Cloud movie locker UltraViolet is finally closing

UltraViolet, an older “cloud movie locker” service, is shutting down. The service, which allowed consumers to unlock a digital copy of their DVDs and Blu-Rays, was something of a transitional step between the age of physical media and today’s streaming video landscape. Over time, it’s become less necessary for consumers, as movie marketplaces and subscription services now offer extensive libraries of movies for streaming, rental and purchase – all in digital formats.

The shutdown was first reported by Variety.

Today, UltraViolet claims to have over 30 million users, who are able to stream more than 300 million movies and shows from their cloud libraries. But arguably, “UltraViolet” never became a household name.

The service was not well-received at launch. When the Hollywood and tech execs first came up with the idea, many people at the time thought it was just another “form of DRM” to keep people from sharing their movies – the way that was possible with physical disks.

After a few years, however, UltraViolet loosened its grip a bit. Walmart’s Vudu began offering a way for people to selectively share their UltraViolet movies with friends back in 2014, for example..

But that may have already been too little, too late. People were increasingly more interested streaming Netflix on their Roku – not buying DVDs, converting them to digital, then loaning them out. (Besides, if you really wanted your friend to watch one of your Vudu movies, it was just easier to share your login.)

UltraViolet’s other issue was Disney. While UltraViolet was backed by all the major Hollywood studios, it didn’t have Disney on board. And Disney later decided to launch its own cloud locker, Disney Movies Anywhere. With its launch, several studios left UltraViolet for Disney’s service, Variety’s report also noted. And last year, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, and Lionsgate stopped distributing new release movies on Ultraviolet.

Disney’s service – now just called Movies Anywhere and operated with studio partners including Universal, WB, Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox – is more popular. Within one app, all the movies you purchased across retailers are centralized.

This, combined with a shift to streaming and subscription video, didn’t bode well for UltraViolet’s future.

The service will shut down on July 31, 2019.

Users are advised to link their UltraViolet accounts to at least one retailer before that date. They should not actually cancel or unlink their UltraViolet accounts before then, as they’d lose their entire movie collection, in that case.

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Facebook just removed a new wave of suspicious activity linked to Iran

Facebook just announced its latest round of “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” this time out of Iran. The company took down 262 Pages, 356 accounts, three Facebook groups and 162 Instagram accounts that exhibited “malicious-looking indicators” and patterns that identify it as potentially state-sponsored or otherwise deceptive and coordinated activity.

As Facebook Head of Cybersecurity Policy Nathaniel Gleicher noted in a press call, Facebook coordinated closely with Twitter to discover these accounts, and by collaborating early and often the company “[was] able to use that to build up our own investigation.” Today, Twitter published a postmortem on its efforts to combat misinformation during the US midterm election last year.

Example of the content removed

As the Newsroom post details, the activity affected a broad swath of areas around the globe:

“There were multiple sets of activity, each localized for a specific country or region, including Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, US, and Yemen. The Page administrators and account owners typically represented themselves as locals, often using fake accounts, and posted news stories on current events… on topics like Israel-Palestine relations and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, including the role of the US, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.

Today’s takedown is the result of an internal investigation linking the newly discovered activity to other content out of Iran late last year. Remarkably, the activity Facebook flagged today dates back to 2010.

The Iranian activity was not focused on creating real world events, as we’ve seen in other cases. In many cases, the content “repurposed” reporting from Iranian state media and spread ideas that could benefit Iran’s positions on various geopolitical issues. Still, Facebook declined to link the newly identified activity to Iran’s government directly.

“Whenever we make an announcement like this we’re really careful,” Gleicher said. “We’re not in a position to directly assert who the actor is in this case, we’re asserting what we can prove.”

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Fear and loathing in India: BJP insists Amazon, Flipkart adopt new e-commerce rules by Feb. 1

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Is it possible that a purportedly business-friendly government can, in the blink of an eye, destroy — or at least severely damage — its most celebrated industry in the tech-meets-commerce space?

Also: Will Flipkart and Amazon kill India’s retail industry?

This is what seems to be unraveling, as Flipkart and Amazon face an unyielding Feb. 1st deadline to alter their business models from one that is a direct purveyor of goods (like Amazon in the US, for instance) to one that is a marketplace for them (sort of like eBay).

In other words, these two companies have to dismantle their business model almost overnight and establish completely new supply chains and vendors in order to comply with this diktat, something they would not have imagined in their wildest imaginations. Amazon has so far pumped $5.5 billion into the country, and Walmart last year forked out $16 billion on acquiring Flipkart under the assumption that the country would continue to be a future growth engine for global e-commerce.

Instead, they have fallen prey to the whimsies of a government desperate to claw its way back into political contention. Prime Minister Narendar Modi may have aspired to create a carefully manicured image as a business-minded visionary, wooing companies to set up manufacturing plants in his country. However, a string of decisions began to quickly tarnish his image including a growing authoritarianism and a tacit appeasement of communal atrocities against the Muslim population including public lynchings. The most boneheaded decision was to enforce a ban on existing currency notes and the printing of new ones in order to expunge the nation of black money but instead slowed down economic growth and caused nationwide damage to the livelihood of the poor. (Not to mention, apparently, 99.3 percent of black money found its way back into the system in just a few months.)

Now, all this was still fine and dandy for the large chunks of the middle and upper middle class, which were in thrall of Modi and his business-friendly, ‘Hindu-first’ vision for India, but the common man didn’t think so. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the recent drubbing of the BJP by its arch-rival the Congress party in local elections taking place in what should have been safe beachheads of the north. So unexpected was the defeat that the BJP government had to act immediately to resuscitate its large vote bank of shopkeepers and tradespeople whom they had taken for granted since coming to power. Until now, that is.

For two years since issuing its tweaked rules in 2016 that outlined a marketplace model and no more than 25 percent ownership in sellers of its goods, the government did nothing. In fact, as I have pointed out in this recent story, after being deluged by complaints filed by tradespeople about predatory and monopolistic pricing practices by Amazon and Flipkart, it kicked over the whole issue to industry watchdog, the Competition Commission of India. The CCI eventually declared that nothing seemed to be rotten in the states of India.

“Looking at the present market construct and structure of online marketplace platforms market in India, it does not appear that any one player in the market is commanding any dominant position at this stage of evolution of market,” the Commission said in its decision. A BJP spokesperson followed this up by telling a local publication: “It seems that the [e-commerce] industry doesn’t need a policy, but a set of rules will help in taking the industry to the next level,” a senior Commerce Ministry Official said to Indian tech website Factordaily.

This despite an e-commerce draft policy that was making the rounds asking for the clipping of wings of monopolistic, global players with massive warchests albeit via a sunset clause that would allow them some time to rejig their business models. The fact is that Amazon and Flipkart have used VC funding to be able to flog things at ridiculously low prices in order to grab market share. The fact also is that offline retail, some $700 billion versus online’s $20 billion size, is simply unable to compete with global-capital funded steep discounts.

Another fact: Amazon and Flipkart, despite the rules, did conduct a humongous part of their operations via entities that both invested in. None of this is hotly disputed. But instead of providing clarity on this policy in advance, thereby allowing their online retailers to plan their migration to a new model methodically via a sunset clause, the government, stricken by the spectre of political defeat in the upcoming national elections in three months, has decided to resort to their own desperate measures, the health of e-commerce be damned.

The result of all of this: Amazon may well see a third of its $6 billion in sales vapourise, at least for now in order to comply to the new rules; Flipkart may see a quarter of its sales vanish. According to ratings firm CRISIL, that loss could be as high as 40 percent of revenues in two years, amounting to between Rs35,000 crore ($5 billion) and Rs40,000 crore. Flipkart Chief Executive Kalyan Krishnamurthy immediately sent a letter to the government requesting more time. 

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“Redesigning numerous elements of our technology systems to ensure that we can validate and evidence our compliance, in such a compressed period of time, has caused us to divert significant resources,” wrote Krishnamurthy. Flipkart ships between 500,000 and 600,000 packages a day and Amazon alone has 400,000 sellers and therefore both companies say that the new rules sans a sunset clause will cause a lot of trauma to their operations and sales.

For now, the government is resolute behind its decision, reiterating yesterday that it will not extend the Feb. 1 deadline despite Amazon and Flipkart requesting an extension. Look for this to change if the BJP wins the upcoming election.

Previous and related coverage:

Apple gets obliterated by OnePlus in India as sales drop by 50 percent

Tim Cook says the company won’t be flogging India-specific phones to take advantage of this sizzling market, so the question remains as to how Apple plans to battle its far more inexpensive Chinese counterparts and survive in India.

PewDiePie versus T-Series silliness reveals battle for the soul of YouTube

Swedish YouTube sensation PewDiePie and his supporters feel threatened by the rapid creep of corporatism that they think is sullying a platform that was built for and has been nurtured by individual expression.

India issues new e-commerce rules to check Amazon and Flipkart

Reeling from recent electoral losses, the BJP government’s latest e-commerce stance is an attempt to woo back small retail traders, say industry observers.

Japan is desperate for Indian techies, but will they bite?

As the US clamps down on Indian H1Bs, Japan emerges as a potential savior for this beleaguered cohort. Yet, a cultural chasm between the two countries could upend this golden opportunity.

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Google's Cloud Firestore is now generally available

Google on Thursday announced that Cloud Firestore, its cloud-native NoSQL database, is now out of beta and in General Availability. Google is also lowering prices for regional instances of Cloud Firestore and adding new locations to host Cloud Firestore data.

Bringing the fully-managed database into GA should help organizations that want to embrace serverless application development. Amazon Web Services introduced serverless computing with AWS Lambda and offers database services like Amazon Aurora Serverless and Amazon DynamoDB, where serverless is core to the design. Meanwhile, MongoDB has its Stitch serverless offering for its Atlas cloud service.

Cloud Firestore is integrated with both the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Firebase, Google’s mobile development platform. It makes it simple to store, sync, and query data for web, mobile, and IoT applications. While in beta, companies including The New York Times and the  scooter-sharing business Skip Scooters were using Cloud Firestore to build app experiences.

Now that it’s in GA, Cloud Firestore is included in GCP’s official Service Level Agreements, guaranteeing 99.999% uptime for multi-region instances and 99.99% for regional instances. Moving out of beta also means that GCP’s deprecation policy officially applies to Cloud Firestore and that Cloud Firestore is included among Google services that support HIPAA compliance.

Most regional instances — which are hosted in a single region and thus not as reliable as multi-region — will be lower priced starting on March 3. In some locations, the price will be as low as 50 percent of multi-region instance prices.

Google is also adding 10 new locations for hosting Cloud Firestore data, including a new multi-region location in Europe.

Google is also adding a “Usage” tab in the Firebase console to help customers handle costs. It will show customers exactly how many reads, writes, and deletes their database has received over time. 

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Hey Apple. Why not ban all of Facebook's apps?


Time for radical action?

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Higher powers tell me that trade wars work.

They bring a little jolt to the status quo. They create a frisson of fear in at least one of the parties. They might even drag a little justice in their wake.

Also: Severe vulnerability in Apple FaceTime found by Fortnite player 

These trying thoughts come to me because I’m tired.

I’m tired of Facebook flouting privacy and decency in the relentless pursuit of money, power, and the constant surveillance of every human on Earth.

I’m tired of Facebook’s executives mumbling that they’ll do better when you know that what they’ll try to do better is to hide what they’re really doing.

And I’m tired of reading about how much lower Facebook is prepared to go to achieve its aims.

The latest incident involves a so-called research app that slid past Apple’s app rules and paid teenagers for the privilege of Facebook following them around everywhere.

Apple reacted by temporarily banning Facebook’s internal iOS apps

I can’t help wondering, though, whether Apple shouldn’t just ban all of Facebook’s apps until it can be satisfied it is not performing in underhand ways.

No more Messenger, no more Instagram, no more WhatsApp. It would surely be a colonic irrigation of the soul, as well as an actual way to stop Facebook in its tracking.

I hear you howl that this would be a frightful abuse of power.

Well, it depends on how you define abuse. When a company like Facebook has been abusing trust since its inception, it’s hard not to think that the only thing it’ll ever understand is the sound of silence.

For all its power, Facebook relies on devices made by others. It’s never managed to sell devices of its own, after all.

Apple just boasted that it has 1.4 billion active devices worldwide. That would represent a lot of lost business for Facebook — and goodness, Facebook adores making money.

Of course, iPhone users would wail. Worse, Facebook users don’t seem to care about this privacy thing at all, as they ensure that Facebook makes ever greater profits.

But if Apple’s insistence that it stands for privacy as a moral right is to mean anything, then a little radical action wouldn’t go amiss.

It’s not as if government is in any state to derail the likes of Facebook — though European governments are a little more active in this sphere.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook has been increasingly critical of the likes of Facebook and Google and their cavalier privacy habits.

Banning Facebook apps — even if for only a while — might have the effect of not only chastening Facebook a little, but of driving others such as Google into greater drifts of decency, as well as getting users to pay a little more attention to what’s going on.

The sad truth is that nothing else has worked. And it might be quite fun to see if Mark Zuckerberg is able to blink.

Why not be a radical? I hear it’s in vogue these days.

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