Video games have always had bugs at the time of their release, though there has been a trend coinciding with the uptick in digital game sales in which games seem to be published in broken states far too often and are then “fixed” with a day-one patch or something of the like. Some of these bugs are on the more minor side, while some involve game releases that were very clearly pushed for way too early.
Er, whoops. Aspyr, the developer/porter behind the recent release of Knights Of The Old Republic II on Nintendo Switch, has tweeted that it’s aware the game is currently impossible to finish. After some pressing from a customer, the studio acknowledged it’s aware the game is presently bugged such that it cannot be completed on Nintendo’s handheld.
Aspyr’s Twitter account replied with a, “Yup, we know, we’ll get you a patch, thanks for all your patience.” Now, a couple of things on this. First, releasing a game that simply can’t be finished on a platform probably deserves a stronger mea culpa than Aspyr offered up. Buying a game and being unable to complete it is probably worse than paying money for no product at all. The point of video games, in large part, is to play and complete them. Imagine a release of Mike Tyson’s Punchout that just shut down every time you managed to get to the fight against Mike Tyson. That’s a bit like lying on the couch while someone sits at a piano and plays every single note on a major scale except the last one. It would absolutely drive you insane.
And I’ll admit to being a bit surprised that this would happen on a Nintendo console. Nintendo isn’t the developer here. It isn’t the one that worked on the game. Still, I have long criticized Nintendo’s practice of absurdly strict control over its consoles, IP, and platforms. One of the common responses to that criticism is that such strict control gives Nintendo the ability to do great quality control on anything that touches its systems. Whatever the process was for QC testing in this case, it appears to have completely failed.
It raises some rather significant questions about the QA on the game, that it could be certified and released in a form impossible to finish. There’s also the question of for how long Aspyr has been aware its product has a game-breaking bug that affects all players, but haven’t communicated this to potential and current customers. We’ve contacted Aspyr to ask these questions.
You have to think the refund requests are arriving in droves at the moment. And this is one of things that you probably can only do once, at most. Imagine Aspyr or Nintendo announcing that the bug has been patched and then asking the public to buy the game once more.
In what definitely feels like a case of way too little, way too late, the WTO last week finallydecided to grant the TRIPS waiver on COVID vaccines, allowing others to make more of the vaccine without violating patent rights. The WTO has long had this ability to issue a patent waiver as part of its Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. The idea is that in an emergency, when patents or copyrights are getting in the way of real harm, the WTO can say “hey, let’s grant a waiver to save people.”
You would think that a global pandemic where people are dying would be an obvious time to use such a waiver grant, but that’s because you’re not an obnoxious IP maximalist who cares more about their precious monopoly rents than the health and safety of the global populace. The big pharma and medical device companies freaked out about the possibility of a waiver, and even worse, Hollywood also flipped out about it, with their typical worry that any proof that removing an intellectual monopoly might be good for the world cannot be allowed.
It took forever, but in May of last year (already a year and a half into the pandemic), the US agreed to support the TRIPS waiver. This caused much gnashing of teeth among the maximalists, and then it still took over a year before this agreement was reached, and of course, now it’s both greatly watered down, and very much too late to make much of a difference. But kudos Hollywood and pharma lobbyists. You let thousands of people die, but you sure protected your IP. Good work!
Even worse, the agreement is limited just to vaccines, and does not apply to either testing or therapeutics — both of which are way more important today than vaccines.
Even as this version is basically close to useless, Big Pharma continued to freak out.
The industry’s main lobbying group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, sharply criticized Friday’s agreement. Stephen J. Ubl, the group’s head, called it one in a series of “political stunts” and said it “won’t help protect people against the virus.” He noted that the industry had already produced more than 13 billion Covid vaccine doses.
Yeah, it won’t help protect people because you and your lobbyists spent two years trying to block it, so that when this finally happened it was way too late, and even when it did happen, you watered it down and limited it to the point of uselessness. The “political stunt” was yours, Stephen. I hope all those dead people were worth it.
The World Trade Organization was created to protect free-trade rules to spread prosperity. Now it’s becoming a vehicle to raid U.S. innovation. See Friday’s agreement by the WTO’s 164 members that lets developing countries, including China, steal intellectual property for Covid vaccines.
The White House is flogging the deal as a diplomatic victory. But it’s an enormous defeat for U.S. national interests that will benefit China and set a precedent that erodes intellectual property protection. This won’t be the last time global grifters seek to pilfer U.S. technology.
What are you even talking about? If it took two and a half years in the middle of a pandemic to get an agreement on life saving vaccines, that still has massive limits, and is both way too little and way too late, the idea that this is setting a precedent that “erodes intellectual property protection” is idiotic to the point of laughable.
And, again, all this does is remove some patent barriers (not other manufacturing barriers) on vaccines that are saving lives. Yes, it may help save lives in China, but is the Wall Street Journal editorial board really arguing that we should let them die because they’re Chinese? It sure sounds like it.
In short, there’s nothing legally binding to stop China from stealing U.S. mRNA technology, using it to develop its own vaccines including for other diseases, and then selling the shots under their own brands. The agreement lasts five years so it could potentially cover a future combined mRNA vaccine for Covid, flu and respiratory syncytial virus.
Newsflash to the WSJ editorial board: I know that you’re among those pushing the idea that the pandemic is over, but it is not. Keeping the world healthy, including in China (which the US economy still relies on heavily) is good for the US economy too. When China runs into problems with the pandemic, then you get more supply chain problems that are currently a huge part of the economic difficulties in the US. Maybe that’s fine for you because it’s another thing you can falsely blame on Biden, but this editorial is literally complaining that this minor reduction in patent rights might help Chinese people stay alive. It’s pretty disgusting.
We’ve got some great new discussions for the Techdirt Podcast… coming in a few weeks. But at the moment, amidst a very busy schedule on a variety of fronts, we’re taking a short break to look back on a very old conversation: our 14th episode ever, from 2015, about media companies rolling out proprietary content management systems. Since we recently completed our own migration to WordPress (the popular platform that was also a major component of that seven-year-old discussion) we thought it might be fun to revisit the question. So on this week’s episode, Mike and I open with a bit of a retrospective followed by a replay of the original conversation in full.
As the big push is on to approve two internet-focused antitrust bills, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA) and the Open App Markets Act, we’ve been calling out that while the overall intentions of both may be good, there are real concerns with the language of both and how it could impact content moderation debates. Indeed, it seems pretty clear that the only reason these bills have strong support from Republicans is because they know the bills can be abused to attack editorial discretion.
There have been some other claims made about problems with these bills, though some of them seem overblown to me (for example, the claims that the Open App Markets bill would magically undermine security on mobile phones). However, Bruce Schneier now points out another potential issue with both bills that seems like a legitimate concern. They both could be backdoors to pressuring companies into blocking encryption apps. He starts by highlighting how it might work with AICOA:
Let’s start with S. 2992. Sec. 3(c)(7)(A)(iii) would allow a company to deny access to apps installed by users, where those app makers “have been identified [by the Federal Government] as national security, intelligence, or law enforcement risks.” That language is far too broad. It would allow Apple to deny access to an encryption service provider that provides encrypted cloud backups to the cloud (which Apple does not currently offer). All Apple would need to do is point to any number of FBI materials decrying the security risks with “warrant proof encryption.”
Sec. 3(c)(7)(A)(vi) states that there shall be no liability for a platform “solely” because it offers “end-to-end encryption.” This language is too narrow. The word “solely” suggests that offering end-to-end encryption could be a factor in determining liability, provided that it is not the only reason. This is very similar to one of the problems with the encryption carve-out in the EARN IT Act. The section also doesn’t mention any other important privacy-protective features and policies, which also shouldn’t be the basis for creating liability for a covered platform under Sec. 3(a).
It gets worse:
In Sec. 2(a)(2), the definition of business user excludes any person who “is a clear national security risk.” This term is undefined, and as such far too broad. It can easily be interpreted to cover any company that offers an end-to-end encrypted alternative, or a service offered in a country whose privacy laws forbid disclosing data in response to US court-ordered surveillance. Again, the FBI’s repeated statements about end-to-end encryption could serve as support.
Finally, under Sec. 3(b)(2)(B), platforms have an affirmative defense for conduct that would otherwise violate the Act if they do so in order to “protect safety, user privacy, the security of nonpublic data, or the security of the covered platform.” This language is too vague, and could be used to deny users the ability to use competing services that offer better security/privacy than the incumbent platform—particularly where the platform offers subpar security in the name of “public safety.” For example, today Apple only offers unencrypted iCloud backups, which it can then turn over governments who claim this is necessary for “public safety.” Apple can raise this defense to justify its blocking third-party services from offering competing, end-to-end encrypted backups of iMessage and other sensitive data stored on an iPhone.
And the Open App Markets bill has similar issues:
S. 2710 has similar problems. Sec 7. (6)(B) contains language specifying that the bill does not “require a covered company to interoperate or share data with persons or business users that…have been identified by the Federal Government as national security, intelligence, or law enforcement risks.” This would mean that Apple could ignore the prohibition against private APIs, and deny access to otherwise private APIs, for developers of encryption products that have been publicly identified by the FBI. That is, end-to-end encryption products.
Some might push back on this by pointing out that Apple has strongly supported encryption over the years, but these bills open up some potential problems, and, at the very least, might allow companies like Apple to block third party encryption apps — even as the stated purpose of the bill is the opposite.
As Schneier notes, he likes both bills in general, but this sloppy drafting is a problem.
The same is true of the language that could impact content moderation. In both cases, it seems that this is messy drafting (though in the content moderation case, it seems that Republicans have jumped on it and have now made it the main reason they support these bills, beyond general anger towards “big tech” for populist reasons).
Once again, the underlying thinking behind both bills seems mostly sound, but these problems again suggest that these bills are, at best, half-baked, and could do with some careful revisions. Unfortunately, the only revisions we’ve seen so far are those that carved out a few powerful industries.
The Uvalde Police Department — recipient of 40% of the city’s budget — botched its response to a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School. Rather than rush to the sound of gunfire, the officers stopped making forward progress once they were adjacent to the gunfire. It took another law enforcement agency (a Border Patrol tactical team) to end the killing, which at that point numbered 19 students and two teachers.
And it has benefited from an unexpectedly united front. The Texas Department of Safety has come to the defense of the extremely defensive Uvalde Police Department, claiming any information or documents it might have on hand relating to the shooting response (including body cam footage) cannot be released because it might (and I quote) “enable criminals to anticipate weakness in law enforcement procedures.”
The procedure was the weakness, at least as carried out by the Uvalde police officers. Training tells first responders to sacrifice their own safety to protect others during active shooter situations, but that simply did not happen. The department’s immediate statements portrayed officers as heroes, an illusion the PD couldn’t even manage to sustain for 24 hours.
The Uvalde PD clearly does not want to release any information about its botched shooting response. As Jason Koebler reports for Motherboard, the PD has retained private representation to engage in legal warfare on its behalf, spending the public’s money to keep documents out of their hands.
The City of Uvalde and its police department are working with a private law firm to prevent the release of nearly any record related to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in which 19 children and two teachers died, according to a letter obtained by Motherboard in response to a series of public information requests we made. The public records Uvalde is trying to suppress include body camera footage, photos, 911 calls, emails, text messages, criminal records, and more.
“The City has not voluntarily released any information to a member of the public,” the city’s lawyer, Cynthia Trevino, who works for the private law firm Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal & Zech, wrote in a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. The city wrote the letter asking Paxton for a determination about what information it is required to release to the public, which is standard practice in Texas. Paxton’s office will eventually rule which of the city’s arguments have merit and will determine which, if any, public records it is required to release.
Hiring outside counsel isn’t necessarily unusual when plenty of litigation appears inevitable. What is a bit more unusual is the private law firm’s approach to the public records requests. Rather than present reasons why certain documents and recordings might be exempt from disclosure, it has chosen to treat all requests as one inseparable mass to which any or all possible exemptions might apply.
The city says that it has received 148 separate public records requests (including several from Motherboard), and has lumped all of them together, making a broad legal argument as to why it should not be required to respond to many of them.
That’s the pitch the law firm is making to state Attorney General Ken Paxton, hoping the AG will take its side and declare most of those 148 requests exempt from release. That may work with the AG but it’s certainly not going to work in court when the inevitable lawsuits over denied requests start flowing in.
But that’s the point. It buys the Uvalde PD more time. It forces requesters to spend their own time and money suing for access to records by battling a private law firm being paid with public money to help the Uvalde PD screw the public.
This raises questions about what might be captured in documents and body cam footage. The concerted effort to prevent any information from being released gives the distinct impression this is a cover-up operation. What it’s covering up is left to the imagination of the general public, which is no closer to obtaining access to the stuff the PD is keeping hidden. Are there falsified reports? Cops caught on camera cowering-in-place? Cops mocking the terrified families waiting outside of the school? Confusion? Chaos? Panic? Law enforcement professionals being far less heroic than they believe themselves to be?
Whatever it is, it will come out eventually. This is the PD delaying the inevitable. And the longer it fights, the more irate the public will be. The PD has been dishonest from the outset. Now, it’s using the public’s own money against them.
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So, once again, as we said with the previous disinformation board, if the goal is really to better understand the flow of information online, and how to counter it without running afoul of the 1st Amendment, that could be interesting. Harassment and abuse is a real issue on the internet. And, there are many lessons to be learned, including some really unique and creative approaches to dealing with the challenges related to such speech. Unfortunately, there are already many reasons to be concerned about this new task force — mainly in that many of the participants come from the world that believes in questionable approaches to dealing with this — such as by removing Section 230 and making companies somehow “liable” for speech, even when it’s legal.
That’s not an approach that is (1) constitutional or (2) workable. We’ve seen such systems get regularly abused to silence perfectly legitimate speech. And, of course, part of this is because while abuse and harassment are very real, there is no clear definition of what constitutes abusive speech. Hell, one of the “experts” at last week’s panel once openly harassed a supporter of Section 230 for merely reporting, neutrally, on a Supreme Court decision, suggesting that people should set up fake profiles on sites and send people to rape the supporter.
It is difficult to take the White House seriously in trying to “stop” online harassment when it would platform a harasser like that.
There are also other concerns about the task force. An unnamed White House official brushed off free speech concerns that were raised by a Washington Post reporter:
“We are very mindful of the First Amendment issues,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss the White House’s plans. “But banning threatening speech is not protected by the First Amendment. So while we are going to carefully navigate those issues, we are also going to remain laser-focused on the non-speech aspects.”
There’s some awkward wording here. Even though this official says that “banning threatening speech is not protected” it sounds like they mean “threatening speech is not protected by the 1st Amendment, and therefore okay to ban.” But… that’s just fundamentally wrong in nearly all cases. There is a very, very, very narrow sliver of threatening speech — that focused on inciting imminent lawless action — that is not protected, but almost none of the actual abuse and harassment that occurs online goes anywhere near that level.
There are some good things a task force like this could obviously do — some of which appears to be part of its mission. Things like the following seem great:
increasing access to survivor-centered services, information, and support for victims, and increasing training and technical assistance for Federal, State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments as well as for global organizations and entities in the fields of criminal justice, health and mental health services, education, and victim services;
That seems like a useful thing. However, where it gets scary is when it starts dipping into “examining existing Federal laws, regulations, and policies.”
And, look, at this very moment, there’s a half decent chance that in 30 months we’ll have a President DeSantis in office. And let’s remember that, in Florida, DeSantis has put in place programs to effectively block teachers from teaching about race or gender issues out of fear that they could get sued. He’s also directly punished companies like Walt Disney, falsely claiming that it’s a “woke” corporation. How do you think a President DeSantis will make use of a task force that suggests new laws and regulations to stop “harassment” and “abuse?”
This is not difficult to play out, but for whatever reason, supporters of these kinds of things seem to think that their friends will always be in power. That’s not how it works.
Again, there could be something useful in bringing together experts in harassment, along with various organizations that have experimented with ways of countering harassment, not through legal enforcement, but with design choices and tools that minimize such things. Invite company CEOs like Blockparty’s Tracy Chou who has thought deeply about how to use technology to fight harassment.
Instead, we always end up with the same people, who seem to think that the law is the only way to fight harassment, even as it’s protected by the 1st Amendment.
And, of course, just as with the Disinformation Governance Board, Republicans are already going after this effort, once again claiming that this is just a “ministry of truth” designed to target conservative speech. Even if that’s not true, just the fact that they believe it is gives them even more justification the next time they’re in power to use the very same tools and setup to actually stifle speech they dislike.
You would think that after four years of a Trump administration abusing the levers of power that once the Democrats regained power they would, maybe, put in place more safeguards, rather than putting more weapons in place for Republicans to use next time they’re in power. But, apparently, they can’t think even that far ahead, and that should disqualify them from being taken seriously.
It’s always interesting to watch one-time disruptors shift toward turf protection, apparently remembering none of the annoyances that drove their passion for disruption (and ultimate success) in the first place.
Once Netflix was as powerful as the telecom sector, it shifted its tone on issues like net neutrality. And as the now-dominant company has increasingly faced competitors, it has taken to nickel-and-diming its subscribers (see the recent rate hikes followed by fees for those who share passwords, a practice it once heralded as little more than free advertising).
Roku has also gone from pesky market disruptor to one of the biggest streaming hardware companies in the world. And their behavior has also, as you might have expected, started to resemble a lot of the cable companies that it once disrupted.
In the last year or two, Roku has been mired in contract standoffs with Google and AT&T as it tries to leverage its market share to take greater control of profitable streaming user viewing, CDN, and behavior data. That’s resulted in a growing number of instances where users have lost access to certain streaming content on certain devices (something you’re going to see a whole lot more of).
As Janko Roettgers at Protocol notes, many of Roku’s contemporaries feel like the company may be getting a bit to big for its britches as it pushes for a bigger cut and more control:
Under the new terms, Roku keeps 45% of net advertising revenues. That’s still less than the cut some competing platforms take, according to industry insiders. However, given Roku’s size, the change has significant impact on the business of these channel providers, with one of the affected publishers calling it “a bit of a money grab” in a conversation with Protocol.
As we noted last year, the future of streaming TV is looking more and more like traditional cable. Especially with the rise of free, ad-supported streaming TV channels (aka “FAST”) popping up on a lot of hardware. Roku wants to take advantage of the company’s massive fifty percent streaming hardware market share to bend other sector companies to its will.
In a book forward in 2016, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings warned about the hubris of successful disruption:
“Throughout my business career, I have often observed powerful incumbents, once lauded for their business acumen, failing to adjust to a new competitive reality,” Hastings writes. “The result is always a stunning fall from grace.”
Like most executives, Hastings hasn’t heeded his own warnings. Once you’ve achieved success and face the kind of young, hungry competitors you used to be, panic often sets in, and you forget what brought you to the top of the mountain in the first place. Especially under the thumb of Wall Street’s demand for improved quarterly returns at any cost. And the cycle continues…