t expect it will easily port over to Mac computers.

Elon Musk Says X Is Moving To Monthly Subscription Fees

Elon Musk discussed his plans for Twitter, now called X, on Monday during a live-streamed conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Among other things, Musk said the social network is “moving to having a small monthly payment for use of the X system” in order to combat “vast armies of bots”, CNBC reported.

According to CNBC, Musk did not say how much a new plan would cost users of the social network, or what other features would or would not be included with payment at the lowest tier.

Variety reported Elon Musk may flip the switch to make X – the social network formerly known as twitter – an entirely subscription-based platform.

According to Variety, Musk has previously mulled the idea of putting Twitter entirely behind a paywall in internal conversations, according to industry news site Platformer. Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has said X/Twitter’s ad sales have plunged 50% since he bought the company. “We’re still negative cash flow, due to ~50% drop in advertising revenue plus heavy debt load,” Musk posted on July 15.

Currently, X’s subscription program – formerly Twitter Blue, now called X Blue, under Musk’s rebranding effort – is priced starting at $8 per month, Variety reported. One of the chief perks of X Blue is getting verified check-mark status, although this summer the company added the ability for subscribers to hide the check-mark from public view.

TechCrunch reported that X owner Elon Musk floated the idea that the social network formerly known as Twitter may no longer be a free site. Musk said the company was “moving to a small monthly payment” for the use of the X system. He suggested that such a change would be necessary to deal with the problem of bots on the platform.

“It’s the only way I can think of to combat vast armies of bots,” explained Musk. “Because a bot costs a fraction of a penny – call it a tenth of a penny – but even if it has to pay…a few dollars or something, the effective cost of bots is very high,” he said. Plus, every time a bot creator wanted to make another bot they would need another new payment method.

According to TechCrunch, Musk didn’t say what the new subscription payment would cost, but described it as a “small amount of money.”

Musk did not expand on his plan to charge for X or when such a change would come about. But since Musk took over the platform last year, the company has been pushing users to subscribe to its paid subscription product, X Premium (previously Twitter Blue). This $8 per month or $84 dollars per year subscription service offers a variety of features like the ability to edit posts, half the ad load, prioritized rankings in search and conversations, the ability to write longer posts, and more.

Personally, I think it is time for me to leave X/Twitter. Plenty of people have already left the platform, after letting their friends know what other social media sites they moved to. There is absolutely no way I am going to trust Elon Musk with my credit card numbers.

TikTok Fined: Europe Privacy Breach #1692

European regulators have issued a hefty $368 million fine to TikTok for failing to safeguard children’s privacy. This marks the first instance of the renowned video-sharing app facing penalties for violating Europe’s rigorous data privacy regulations. TikTok, on their part, said this had been fixed for years. But one thing is sure: European governments, aka EU, love to get their pound of flesh out of big companies.

Tech Fines, Software Updates, and Lost Fighter Jets – A Look at the Latest Tech News

Several interesting tech stories have recently made headlines, ranging from significant companies getting fined to software updates causing user problems. Here’s a rundown of some notable tech news covered in a recent Geek News Central podcast episode.

Apple and Microsoft Release Major Software Updates Apple rolled out updates for iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and watchOS in mid-September. However, some users report issues like Macs failing to boot after installation. Podcasters using specific Intel-based machines are advised not to update yet. Meanwhile, a Windows 11 update has also caused some users gaming glitches, boot failures, and other problems. Software updates often bring bugs, and it’s best not to rush into installing them immediately.

NASA Spacecraft Returning with Asteroid Samples NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is finally set to deliver asteroid samples it collected in space back to Earth after a seven-year mission. The samples will land in a Utah desert on September 24th. Studying these early space materials could provide insights into the solar system’s history and composition. OSIRIS-REx is the first NASA mission to retrieve asteroid samples.

F-35 Fighter Jet Goes Missing In a bizarre news story, an advanced F-35 stealth fighter jet went missing following an incident that forced the pilot to eject. The $160 million aircraft then continued before presumably crashing in South Carolina. The military has been unable to locate the wreckage of the missing plane so far. Each F-35 costs around $100-160 million, depending on the variant.

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Continue reading TikTok Fined: Europe Privacy Breach #1692

European Regulators Fine TikTok $368M Over Failure To Protect Data of Young Users

European authorities have found that Twitter had violated General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules when it comes to how it processes younger users’ personal data. Along with this decision, the regulator has revealed that it has slapped the social network with a €345 million ($368 million) fine, Engadget reported.

As the regulating body where TikTok is headquartered and where its first data center is located, the Irish Data Protection Commission investigated whether TikTok adhered to its privacy protection obligations for users between 13 and 17 years old between July 31 and December 31, 2020.

According to Engadget, the regulator found that TikTok allowed child users’ accounts to be paired with adult users’, without verifying whether that person is their parent or guardian. It even allowed that adult user to enable direct messaging for both of them, when the feature shouldn’t be available for the underage user.

The Guardian reported that the Irish data watchdog, which regulates TikTok across the EU, said the Chinese-owned video app had committed multiple breaches of GDPR rules.

According to The Guardian, the regulator found TikTok had contravened GDPR by: placing child users’ accounts on a public setting by default; allowing public comments on those accounts; not checking whether an adult given access to a child’s account on a “family pairing” scheme was a parent or guardian; and not properly taking into account the risks posed to under-13s on the platform who were placed in a public setting.

The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) said users aged between 13 and 17 were steered through the sign-up process in a way that resulted in their accounts being set to public – meaning anyone can see an account’s content or comment on it – by default. It also found that the “family paring” scheme, which gives an adult control over a child’s account settings, did not check whether the adult “paired” with the child user was a parent or guardian.

The DPC ruled that TikTok, which has a minimum user age of 13, did not properly take into account the risk posed to underage users who gained access to the platform. It said the public-setting-by-default process allowed anyone to “view social media content posted by those users.”

TechCrunch reported that TikTok has been found to have violated the following eight articles of the GDPR: – aka breaches of lawfulness, fairness and transparency of data processing; data minimization; data security; responsibility of the controller; data protection by design and default; and the rights of the the subject (including minors) to receive clear communications about data processing; and to receive information on receipts of their personal data.

A TikTok spokesperson sent TechCrunch this statement:

“We respectfully disagree with the decision, particularly the level of the fine imposed. The DPC’s criticisms are focused features and settings that were in place three years ago, and that we made changes to well before the investigation even begun, such as setting all under 16 accounts to private by default.”

In my opinion, it sounds to me like TikTok is trying to absolve itself in the public eye by claiming that the features and settings in its app – that could potentially have harmed children and young teens – had changes made to it. That might be so, but it isn’t going to get TikTok out of having to pay the fine.

California Hits Google For $93M Over Deceptive Location Data

A lawsuit filed against Google by California’s Attorney General over the company’s deceptive and misleading options for managing location data has resulted in a $93 million settlement – and new protections for consumers in the state, TechCrunch reported.

As detailed in an incredibly straightforward complaint, Google in several ways appeared to promise users that they could choose whether or how much location data was used in order to target them for advertisements.

Location History is one of several detailed records Google keeps of your activity – you can turn it off here if you haven’t already, TechCrunch noted.

According to TechCrunch, this particular setting is off by default, but users were repeatedly told they should “enhance” their Google Maps experience with the responses “Yes, I’m in” or “Skip for now.” Little did they know agreeing would turn on Location History for purposes far beyond “enhancing” Maps.

Here’s how the AG’s office summarized what Google must now do, for Californians at least:

* Show additional information to users when enabling location-related account settings.

* Provide more transparency about location tracking.

* Provide users with detailed information about the location data that Google collected and how it is used through a “Location Technologies” web page.

* Disclose to users that their location information may be used for ads personalization

* Disclose to users before using Location History data to build ad targeting profiles for users

* Obtain review by Google’s internal Privacy Working Group

* Obtain review by Google’s Internal Privacy Working Group and document approval for all material changes to location-setting and ads personalization disclosures that will have a material impact on privacy.

The Guardian reported that the settlement stems from a lawsuit brought by the California attorney general, Rob Bonta, that concluded the company misled consumers into believing they had more control over their location information than they actually did.

“Our investigation revealed that Google was telling its uses one thing – that it would no longer track their location once they opted out – but doing the opposite and continuing to track its users’ movements for its own commercial gain,” Bonta said in a statement announcing the settlement. “That’s unacceptable, and we’re holding Google accountable.”

According to The Guardian, the AG’s office further alleged that Google “deceived users about their ability to opt out of advertisements targeted to their location.”

CNN reported that California Department of Justice found that, after a multi-year investigation, the tech giant was “deceiving users by collecting, storing, and using their location data for consumer profiling and advertising purposes without informed consent.”

California Attorney General Rob Bonta also said Google accepted taking future actions to prevent those practices. These actions would apply beyond California to other states, according to the proposed order.

The Hill reported that José Castañeda, a Google spokesperson, said in a statement that “consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this matter, which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago.”

According to The Hill, the settlement with California comes after Google settled with 40 other states in November for $391.5 million over similar allegations.

As a person who lives in California, I am well aware that the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) (updated on May 10, 2023) gives consumers who live in California more control over the personal information that businesses collect about them. The huge fine set by the Attorney General should cause Google to think twice about playing around with people’s privacy rights.

Google Extends Lifespan Of Chromebooks With 10-Year Update Policy

Google is working to push back the expiration date of Chromebooks, addressing concerns held by administrators that the laptops are too short-lived to be cost effective, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Alphabet-owned company – which developed the Chrome operating system running on computers made mostly by others – said Thursday it plans to provide software updates for Chromebooks for up to a decade. The new policy, which starts next year, ensures that no Chromebook will expire within the next two years.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Chromebooks are ubiquitous in classrooms around the country, but some education software doesn’t work after what Google calls the Auto Update Expiration date. Unsupported Chromebooks can’t be used for mandatory state testing, even if the hardware still appears to be functional.

When the laptops expire, school districts recycle them, sometimes at a cost, and spend millions of dollars on replacements.

Google posted the following information on The Keyword blog. From the blog post:

When Chromebooks debuted in 2012, their affordable price tags helped make personal computing more accessible. That also made them a great fit for the education world, providing schools with secure, simple and manageable devices while helping them save on their budgets. In fact, Chromebooks are the number one device used in K-12 education globally, according to Futuresource. Plus, they’re a sustainable choice, with recycled materials that reduce their environmental impact and repair programs that help them last longer.

Today, we are announcing new ways to keep your Chromebooks up and running even longer. All Chromebooks will get regular automatic updates for 10 years – more than any other operating system commits to today. We’re also working with partners to build Chromebooks with more post-consumer recycled materials (PCR), and rolling out new power-efficient features and quicker processes to repair them. At the end of their usefulness, we continue to help schools, businesses, and everyday users find the right recycling option…

…Security is our number one priority. Chromebooks get automatic updates every four weeks that make your laptop more secure and help it last longer. And starting next year, we’re extending those automatic updates so your Chromebook gets enhanced security, stability and features for 10 years after the platform was released…

…Starting in 2024, if you have Chromebooks that were released from 2021 onwards, you’ll automatically get 10 years of updates. For Chromebooks released before 2001 and already in use, users and IT admins will have the option to extend automatic updates to 10 years from the platform’s release (after they receive their last automatic update)…

ArsTechnica reported that ten years of support is a notable achievement for Chromebooks, which are often budget-priced. The average Mac receives seven years of macOS updates. Windows, meanwhile, usually sees 10 years of updates, but you can install Windows (and update it) on devices form as long ago as the late 2000s.

Chromebooks are unique in individual models having automatic update expiration (AUE) dates and have faced criticism for this for years.

In my opinion, Google’s decision to grant 10 years of updates on Chromebooks that were released from 2021 onwards, is a great idea. It means that schools won’t have to spend money they don’t have on replacing Chromebooks that gone past their repair dates.