WPA3-Personal security–What does this mean for your Wi-Fi network

Article

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

Expect the next-generation Wi-Fi network to have WPA3 security

What is WPA3? And some gotchas to watch out for in this Wi-Fi security upgrade | Network World

My Comments

Over the next few years, Wi-Fi routers, access points and client devices like computers and smartphones will be supporting WPA3 as a media-specific network security protocol.

At the moment, I will be focusing on the WPA3-Personal variant which is relevant to small networks like the typical home or small-business network. This kind of network security is also implemented in an increasing number of venue-based public-access networks in order to allow the venue owner to protect and authenticate the network and preserve its role as an amenity for the venue’s customers.

The WPA3-Personal network security protocol has the same method of operation as for a WPA2-Personal network. This is using a “Wi-Fi password” commonly known across all access points and client devices that use the network segment.

But it describes this “Wi-Fi password” as Simultaneous Authentication Of Equals rather than the previous Pre-Shared Key used in previous WPA-Personal implementations. It also affects how this “Wi-Fi password” is represented and encrypted in order to protect it against an off-site brute-force cracking attempt.

As well, each connection between the client device and the access point is encrypted in a manner unique to that connection.

The initial onboarding process will be typically based on the traditional password-entry method. But it will also implement Wi-Fi EasyConnect which uses a QR code or WPS-based push-button setup.

The Wi-Fi WPA3 security protocol may take years to become mature while a secure surefire codebase for client-side and access-point-side implementations is worked out. The initial codebase was found to have software weaknesses in the early Personal-setup implementation and is being debugged now.

A question that will be raised is whether an upgrade to WPA3 security will require new hardware for either the client device or the access point or if this can be performed using revised firmware that has the necessary software code. This may depend on whether the hardware uses a purely software-defined approach for managing its functionality.

There will be situations that will take place regarding existing equipment and WPA3-capable equipment. Here, a WPA3 client like a smartphone can work with an existing WPA2-compliant Wi-Fi network segment but not have the full benefits. Similarly, a WPA3-capable Wi-Fi network segment will need to be operated in a “transition mode” to allow existing WPA2-compliant client devices to connect. Again, this doesn’t provide all the benefits of a Wi-Fi network segment secure to WPA3 standards.

You can also work around this limitation by implementing two Wi-Fi network segments that have separate ESSIDs. One of these could be configured to work the current WPA2-Personal standard while the other is set up purely for WPA3-Personal. This practice may come in to its own if you have a Wi-Fi network using the latest standards while you maintain another using tried-and-trusted standards.

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Gigaset Alexa smart speaker is a cordless phone

Articles

Gigaset L800HX Alexa DECT smart speaker press picture courtesy of Gigaset AG

This Gigaset smart speaker works as a DECT handset for fixed-line telephony services

Gigaset reinvents the landline phone – Gigaset smart speaker L800HX | Business Insider

German language / Deutsche Sprache

Gigaset L800HX: Smart Speaker mit DECT- und Amazon-Alexa-Anbindung | Caschy’s Blog | Stadt.Bremerhaven.de

Gigaset L800HX: Alexa-Lautsprecher mit Festnetztelefonie | Computerbild.de

Gigasets Smart Speaker ist auch ein Telefon | Netzwoche (Schweiz / Switzerland)

From the horse’s mouth

Gigaset Communications

L800HX Smart Speaker

German language / Deutsche Sprache

Product Page

Press Release

Blog Post

My Comments

Amazon effectively licensed the Alexa client software that is part of the Echo smart speakers that they sell for third parties to use. This opens up a path for these third-party companies to design smart speakers and similar products to work with the Alexa voice-driven assistant ecosystem.

This kind of licensing opens up paths towards innovation and one of the first fruits of this innovation was Sonos offering a smart speaker that worked with multiple voice-driven home assistant platforms that they licensed. But I will be talking about another approach that links the traditional fixed-line telephone to the smart speaker.

Amazon Echo Connect adaptor press picture courtesy of Amazon

The Amazon Echo Connect box enables your Amazon Echo speakers to be your traditional household telephone

When faced with Google offering telephony functionality in their Home speaker, Amazon one-upped them with the Echo Connect box. This box connects to your home network and your fixed telephone line so you can make and take telephone calls through the traditional fixed telephone service or its VoIP equivalent using an Echo smart speaker or similar device. The device had to connect to the telephone socket you would connect the traditional telephone to as though it was an extension telephone and if you implemented a VoIP setup using a VoIP-enabled router, you would connect it to the telephone-handset port on this device.

Now Gigaset Communications, a German telecommunications company who is making innovative telephony devices for the European market, has approached this problem in a different way. Here, they have premiered the Gigaset L800HX smart speaker that works on the Alexa ecosystem. But this uses functionality similar to the Amazon Echo Connect box but by working as a DECT cordless handset.

The Gigaset L800HX can be paired up with any DECT base station or DECT-capable VoIP router to become a telephony-capable smart speaker. It is exploiting the fact that in competitive telecommunications markets in Continental Europe, the telcos and ISPs are offering multiple-play residential telecommunications packages involving voice telephony, broadband Internet and multiple-channel TV service on fixed and/or mobile connection.

Increasingly the fixed-line telephony component is provided in a VoIP manner with the carrier-supplied home-network router having VoIP functionality and an integrated DECT base station along with one or two FXS (telephone handset) connections for this service. This is due to use of dry-loop xDSL, cable-modem or fibre-optic technology  to provide this service to the customer and a drift away from the traditional circuit-based telephony service.

Onboarding this speaker requires you to interlink it to your Wi-Fi home network and your DECT-based cordless base station or VoIP router. Then you also set it up to work with the Amazon Alexa ecosystem using the Amazon app or Webpage associated with this ecosystem. A separate Gigaset mobile-platform app provides further functionality for managing this device like synchronising contacts from your mobile or DECT base-station contacts list to the Amazon Alexa Calling And Messaging service. It provides all the other expectations that this service offers like the Drop In intercom function. Let’s not forget that this device can do all the other tricks that the standard Echo can do like play music or manage your smart home under command equally as well.

The German-speaking tech press were raving about this device more as tying in with the current state of play for residential and small-business telecommunications in the German-speaking part of Europe. They also see it as a cutting-edge device combining the telephony functionality and the smart-speaker functionality in one box that fits in with the Continental-Europe ecosystem tightly.

Here, it is another example of what the licensing approach can do for an ecosystem like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. This is where there is an incitement for innovation to take place regarding how the products are designed.

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Australian Electoral Commission weighs in on online misinformation

Article

Australian House of Representatives ballot box - press picture courtesy of Australian Electoral Commission

Are you sure you are casting your vote or able to cast your vote without undue influence?

Australian Electoral Commission boots online blitz to counter fake news | ITNews

Previous coverage

Being cautious about fake news and misinformation in Australia

From the horse’s mouth

Australian Electoral Commission

Awareness Page

Press Release

My Comments

I regularly cover the issue of fake news and misinformation especially when this happens around election cycles. This is because it can be used as a way to effectively distort what makes up a democratically-elected government.

When the Victorian state government went to the polls last year, I ran an article about the issue of fake news and how we can defend ourselves against it during election time. This was because of Australia hosting a run of elections that are ripe for a concerted fake-news campaign – state elections for the two most-populous states in the country and a federal election.

It is being seen as of importance due to fact that the IT systems maintained by the Australian Parliament House and the main Australian political parties fell victim to a cyber attack close to February 2019 with this hack being attributed to a nation-state. This can lead to the discovered information being weaponised against the candidates or their political parties similar to the email attack against the Democrat party in the USA during early 2016 which skewed the US election towards Donald Trump and America towards a highly-divided nation.

The issue of fake news, misinformation and propaganda has been on our lips over the last few years due to us switching away from traditional news-media sources to social media and online search and news-aggregation sites. Similarly, the size of well-respected newsrooms is becoming smaller due to reduced circulation and ratings for newspapers and TV/radio stations driven by our use of online resources. This leads to poorer-quality news reporting that is a similar standard to entertainment-focused media like music radio.

A simplified low-cost no-questions-asked path has been facilitated by personal computing and the Internet to create and present material, some of which can be questionable. It is now augmented by the ability to create deepfake image and audio-visual content that uses still images, audio or video clips to represent a very convincing falsehood thanks to artificial-intelligence. Then this content can be easily promoted through popular social-media platforms or paid positioning in search engines.

Such content takes advantage of the border-free nature of the Internet to allow for an actor in one jurisdiction to target others in another jurisdiction without oversight of the various election-oversight or other authorities in either jurisdiction.

I mentioned what Silicon Valley’s online platforms are doing in relation to this problem such as restricting access to online advertising networks; interlinking with fact-check organisations to identify fake news; maintaining a strong feedback loop with end-users; and operating robust user-account-management and system-security policies, procedures and protocols. Extant newsrooms are even offering fact-check services to end-users, online services and election-oversight authorities to build up a defence against misinformation.

But the Australian Electoral Commission is taking action through a public-education campaign regarding fake news and misinformation during the Federal election. They outlined that their legal remit doesn’t cover the truthfulness of news content but it outlines whether the information comes from a reliable or recognised source, how current it is and whether it could be a scam. Of course there is the issue of cross-border jurisdictional issues especially where material comes in from overseas sources.

They outlined that their remit covers the “authorisation” or provenance of the electoral communications that appear through advertising platforms. As well, they underscore the role of other Australian government agencies like the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission who oversee advertising issues and the Australian Communications And Media Authority who oversee broadcast media. They also have provided links to the feedback and terms-and-conditions pages of the main online services in relationship to this issue.

These Federal agencies are also working on the issue of electoral integrity in the context of advertising and other communication to the voters by candidates, political parties or other entities; along with the “elephant in the room” that is foreign interference; and security of these polls including cyber-security.

But what I have outlined in the previous coverage is to look for information that qualifies the kind of story being published especially if you use a search engine or aggregated news view; to trust your “gut reaction” to the information being shared especially if it is out-of-touch with reality or is sensationalist or lurid; checking the facts against established media that you trust or other trusted resources; or even checking for facts “from the horse’s mouth” such as official press releases.

Inspecting the URL in your Web browser’s address bar before the first “/” to see if there is more that what is expected for a news source’s Web site can also pay dividends. But this can be a difficult task if you are using your smartphone or a similarly-difficult user interface.

I also even encourage making more use of established trusted news sources including their online presence as a primary news source during these critical times. Even the simple act of picking up and reading that newspaper or turning on the radio or telly can be a step towards authoritative news sources.

As well, I also encourage the use of the reporting functionality or feedback loop offered by social media platforms, search engines or other online services to draw attention to contravening content This was an action I took as a publisher regarding an ad that appeared on this site which had the kind of sensationalist headline that is associated with fake news.

The issue of online misinformation especially during general elections is still a valid concern. This is more so where the online space is not subject to the kinds of regulation associated with traditional media in one’s home country and it becomes easy for foreign operators to launch campaigns to target other countries. What needs to happen is a strong information-sharing protocol in order to place public and private stakeholders on alert about potential election manipulation.

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Celebrity voices to become a new option for voice assistants

Article

How to Make John Legend Your Google Assistant Voice | Tom’s Guide

Google Assistant launches first celebrity cameo with John Legend | CNet

How to make John Legend sing to you as your new Google Assistant voice | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Hey Google, talk like a Legend {Blog Post)

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

Google is trying out a product-differentiating idea of using celebrity voices as an optional voice that answers you when you use their Google Assistant.

This practice of using celebrity voices as part of consumer electronics and communications devices dates back to the era of telephone answering machines. Here, people could buy “phone funnies” or “ape tapes” which featured one-liners or funny messages typically recorded by famous voices such as some of radio’s and TV’s household names. It was replaced through the 90s with downloadable quotes that you can use for your computer’s audio prompts or, eventually, for your mobile phone’s ringtone.

Now Google has worked on the idea of creating what I would call a “voice font” which uses a particular voice to annunciate text provided in a text-to-speech context. This is equivalent to the use of a typeface to determine how printed text looks. It also encompasses the use of pre-recorded responses that are used for certain questions, typically underscoring the particular voice’s character.

The technology Google is using is called WaveNet which implements the neural-network and machine-learning concept to synthesise the various voices in a highly-accurate way. But to acquire the framework that describes a particular voice, the actor would have to record predefined scripts which bring out the nuances in their voices. It is part of an effort to provide a natural-sounding voice-driven user experience for applications where the speech output is varied programmatically such as voice-driven assistants or interactive voice response.

At the moment, this approach can only happen with actors who are alive and can come in to a studio. But I would see WaveNet and similar technologies eventually set up to work from extant recordings where the actor isn’t working to a special script used for capturing their voice’s attributes, including where the talent’s voice competes with other sounds like background music or sound effects . By working from these recordings, it could be about using the voices of evergreen talent that had passed on or using the voices that the talent used while performing in particular roles.

Google is presenting this in the form of a special-issue “voice font” representing John Legend, an actor and singer-songwriter who sung alongside the likes of Alicia Keys and Janet Jackson. Here, it is being used as a voice that one can implement on their Google Home, Android phone or other Google-Assistant device, responding to particular questions you ask of that assistant.

Amazon and others won’t take this lying down especially where the voice-driven assistant market is very competitive. As well, there will be the market pressure for third parties to implement this kind of technology in their voice-driven applications such as navigation systems in order to improve and customise the user experience.

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IKEA to provide an affordable path to the Sonos ecosystem

Articles IKEA SYMFONISK speaker range press picture courtesy of Inter IKEA Systems B V

IKEA’s Sonos-powered lamp and bookshelf are speakers in disguise | Engadget

Sonos And IKEA Made Some Wacky Speaker Furniture | Gizmodo

IKEA’s Sonos-powered SYMFONISK lamp-speaker gets confirmed for Australia | PC World

Sonos Ikea Symfonisk speakers officially revealed, starting at €99.95 | Pocket-Lint

From the horse’s mouth

IKEA

Meet our new family member, SYMFONISK {Product Page)

IKEA and Sonos shine a new light on sound {Press Release)

Sonos

How Sonos and IKEA Plan to Furnish Homes Through Sound And Design (Blog Post)

SYMFONISK Product Page

My Comments

IKEA have introduced a wireless multiroom speaker system that doesn’t need to be assembled with that allen key. Here, it is actually a multiroom system that is totally based on the SONOS platform and can interwork with a set of SONOS speakers.

It isn’t the first time IKEA have dabbled in technology, especially marrying it with furniture. A previous example was to offer some tables and lamps that have integrated wireless charging mats for smartphones.But the SYMFONISK speaker range are based on the Sonos multiroom platform and can easily integrate with Sonos multiroom speakers and devices. It is part of IKEA’s way of seeking outside help to design tech-focused products rather than “reinventing the wheel” and taking a huge gamble with tech devices they design themselves.

IKEA SYMFONISK multiroom speaker press picture courtesy of Inter IKEA Systems B V

IKEA SYMFONISK Sonos-compatible network multiroom speaker

The Wi-Fi-based multiroom speakers, presented at the Salone Del Mobile which is Italy’s premier furniture design show, are known as the SYMFONISK speakers. They come in two forms – a traditional speaker that looks very similar to one of the small bookshelf speakers of the 60s and 70s; and a table lamp that has an integrated speaker implementing the 360-degree speaker approach.

The SYMFONISK speaker can be used as a shelf, whether with the KUNGFORS kitchen-rack hardware or not, or parked in a bookcase like one of the many IKEA bookcases you may have assembled. The expected price for these speakers is EUR€99 and it also has local volume and play-pause buttons on the front.

IKEA SYMFONISK multiroom speaker lamp press picture courtesy of Inter IKEA Group

IKEA SYMFONISK network multiroom speaker lamp

The SYMFONISK table-lamp speaker has the 360-degree speakers in the lamp-base and is able to be part of IKEA’s Tradfri Zigbee-driven smart-lighting system. The expected price for these lamp/speaker units would be EUR€179 each.

The fact that these work with the Sonos multi-room platform may open up various use cases concerning affordability. Here, you could “put your foot in the door” for a Sonos-based multiroom setup using the IKEA SYMFONISK bookshelf speaker compared to buying the cheapest Sonos multiroom speaker. Then, as you can afford it, you could buy more Sonos or IKEA SYMFONISK speakers to build out your multiroom audio system.

If you do have Sonos speakers, you could use the IKEA SYMFONISK speakers as a way to build out your Sonos multiroom system such as to “expand” in to a kitchen, bedroom or secondary lounge area. Similarly, Sonos suggested in their press release the idea of running two of the SYMFONISK bookshelf speakers as companion surround-sound speakers for a Sonos soundbar. It also underscores the idea with the Sonos multiroom platform of configuring a pair of like speakers to work as a stereo pair in one logical room with the wide stereo separation that this offers.

If you have a favourite sound system with its existing sources and want to play it through the IKEA SYMFONISK speakers, you would need to purchase the Sonos Connect box. This box, as well as being an “off-ramp” to play our Sonos-provided audio content through the sound system, also has a line input to connect the sound system’s tape output or an audio source to this device so you can stream that source to the IKEA SYMFONISK or Sonos speakers.

What I like of IKEA’s partnership with Sonos in developing the SYMFONISK speakers as though they are part of the Sonos multiroom ecosystem is that they bring affordability to that ecosystem. It is an approach that companies involved in network multiroom audio platforms need to perform in order to increase the ubiquity of their platform and avoid the attitude of their platform being so ethereally expensive that it ends up as a status symbol.

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Could a logical network be a data-security attribute?

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

The local network created by one of these routers could be seen as a way to attest proximity or effective control of these devices

In data security, there has to be a way to attest that a user has effective control of their computing devices when they are authenticating with a device or service. Increasingly, most of us are handling two or more devices in this context such as to move data between them, use one of them as an authentication factor or to verify mutual trust between two or more people.

The logical network, also called a subnet, represents the devices connected to the same router irrespective of what media they use to connect to this network like Ethernet or Wi-Fi wireless. It is represented at Layer 3 (Network Layer) on the OSI network model stack and is represented by IP (Internet Protocol) whether version 4 or 6. Routers that implement guest or hotspot/community network functionality create a separate logical network for the guest or hotspot network.

But a hotspot network can be set up to cover a large public area like a bar or cafe’s dining room or even the whole of a hotel or apartment block. As well, if a hotspot network is properly set up for the end users’ data security, it shouldn’t be feasible to discover other devices on that same logical network. This is thanks to IP-based isolation functionality that the router that serves the hotspot offers.

Here, the existence of devices on the same logical network can be used as a way to attest proximity of these devices or to attest effective control over them.

Use cases

Enhanced two-factor authentication

Increasingly, most of us who implement two-factor authentication use an app on a smartphone to provide the random key number that confirms what we have along with what we know. But in a lot of situations, we have the smartphone and the computer we want to use to gain access to the resources existing on the same network. This may be our home or business network, a public-access hotspot or tethering our laptop to a smartphone for Internet access via the mobile network.

Having both devices on the same network could be seen as a way to assess the security level of a multifactor authentication setup by assessing the proximity of the devices to each other. It is more so if the devices are communicating to each other behind the same Wi-Fi access point or Ethernet switch. This concept would be to prove that both devices are effectively being controlled by the same user.

It can also work as an alternative to Bluetooth or NFC as a device-to-device link for a transcription-free multi-factor authentication setup if you are thinking of two devices that are able to connect to a network via Wi-Fi. This is more so where the issue of phishing of multi-factor authentication setups involving the transcription of a one-time passcode has been raised.

Discovery of devices in the same network

The same concept can also be examined in the context of interlinking between devices that exist on the same network or even determining one’s “home” domain in the context of AV content rights. In some ways, the concept could also be about tokenised login for online services where a user’s credentials are held on one device like a smartphone but a session-based token is passed to another device like a set-top box to facilitate login from that device.

It is a practice that has been used with UPnP and Bonjour technologies primarily for device and content discovery. The most obvious situation would be to use Apple AirPlay or Google Chromecast to throw content to the big screen from a compatible mobile device. It also works in the same context when you set up and use a network-based printer from your computer or smartphone.

Across-the-room discovery and mutual-user authentication

Another use case this concept can apply to is “across-the-room” device discovery and mutual-user authentication. This would be used for data transfer, social networks or online gaming where you intend to share a resource with someone you talked with, invite them as a friend / follower in a social network or engage them in an online game.

Proof of presence at a particular location

Use of a logical network’s attributes can be a tool for proving one’s presence at a particular location. This is more so where the Internet service for that network is being provided using a wired-broadband or fixed-wireless-broadband approach for its last-mile, like with most home and business networks. It may not work with “Mi-Fi” setups where a mobile broadband network is being implemented for the last-mile connection.

Here, it could be used for time-and-attendance purposes including “proof of presence” for home-based carers. Or it could be used to conditionally enable particular functionality like app-based on-premises food-and-beverage ordering at a venue. To the same extent, it could be used to protect delivery services against orders that were instigated at one location being sent to another location.

Methods

Both devices existing on the same network

In a premises-specific network like most small networks, testing that both devices are on the same subnet / logical network behind the same gateway device (router) could be a way to attest that both devices are in the same premises. The same test can be performed by the use of a “hop count” on Layer 3 of the OSI network-layer tree, which also determines the number of logical networks passed.

It is a method used with a wide range of network-based AV and printing applications to constrain the discovery and control of devices by controller software to what is local to you.

But assessing whether the two devices are connecting to the same access point on a Wi-Fi network can be used to attest whether both devices are in the same room in a large Wi-Fi setup. It may not work in a network setup where different devices connect to a network using different connection media like Ethernet, Wi-Fi Wireless or HomePlug powerline. This also includes situations where multiple access points cover the same room or floor such as with large rooms or open-plan areas.

Another approach that can be used for Wi-Fi hotspot networks honouring the Hotspot 2.0 / Passpoint setup would be to read the “venue” metadata for that network and compare whether both devices are in the same venue. If this technology is able to support subdividing of a logical venue such as based on floors or rooms, this could work as a way of further attesting whether both devices are in close proximity.

A Wi-Fi wireless network can be attested through the use of the BSSID which identifies the same access point that the devices are connecting through or the ESSID which is the network’s “call sign”. The BSSID could be used for a public hotspot network including a “hotzone” network ran by a local government or ISP,or a large network that uses many access points while the ESSID approach could be used simply for a small network with a few access points.

Trusted networks with authentication certificates

On the other hand, there could be the concept of creating “trusted networks” where authentication certificates relating to the network are stored in the network’s gateway device or in infrastructure devices associated with that network. It could be used to work against man-in-the-middle attacks as well as a stronger approach to attesting trust between the client device and the network it proposes to access.

The initial appeal for this concept could be to attest the authenticity of a business’s network especially in the face of business partners or customers who want to use that network as a gateway to the Internet or use the host business’s resources.

It could have some appeal to the food, beverage and hospitality industry where particular cafes and bars are often seen by individuals and workgroups as favoured hangouts. In this context, if an individual wants to use the Wi-Fi public-access network in their favourite “watering hole” or “second office”, the “trusted network” approach can be used to verify to the customer that they have connected to the venue’s network at the venue to avoid “man-in-the-middle” attacks.

This approach is being implemented with the Wi-Fi Passpoint / Hotspot 2.0 technology to provide for the simple yet secure public-access Wi-Fi network.

The same approach can be used with a home network if the router can store data like digital certificates in onboard non-volatile memory. Then this data could be created by the ISP as a “known trusted network” with a network-specific certificate relating to the router and network equipment. Such a service could be offered by an ISP as a value-added service especially to cater for “proof-of-presence” applications.

Conclusion

Using a logical network as a data-security attribute can be effective as a security tool for some use cases. With current network equipment, this can be a surefire way of assessing device proximity.to other devices. But use of certificates stored on network-infrastructure devices like routers and provided by ISPs or similar entities can be of use for authenticated-network or proof-of-presence applications.

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Cross-platform online game leaderboards–how about it?

Lenovo Yoga Tab Android tablet

Playing that game on a mobile tablet or..

Most video and computer games nowadays implement an online leaderboard as part of the way they operate. They typically require you to log in to the leaderboard to persist game data “in the cloud”, support social gameplay including discovering newer opponents or the maintenance of challenges and leaderboards so players can compete against each other on the game.

Game studios tend to write their own leaderboard that is specific to that game’s needs but the game-distribution platforms are running their own leaderboards to offer this same functionality to all studios and games.

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

a smartphone or..

It typically leads to a game-recommendation engine to recommend games similar to what you play a lot, subscription-driven gameplay or digital software locker functionality for the titles, typically to keep you with that platform. In some cases, they offer a means to measure your prowess as a gameplayer or as a specialist in particular game types, typically to match you with opponents of a particular skill level in that kind of game.

The leaderboards offered by the distribution platforms make it feasible for a small-time or indie studio to have this functionality without the game developer having to create a leaderboard and rent the necessary server space by themselves.

Sony PS4

a games console like the Sony PS4 or ..

But there is a reality for users who play the same game title across multiple platforms. It is highlighted through someone owning or regularly using computing devices based on different platforms for gameplay such as a “gaming rig” that runs Windows 10, a smartphone that could either run iOS or Android, and perhaps a mobile-platform tablet running either iOS or Android along with a set-top box or games console. The set-top box situation is very real as an increasing number of set-top and smart-TV platforms like the Apple TV or the “décodeurs” offered by French telcos as part of their “n-box” triple-play platforms within France are moving towards the kind of performance associated with games consoles.

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook

a laptop like the Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook or ..

Increasingly, it encourages game studios to port titles to many different platforms but there has to be an approach that allows the player to carry the online experience between the platforms. At the moment, Facebook has achieved the goal of a cross-platform leaderboard but it requires players to be part of this social network which may put some people off the idea due to the various controversies about this Silicon Valley giant. Facebook’s leaderboard supports “provisioning” from one’s Facebook account along with support for native and Web-based games.

Microsoft has extended their XBox Live leaderboard beyond the XBox One games console and Windows 10 computers by providing limited support for iOS and Android mobile platforms. But this is focused towards a Windows 10 or XBox One setup as your main gaming platform.

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

a set-top device like the Apple TV should lead towards you keeping score and matching opponents on one or more cross-platform online leaderboards

What needs to happen is an effort towards a truly platform-independent gaming leaderboard that facilitates cross-platform gameplay and appeals to multiple game developers and distributors. It has to appeal to a userbase and developer-base that wants to stay away from large social-media powerhouses who see users’ data as the new gold.

A key feature would be to provide support for native-coded and Web-coded games including the newer Progressive Web App games. This is more so as independent game studios work on “free-to-play” games that are written as Web-coded games for play in a Web browser as well as being ported in a native-coded form to iOS and Android mobile platforms. As well, the Progressive Web App is being pitched as a “write once run anywhere” app solution for mobile, tablet and desktop computing.

XBox leaderboard app in Windows 10

The expected functionality would include:

  • the ability to persist gameplay data and scores in the cloud
  • support for challenges and leaderboards including allowing venues, sponsors and others who partner with the game developer to run their own challenges
  • social gaming with opponent discovery on a local and global basis, in-game chat on a one-to-one or party-line basis, and gift exchange for in-game items like microcurrency or game lives.

The leaderboard would have to be child-safe according to established norms and protocols like requirement of parental permission for signing in or participating in sponsored challenges, and support for minimum ages.

Google Play Games app

Google Play Games – the online leaderboard for the Android platform

The issue of allowing venues and marketers to use the leaderboard to run their own challenges may be of concern to some people who want a life free from marketers and commercialism. But there are people who want to build a tighter relationship with the brands that they value and allow these brands to participate in their online life. Similarly, some games studios may associate with various popular brands to underscore their players’ relationship with these brands and as a monetisation tool.

As well, user privacy would need to be valued in many different ways like user discovery or game-chat access. It also includes whether a notification about gaming accomplishments or level-up scenarios should be shared on to outside social networks, which social networks should be used and who should see this information.

It also includes the ability to provide a single-sign-on experience that can work with a wide variety of credential pools. This is important where a user maintains a set of personal credentials with multiple different credential pools like Apple ID for iOS, MacOS and Apple TV devices; Facebook; Microsoft Account for Windows 10 and XBox One; and Google for Android and ChromeOS.  The reason this can happen is due to playing the same game across the multiple platforms.

This could be a goal for companies who are behind content-streaming services, IP-telephony services and the like to engage in if they do want to diversify their offerings. European companies could even jump on the bandwagon especially if they want to tout their end-user privacy and data-security prowess.

What needs to happen is for the games studios to gain access to one or more highly-capable cross-platform game leaderboards so that users can play the games and benefit from leaderboard or game-recommendation functionality no matter the platform they use without being required to “reinvent the wheel”.

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WhatsApp now highlights messaging services as a fake-news vector

Articles

WhatsApp debuts fact-checking service to counter fake news in India | Engadget

India: WhatsApp launches fact-check service to fight fake news | Al Jazeera

From the horse’s mouth

WhatsApp

Tips to help prevent the spread of rumors and fake news {User Advice)

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

As old as the World-Wide-Web has been, email has been used as a way to share online news amongst people in your social circle.

Typically this has shown up in the form of jokes, articles and the like appearing in your email inbox from friends, colleagues or relatives, sometimes with these articles forwarded on from someone else. It also has been simplified through the ability to add multiple contacts from your contact list to the “To”, “Cc” or “Bcc” fields in the email form or create contact lists or “virtual contacts” from multiple contacts.

The various instant-messaging platforms have also become a vector to share links to articles hosted somewhere on the Internet in the same manner as email, as has the carrier-based SMS and MMS texting platforms when used with a smartphone.

But the concern raised about the distribution of misinformation and fake news has been focused on the popular social media and image / video sharing platforms. This is while fake news and misinformation creep in to your Inbox or instant-messaging client thanks to one or more of your friends who like passing on this kind of information.

WhatsApp, a secure instant-messaging platform owned by Facebook, is starting to tackle this issue head-on with its Indian userbase as that country enters its election cycle for the main general elections. They are picking up on the issue of fake news and misinformation thanks to the Facebook Group being brought in to the public limelight due to this issue. As well, Facebook have been recently clamping down on inauthentic behaviour that was targeting India and Pakistan.

WhatsApp now highlighting fake news problem in India, especially as this platform is seen as a popular instant-messenger within that country. They are working with a local fact-checking startup called Proto to create the Checkpoint Tipline to allow users to have links that are sent to them verified. It is driven on the base of a “virtual contact” that the WhatsApp users forward questionable links or imagery to.

But due to the nature of its end-to-end encryption and the fact that service is purely a messaging service, there isn’t the ability to verify or highlight questionable content. But they also have placed limits on the number of users one can broadcast a message to in order to tame the spread of rumours.

It is also being used as a tool to identify the level of fake news and misinformation taking place on the messenger platform and to see how much of a vector these platforms are.

Personally, I would like to see the various fact-checking agencies have an email mailbox where you can forward emails with questionable links and imagery to so they can verify that rumour mail doing the rounds. It could operate in a similar vein to how the banks, tax offices and the like have set up mailboxes for people to forward phishing email to so these organisations can be aware of the phishing problem they are facing.

The only problem with this kind of service is that people who are astute and savvy are more likely to use it. This may not affect those of us who just end up passing on whatever comes our way.

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Using Bluetooth as part of the hybrid radio concept

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio – a representative of the current trend towards the “hybrid radio” concept

Previously, I have covered the concept of “hybrid radio” which is being put forward by RadioDNS. This is about integrating the reception of audio-based radio content from a radio station either through the traditional analogue or digital broadcast technologies or through the Internet.

It is based on the common Internet-radio application where traditional radio stations transmit a simulcast of their broadcast output as an Internet stream. You would experience this with an app like TuneIn Radio or by using an Internet radio, of which I have reviewed many. This has been used to listen to overseas radio stations by those of us who like the “vibe” of a particular country or to learn a new language, but has been used as a way to hear a national radio station that isn’t received in one’s local area, a situation that is common in rural Australia.

It is intended to provide automatic switching to an Internet-based simulcast of the radio station if you are out of the reception area for a broadcast transmitter and you can’t be “handed over” to a better transmitter’s output of the same station. It is also underscored by the concept of a “single-dial” tuning approach to select stations without worrying which broadcast methodology they are using, whether traditional or Internet-based. here is also the availability of richer metadata that can be shown on screens that support rich graphic displays along with an electronic programme guide for radio broadcasts.

This functionality is dependent on the radio having Internet connectivity of some sort. It is typically with the set being equipped with Wi-Fi or Ethernet connectivity for use on a small network, or a car radio being equipped with a mobile-broadband modem provisioned with mobile-broadband service.

This may not work properly with enterprise or public-access networks that require authentication beyond a Wi-Fi passphrase or WPS-PBC setup or we have to make sure the mobile-broadband service is provisioned for the car radio that we are using in the way the radio expects. This was something I had come across when someone posted a question about attempting to use the Internet capabilities of the Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-capable bookshelf music stereo system with a “headline” public-access Wi-Fi network in the place they were living in.

As well, the Internet connectivity is offered by consumer-electronics manufacturers as a product differentiator with it typically ending up on the premium products in the range. Similarly, some manufacturers want to steer clear of Internet-connectivity as a feature for their consumer-electronics product ranges.

But an increasing number of radio sets and audio equipment are implementing Bluetooth technology typically to allow streaming of audio content from mobile devices paired with the set. In the car-audio scene, this is to facilitate a safe hands-free telephone setup that allows the driver to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

Smartphones or tablets could be used to provide “hybrid-radio” functionality

The RadioDNS hybrid-radio concept could be extended to the Bluetooth link by a standard application-level class or profile for the Bluetooth specification. Here, this would work in conjunction with a computing device that runs companion “hybrid-radio” software and is linked to the radio via Bluetooth in order to enable full “hybrid-radio” functionality.

This could allow for broadcast station selection using the companion device or the display of rich metadata for the currently-listened-to station on the companion device’s display irrespective of the source of the metadata. This would be of benefit to those sets that can’t show rich graphic metadata such as what DAB+ or Digital Radio Mondiale are capable of.

The concept cam make use of the voice-driven home assistants like Amazon Echo or Google Home for many options. Here, it would exploit the idea of having a device like Amazon Echo or Google Home provide the Bluetooth – Internet bridge to your small Wi-Fi network and play network-hosted or Internet-hosted audio content through the radio’s speaker. It would be important where the radio’s amplifier and speaker does a better job at reproducing music compared to what the Amazon Echo or Google Home device.

… as could devices like the Lenovo Smart Display

For example, you could ask Alexa or Google Assistant to select a station and the local broadcast signal will then play. Or if you use something like Google Home Hub, you could have the station’s audio coming through the radio while a graphically-rich interface for that station appears on the Home Hub’s screen.

What RadioDNS needs to look towards is the idea of using Bluetooth or similar peripheral-level connections as a way of allowing a companion computing device to facilitate hybrid radio functionality for equipment or use environments that don’t support integrated Internet connectivity.

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Netflix works harder on interactive video

Article Netflix official logo - courtesy of Netflix

Netflix to create more interactive content | Advanced Television

With Interactive TV, Every Viewer Is a Showrunner Now | WIRED

My Comments

Netflix is working harder towards providing interactive video as part of its subscription video-on-demand service.

This popular service took baby steps towards this goal with the Puss N Boots children’s TV show, using it as a proof-of-concept show. It is part of having to compete with Apple and Disney who are running or wanting to launch subscription video-on-demand services that are replete with family-friendly content. There is also the public-service broadcasters who are filling their broadcast-video-on-demand services with children’s content of high educational value as part of their public-service remit.

But Netflix have taken this concept in to the mainstream with Black Mirror Bandersnatch which is a sci-fi “time-travel” program about creating a video game in the 1980s. It uses an interactive metaphor that is based on the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books but could be also seen as something similar to some interactive films or adventure games released through the 1980s and 1990s.

With these two titles, they have taken the video-on-demand concept further by linking it to interactive video. It is facilitated by streaming alternate video content under the user’s control rather than loading it from local storage whether it’s an optical disc of some sort or a computer’s local file system.

User-experience problems and inconsistencies

Netflix still faces problems with how their interactive-video efforts work with the different client-side setups that their users use. What is being highlighted is that some of their platforms and viewing setups won’t play this interactive content properly and is underscored most with popular setups involving the large-screen TV. For example, the popular Apple TV device, whether through its interface or as an AirPlay target for an iOS device, doesn’t handle these titles as doesn’t the Chromecast device or the Windows Netflix app.

This is a key issue regarding interactive video because video content has always been conducive towards viewing on a large-screen TV, especially in a “lean-back” manner.

Some titles like Puss N Boots do resolve to running as a traditional linear experience if the viewing setup doesn’t support interactivity whereas others just won’t play at all.

Netflix will have to answer this problem by updating the client software for tvOS, Windows 10, Chromecast and other platforms to cater towards interactivity. Some articles even raised issues like multiple buffering for interactive titles especially where the devices don’t have much in the way of RAM or storage.

Privacy issues associated with interactive content

The technology press are raising concerns about the issue of end-user privacy when users engage with interactive content. It is although the responses are encrypted using SSL encryption technology used to make Websites secure.

In the Black Mirror Bandersnatch application, the user interactivity would be considered to be benign with “The Register” seeing it like whether one liked Thompson Twins or the contents of a “Now That’s What I Call Music” compilation album. But the interactivity in a subsequent title could be seen as a way to identify factors such as a householder’s political affiliations for example.

If an interactive-video platform is being used to gather user preferences, there needs to be a user-privacy and data security framework concerning this activity. For example, any data to be collected has to be anonymised so it doesn’t point to particular households.

Taking it further

Different genres

Netflix is intending to take the interactive concept towards other genres like history, adventure and romance especially by making this kind of content targeted towards adults. This will lead towards a way to legitimise interactive video content and cause the screen arts community to explore it further.

This could be achieved through modelling the interactive titles on various point-and-click graphic adventure games that existed through the 1980s and 1990s and working these concepts harder.

As well, it has to be realised that non-fiction content like documentaries can benefit heavily from interactive video. For example, viewers could work through one of these shows but choose to see more detail on something they are curious about, whether as a slideshow, animation or full-motion video. Similarly, a non-fiction title can give viewers the know-how and opportunity to follow a call-of-action relevant to the title at any point during the viewing session.

Different approaches

Most likely, interactive video will be underscored in the form of  a multiple-choice storyline where certain options affect how the content evolves.

But it can also be in the form of a traditional linear storyline that has the ability to “telescope” at particular points. This is where viewers have the option to view a more-detailed version of a concept that is a point in the storyline, whether as video, animation or on-screen text. It can also extend to a 360-degree video-tour of a space relevant to the storyline where the viewer can use their remote control to navigate that space and, perhaps, see explanations about particular details. It is more so with remote controls that implement trackpads or gyroscopic sensors.

In some cases, you could integrate a “mini-game” or programmatic simulation within the title that the user can play if they so wish. An example of how this could take place could be a crime drama based on the Dick Francis novels that are set within the murky world of horseracing and betting. In this case, there could be the option to emulate one or more betting scenarios concerning one of the subject horse races or see comparative “market odds” for a race before and after a situation highlighted within the drama’s storyline.

This kind of approach may require the use of computing power within the client device or the server to perform any necessary calculations. Here, it may depend on how powerful the client device is and what is being expected for the necessary calculations.

Interactivity as an option

One thing that needs to be thought of as interactive video catches on is the concept of offering “interactivity as an option”.

This is where the content is run in a linear fashion following a known storyline from beginning to end in order to satisfy group-viewing scenarios, viewing setups that don’t support interactivity or simply where you just want to simply relax and view. It may also allow critics to get the essence of the content to make a fair judgement on what the content’s baseline is about.

But it has to allow the user to enable an interactive-viewing mode to allow the individual viewer to benefit from the interactivity.

Taking the interactive TV concept to other VOD platforms

As well, other video-on-demand platforms will want to explore interactive TV as part of their operating software so they can work towards creating their own interactive content. Here, it could be achieved through an operator offering a white-label interactivity solution that other video-on-demand platforms could implement.

Then there is also the issue of having end-user setups work properly with interactive-TV abilities. Here, it will require the software on all of the platforms especially the popular “big-screen” ones, that facilitates the end-user experience whether as a Web-page or a native app to work tightly with these experiences. It also includes operational setups that are used to “point” a regular computer’s or mobile device’s screen to the big screen such as a hard-wired connection, AirPlay or Chromecast.

One of the video-on-demand providers or a third party may decide to approach this situation by offering a “white-box” interactive-TV solution with software libraries for playout and end-user applications. This approach can then speed up the deployment of an interactive-video experience within a video-on-demand service, especially if the service provider is a broadcast video-on-demand type or one that targets niche audiences.

Conclusion

By issuing Black Mirror Bandersnatch as an interactive video title, Netflix is putting forward a strong case for taking interactive video content in to the mainstream. But they will need to work harder to make this new content type work properly for everyone.

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