Author: simonmackay

European Union deems Big Tech companies and services as gatekeeepers

Article

European Union flag - Creative Commons by Rock Cohen - https://www.flickr.com/photos/robdeman/

The EU will be using two new tools to regulate Big Tech significantly

EU names six tech giant ‘gatekeepers’ under DMA guidelines | Mashable

From the horse’s mouth

European Union

Digital Markets Act: Commission designates six gatekeepers (europa.eu)

My Comments

The European Union is taking serious steps towards controlling Big Tech further and enforcing a competitive market within its territory.

They recently passed the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act laws which apply to companies that have a significant market presence in the EU. The former one is about assuring real competition by doing things like pry open app stores to competition, require a service to accept advertising for its competitors or assure end-users have access to the data they generate through their services. As well, the latter one regulates online services to assure a user experience with these services that is safe and in harmony with European values as well as supporting innovation and competitiveness.

Initially, six powerful Big Tech companies have been designated as “gatekeepers” under the Digital Markets Act. These are Alphabet (Google, Jigsaw, Nest), Amazon, Meta (Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Threads, WhatsApp), Apple, ByteDance (TikTok) and Microsoft.

Google Play Android app store

The European laws will also be about prying open the app-store marketplace for mobile platform devices

Most of the products like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Amazon’s marketplaces, the familiar Google search engine, and the mobile app stores ran by Apple and Google are listed services or platforms subject to scrutiny as “gateways”. Even the iOS, Android and Microsoft Windows desktop operating systems are also deemed “gateways” under this law. But I am surprised that the Apple MacOS operating system wasn’t even deemed as a “gateway” under that law.

There is further investigation about Microsoft’s Bing search platform, Edge browser and Advertising platform and Apple’s iMessage messaging service regarding deeming them as “gateways”.

The latter one has attracted intense scrutiny from the computing press due to it not being fully interoperable with Android users who use first-party messaging clients compliant with the standards-based RCS advanced-messaging platform put forward by the GSM Association. This causes a significantly-reduced messaging experience if iPhone users want to message Android users, such as not being able to share higher-resolution images.

What happens is that “Gatekeeper” IT companies will be under strict compliance measures with requirement to report to the European Commission. These include requirements to:

  • accept competitors on their platform, which will apply to app stores, operating systems and online advertising platforms
  • ensure that end-users have access to data they generate on the platform
  • allow end-users and merchants to complete transactions away from app-store and similar platforms owned by the gatekeeper company
  • assure independent verification by advertisers of ad impressions that occur on their ad-tech platform

At the moment, an online service or similar IT company is considered a “gatekeeper” if they have:

  • EUR€7.5bn turnover
  • EUR€75 billion market capitalisation
  • 45 million or more active users in the 27 European-Union member countries

Personally, I would like to see the geographic realm for active users based on a larger area in Europe because of non-EU countries like Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and the UK and EU-candidate countries also contributing to the user base. For example, this could be based on the European Economic Area or membership of the Council of Europe which standardises fundamental human-rights expectations in Europe.

Failure to comply will see the company face fines of 10% of its global turnover, even the ability for the European Union bureaucrats to subject a company to a Standard Oil / AT&T style forced breakup.

At the moment, it is about EU setting an example on reining in Big Tech with DMA being considered a gold standard by the consumer IT press just as GDPR was considered a gold standard for user privacy. But the United Kingdom is putting a similar recommendation in place by introducing the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill before Parliament. This is while the USA are trying to pry open app stores with various anti-trust (competitive-trade) and similar legislation.

A question that will also arise is whether the European Union bureaucrats can effectively have control over corporations anywhere in the world such as to force the breakup of a dominant corporation that is chartered in the USA for example. This is although they could exert this power over a company’s local affiliate offices that exist within Europe for example.

There is still a very serious risk of Big Tech “dumping” non-compliant software and services in to jurisdictions that aren’t covered by these regulations. This will typically manifest in software or services that have the features desired by customers like sideloading or competitive app-store access for mobile operating systems or ad-free subscription versions of social networks being only available in Europe for example. This was a practice that happened with Microsoft when the EU forced them to allow the end-user to install an alternative Web browser when they install Windows as part of commissioning a new computer for example, with this feature only occurring within Europe.

A previous analogy I used is what has been happening with the vehicle market in Australia where vehicles that aren’t fuel-efficient to current international expectations appear in this country whereas other countries benefit from those vehicles that are fuel-efficient. This is due to Australia not implementing the fleet-wide fuel-efficiency standards being used in many countries around the world.

Who knows how long it will take to push similar legislation or regulation aimed at curbing Big Tech’s marketplace powers around the world. Only time will tell.

UK to launch Internet-based free-to-air TV service

Article

TV aerial and satellite dish on house roof

UK to launch a free-to-air TV service that can be delivered by Internet in addition to terrestrial and satellite RF means

Britain’s Broadcasters Prep New Free Live TV Service via Broadband – ISPreview UK

From the horse’s mouth

Everyone TV (formerly Digital UK)

New service from UK public service broadcasters will deliver live free TV via IP (Press Release)

My Comments

The United Kingdom, a country associated with a long tradition of free-to-air broadcast TV, is now working towards an Internet-based free-to-air TV service.

This service, to be known as Freely, is a follow-on from the Freeview digital terrestrial TV and Freesat digital satellite TV platform and is to extend the traditional free-to-air TV service to IP (Internet Protocol) bearers like your Internet service and home network. It is being facilitated by Everyone TV, formerly known as Digital UK and behind Freeview and Freesat, who represents the established UK free-to-air TV broadcasters i.e. BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

The intention is to have this support both linear and on-demand content services for FTA TV, as well as maintaining the traditional TV viewing experience as we have known it. The articles talked more of Freely being offered via fixed-line broadband Internet but mentioned that they could be offered by mobile broadband.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel - presentation mode

It could even be about watching BBC1 on a convertible laptop like this Dell Inspiron 2-in-1 convertible laptop without the need of a TV tuner dongle

A question that can easily come up is what will be provided for as the “best case” scenario for picture and sound quality? This could be HD, Full HD, 4K UHD or HDR, but there wasn’t any talk about a “best case” soundmix like stereo, 5.1 surround or object-based Dolby Atmos surround that will be used for TV-content sound.

Another question that will come up is whether the Freely setup will be about an Internet-only setup or to combine the Freeview terrestrial / Freesat satellite RF-delivery platforms. This is even though 15% of UK TV households use Internet-only means for receiving their TV content and, most likely nowadays, the Internet is used as a means to bring TV to secondary locations. But there is a desire in the UK to preserve the terrestrial TV service delivered via the aerial as something accessible for all.

The Freely service is expected to be launched in 2024 and there is a desire to integrate this functionality in to the next generation of smart TVs sold in to the UK market. There will also be the issue of whether apps that work with connected TV, games console, mobile or desktop operating systems will be created for Freely. This is because these platforms like Chromecasts, Apple TVs, iPads or laptops are being used for online TV consumption.

I also see this as something that Australia and New Zealand could be observing due to their free-to-air TV culture, with a brand that could be used for Internet-delivered FTA TV. This could even be used as a brand for a pure Internet-delivered free-to-air TV service by any of these companies.

But I am also pleased about the proposed Freely service being the first effort towards Internet-delivered free-to-air TV in English-speaking countries who have a strong free-to-air TV and public-service broadcasting culture.

Augmented headphones coming about due to Microsoft’s research

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Sony WH-1000XM4 Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset press image courtesy of Sony

Microsoft is to be doing further work on headphones that follow your gestures

Microsoft Research

Thinking beyond audio: Augmenting headphones for everyday digital interactions – Microsoft Research

My Comments

As part of the “Headset Wars” where headset manufacturers are putting research in to and marketing the best-value Bluetooth active-noise-cancelling headset, there is research in how to improve the headphones’ user interface.

Currently, there are some over-the-ear headphones that use touch-based gestures for basic control routines like starting or stopping multimedia, taking or ending calls and adjusting volume. As well, some active-noise-cancelling headphones recognise you cupping our had over the earpiece as a way to override ANC, amplify the outside world and pause multimedia so you can engage in conversation with someone near you.

Why

One issue that is bringing Microsoft in to the headphone innovation space is the intense competition between headphone manufacturers when it comes to high-quality Bluetooth active-noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds. These manufacturers are seeing their headsets being used at work, at home and while travelling for entertainment and personal communications.

As well, the drive towards videocalls and video conferencing during COVID and the associated work-from-home orders has had us want to see a better way to engage in that Zoom videoconference. The various goals that came about include providing each user with a sense of dignity and privacy during these calls, especially if they need to get up to use the bathroom or answer the door.

Then there is the ability to effectively “talk to” a particular individual in a multiparty video conference when you direct your gaze at that particular person in the default multi-screen view.

It is also being seen as part of augmented and virtual reality such as having an avatar mimic you. This is even a feature that is becoming part of video conferencing and allied use cases where participants see themselves as though they are in a virtual space.

What is being brought out through the research

Here, it is about using the headphones to follow your head movements or recognising when you put your headphones on or took them off.  There is also the idea of using mid-air hand gestures as a control mechanism with this being based on LiDAR technology to recognise these gestures.

The use of head gestures and hand gestures recognised by headphones is being seen as beyond call control for a videoconference. It includes allowing avatars that represent a user in a videoconference or video game  to mimic the user they represent.

It also allows for head movement to be recognised as input for videogames. This would come in to its own with games that have the first person as their primary point of view like driving games, first-person shooters or role-playing / adventure games. I would  see this also come in to its own as another input for augmented and virtual reality.

How could this be delivered

The Microsoft Research augmented headphone technology could be delivered as an head-worn attachment which may please people who use headset styles other than over-the-head headsets. Or it could be a clip-on attachment that clips to the headband of an existing over-the-head headset. Headphone manufacturers could even integrate this functionality in to their headphone products, especially if it is to be a product differentiator.

As well, a Bluetooth or USB connection would be used to transmit the head movements and had gestures to the host computing device. Here, it may be based on USB Human Interface Device specifications that relate to augmented and virtual reality use cases. If this functionality is to be delivered as an accessory for a Bluetooth headset that has a USB-C socket like just about all of the Bluetooth active-noise-cancelling headsets, there could be USB-Bluetooth forwarding. Here, the Bluetooth headset would “catch” all the head movements and gestures from the USB-connected accessory and forward them to the Bluetooth-connected host device using the one link.

But what needs to happen is for the head movements and gestures to be recognised in a standard form like a USB HID Device Class. This can allow for operating system support and avoid the need for headset manufacturers and software developers to reinvent the wheel every time they want head-movement support in their setup.

Conclusion

What Microsoft is doing is to extend recognition of head movements and gestures beyond virtual reality and augmented reality to regular computing and communications tasks using ordinary headsets.

A Pro-Ject turntable joins the vinyl revival to the home network

Article

Pro-Ject T2W Wi-Fi turntable with LP record lifestyle image courtesy of Pro-Ject

This is about bringing the vinyl record to the UPnP AV / DLNA Home Media Network

The Pro-Ject T2 W wireless turntable looks to accelerate the vinyl resurgence | T3

From the horse’s mouth

Pro-Ject

Pro-Ject T2W Wi-Fi turntable

Product Page (English, Deutsch)

My Comments

The vinyl revival is upon us whether you are a young person who didn’t grow up with playing records or an older person who habitually played records on that stereogram or hi-fi system and maintained that record collection. But a significant number of turntable manufacturers have moved away from the purely-analogue “back-to-basics” approach to the classic LP record by bridging digital technologies with that classic music medium.

In a lot of cases, turntable manufacturers have issued at least one turntable model in their range that uses Bluetooth to stream audio from that record to Bluetooth speakers or headphones. Yamaha recently issued the MusicCast VinylPlay 500 turntable that streams the record you are playing through your home network to their MusicCast speakers and amplifiers or plays online sources using a MusicCast app.

But Pro-Ject have come forward with a network turntable that uses UPnP / DLNA to stream the music off that record you have put on to a wide range of network audio equipment using your home network.

Pro-Ject have had a significant hand with the vinyl revival. This is with designing and releasing a value-for-money manual turntable that answers the expectations of “born-again” vinyl enthusiasts and participating in the Australian edition of Record Store Day which celebrates independent “bricks-and-mortar” record stores.

The Pro-Ject T2W Wi-Fi turntable is a belt-drive manual-operation turntable that works with 33rpm and 45rpm records. Records are placed on a glass platter rather than a plastic or lightweight-metal platter, which does a better job of absorbing unwanted vibrations. The tonearm is equipped with a Sumiko Rainier moving-magnet cartridge most likely

Pro-Ject T2W Wi-Fi Turntable press image courtesy of Pro-JectBut this turntable streams the music content over your Ethernet or Wi-Fi home network to any UPnP / DLNA network audio endpoints with it supporting a best-case FLAC lossless audio stream. The Wi-Fi wireless network connection works best case to Wi-Fi 6.

You have to use the Pro- Ject Control App on your smartphone or tablet to set the T2W up for your home network. But this also works as a UPnP / DLNA Media Controller, allowing you to “push” the music stream from your currently-playing LP to a DLNA audio endpoint. The turntable also has a button to “push” the music stream to the last-connected DLNA endpoint so you don’t have to get out your smartphone to do this before you lift the arm on to that album. The Pro-Ject Control App also can allow you to use Sonos or Apple AirPlay 2 compatible equipment to hear that album.

Between the moving-magnet phono cartridge and the Wi-Fi streaming subsystem exists a high-quality analogue split-passive phono preamp which also yields the sound from that album to a line-level input on an amplifier. This would come in handy with music systems that don’t have a phono input that you would typically connect a turntable to. I have done further research and there doesn’t seem to be the ability to run the audio signal to an external phono preamp such as the one built in to that 70s-era hi-fi receiver.

Pro-Ject recommends that you use the control app associated with a UPnP / DLNA capable network multiroom setup to discover the turntable and push its output across the speakers in that setup. This is to assure proper synchronous sound output because one device would be used to “collect” the signal and synchronise it across the different member endpoints in that setup. Pro-Ject doesn’t assure that the T2W’s UPnP setup will lead to proper sync across different devices due to differing buffering capabilities.

This may appeal to people who have an Internet-capable audio system that uses UPnP / DLNA and want to play records through that system via the home network without it being necessarily close to the turntable. But I would like to see Pro-Ject or another company offer similar functionality in a standalone box that can be connected to existing hi-fi equipment.

But I see Pro-Ject’s effort with the T2W as linking the vinyl revival with the home network using standards-based technologies like DLNA. Time to put that record on through the home network!

FAST streaming TV becoming more common

TenPlay Website screenshot with some FAST channels offered by the Ten Network.

The Ten Network offers some FAST-TV channels through its TenPlay platform

FAST streaming TV is a new way of offering TV services via the Internet. FAST stands for Free Ad-supported Streaming TV; implying that the service is dependent on advertising for its income like a commercial free-to-air TV station. Personally, I would prefer to refer to these services as FST services to encompass public-service broadcasters or community broadcasters who run a business model that eschews advertising or subscriptions, such as the BBC in the UK or ABC in Australia.

But this is about offering a linear TV service via the Internet without having it appear on an RF-based carrier like terrestrial (aerial), cable or satellite. This is in contrast to free-to-air and subscription TV operators who run their linear TV services using Internet means in addition to RF (terrestrial, cable or satellite) means. There is also the ability to offer interactive and personalised advertising which may appeal to advertisers and viewers.

The two main approaches

FAST services are being offered under two different approaches. One is via a broadcaster or other content provider who already has significant presence within its market including offering their own content on their own service. This approach is being taken by most of the commercial free-to-air TV stations in Australia and could work for established broadcasters or the “basic cable” content providers moving themselves off cable to over-the-top Internet delivery. This is in addition to offering the channels distributed normally through RF means being offered using Internet means and, in some cases, providing editorial content for areas different to what is received locally via terrestrial or cable using an Internet stream.

Some TV providers like Australia’s public-service and commercial free-to-air TV networks use FAST-equivalent Internet-delivered TV streams as a way to allow viewers to “jump” editorial borders and, perhaps, watch an interstate news bulletin. We experienced this by accident once when we couldn’t find the TV’s remote control and used our Apple TV and its remote control to control our TV via HDMI-CEC.

Here, we used the ABC iView app to watch the ABC TV stream but accepted the default setup which provided us with the Sydney feed rather than the Melbourne feed which was relevant to us. The news bulletin was full of Sydney-based news including NRL rugby-league and the NSW weather report rather than the Melbourne-based news with AFL Australian-rules football and Victorian weather report. This kind of viewing could be seen as of relevance to, for example, people travelling to another district and wanting to know what the weather will be like at their destination.

The other approach is a company that hasn’t created its own content but simply redistributes channels, runs the user experience and sells advertising time. Such a company can be a TV or set-top device manufacturer like Samsung, a connected-TV platform developer like Roku or someone who just offers an app to many connected TV platforms. Here, content producers would offer TV channels via Internet or satellite means to one or more of these FAST TV services.

What is this leading to

Supplementary, niche and heritage content

Some of the traditional free-to-air broadcasters are using the FAST (FST) approach to offer extra content in an Internet-first means. This is seen as a low-risk means to offer supplementary content rather than having to engage in a high-risk approach of obtaining extra RF capacity or licences for a new service.

For example, TenPlay in Australia has been exploring this approach to offer supplementary content for sports events they have rights to and even brought the Pluto TV PAST service in to Australia. Or the Seven Network used 7Plus were providing “direct-to-sport” access for the Olympic Games where you could see the fixtures relating to a particular Olympics sport of your choice.

At the moment, traditional free-to-air TV broadcasters and channels who appeared in basic cable-TV tiers are showing interest in FAST services. For basic-cable-TV services like news services, it is seen as a way to become less dependent on cable and satellite TV networks leading to a way to reduce costs and assure some editorial independence. The traditional free-to-air broadcasters see this as a way to take their content further including to “take advantage of the moment”.

Here, a key advantage is to provide niche content whee it is not justifiable enough to acquire RF space like a satellite transponder or DVB-T multiplex bandwidth to serve that niche. It can also be seen as a way to try out particular geographic or, more so, demographic markets with content that appeals to them, also courting advertisers who offer products and services appealing to that demographic.

For example, the Seven Network have set up a FAST Bollywood channel through 7Plus to offer content that appeals to the Indian-subcontinent diaspora in Australia. Or the Ten Network have annexed the Pluto TV FAST service to Australia and offered it vla TenPlay with ad space for local businesses.

In addition, a broadcaster who has a lot of heritage built up in their intellectual property could run FAST channels based around that content. This is an approach that a lot of the free-to-air broadcasters and film studios are taking with FAST TV by offering channels celebrating this heritage.

FAST as another form of “cable TV”

In some countries like North America where the classic cable-TV business model has been valued, third-party companies like TV manufacturers or connected-TV-platform developers have simply ended up being FAST service providers. They simply ended up managing the end-user experience, partnering with channels and selling advertising time.

Here, this leads to the many-channels cable-TV experience in a new over-the-top Internet-driven package. It could especially allow the channels that were typically offered in a basic cable package to continue to exist as well as providing a platform for niche channels to exist.

There will be the “Netflix/YouTube” type of TV viewers who will have done away with linear TV in all its forms. This cohort would place emphasis on carefully choosing which shows to watch so as to avoid being seen as the couch-potatoes of yesteryear. This also includes binge-viewing of TV series that they show interest in by seeing a run of episodes in a single session.

Complementing video-on-demand and broadcast TV

FST TV complements AVOD (Advertising-supported Video On Demand) or BVOD (Broadcaster-provided Video On Demand) by allowing the same provider to offer streamed linear and on-demand content. That means that viewers who prefer the traditional discoverability of content offered by a linear service and those who prefer to view what they are interested in using an on-demand service.

A service provider can easily consider offering shows on FST and VOD under the same user interface. This could work in a similar way to the BVOD services offered by traditional broadcasters, where a viewer can see earlier episodes of a show they watched on a linear service. For example, it could be about catching up on a season of a show or watching a few prior episodes to justify whether to continue watching it.

Both these services will have various attributes in common such as to support interactive TV for editorial or advertising material from the get-go. This can appeal to both editorial content such as alternative angles or commentaries for sporting events; or advertising where you can follow through on advertised products or services that interest you.

Once DVB-I and similar integration technologies come in to play, it could be about the ability to channel-surf between FST channels and traditional TV channels. This could make FST platforms more appealing to those of us who like to continue watching TV on the big screen.

Key questions

Brand safety and social licence to operate

Most FST channels would implement production values similar to established public-service and private TV networks. As well, there would be an expectation by the FAST TV services to place ads beside appropriate content to assure brand safety and suitability.

But the Free Streaming TV ecosystem could become a breeding ground for services and channels that don’t have social licences to operate. This could be about news channels that engage in fake news and disinformation or channels running content that is socially questionable. Or there can be issues like when certain editorial and advertising content should be on air so as to make sure children aren’t seeing inappropriate material.

This could be facilitated by a FAST service that is laissez-faire about whom they partner with or what they offer. Or, like I have seen with various “free speech” social networks, it could be easy to set up a FAST service that offers controversial content because there isn’t the need to acquire a broadcast licence or agree to use cable or satellite capacity.

But this issue could be answered with FAST services or trade association who resolve to vet channels that they want to partner with. Similarly app-driven platforms could exert a “gateway role” regarding apps for connected TV services. This is something that Apple, Google, Samsung, and the video-game console platforms have done successfully.

Or countries could apply the “rules of broadcast” to the FST TV ecosystem and have it subject to scrutiny by their broadcast and communications authority like Ofcom or ACMA. It is something that may be easier if the content services or distributors are founded in or have an office in their jurisdiction.

Simplifying the user experience

TV remote control

FST TV will need to permit simplified lean-back operation with the TV remote control if it is to be successful

FST TV will also need to permit a user experience similar to what has become customary for traditional RF-based broadcast TV. This is to provide for the ability to:

  • channel-surf suing the typical up-down button on the remote control,
  • view an electronic programme guide that shows what’s on across all channels and services;
  • enter a channel number to gain direct access to a particular channel and
  • use a “previous channel” button to switch between two different channels.

Here, this avoids a long-winded channel selection process where the viewer would be expected to go up to the FST service’s menu to select another channel or to the main “connected-TV” menu to switch between FST services.

This could be facilitated via DVB-I or similar technologies associated with TV content distribution. The TV sets and set-top boxes would then be required to create amalgamated channel lists and EPGs that are, perhaps, sorted by “channel numbers”, priority lists or service providers.

Conclusion

FAST TV / FST TV could act as an over-the-top Internet-delivered equivalent to terrestrial, cable or satellite TV in providing that linear discoverable viewing experience that we have loved for a long time.

Anti-stalking features part of major Bluetooth item-location platforms

Apple AirTag press image courtesy of Apple

Apple AirTag – one of the main item-location platforms that are supporting anti-stalking measures

Apple and Tile implement item-location platforms that are based around Bluetooth-driven locator tags that can be attached to the items that need to be located. They also work with software that “pings” these tags in order to locate them on a map or make them sound an audible signal so you can locate the object attached to them.

But some people use these tags for nefarious purposes. Typically this is about tracking people who don’t want to be tracked, typically as part of stalking or as part of abusive one-sided relationships.

But Apple and Tile have answered this problem through adding logic to their first-party mobile-platform to detect unknown or unrecognised Bluetooth trackers. It is based around the idea of a tracking device or tag that is not associatedd with your “universe” of mobile computing devices moving in the same direction as you or your mobile computing device.

In the case of Apple, this is built in to the iOS operating system and in to a first-party mobile-platform app for Android. This software identifies if the AirTag or other “Find My” device is moving with you that isn’t registered to your device or Apple ID and is separate from the registered user. As well, the AirTag makes a sound if it isn’t with its owner for a significant amount of time. It also has NFC to allow a person to use a suitably-equipped mobile platform device to identify whether the AirTag is lost, including how to contact the device’s owner and return it. This also yields instruction on how to disable the device by removing the coin-size battery.

With Tile, the software is part of their first-party companion mobile-platform app and identifies if the unknown Tile device is moving with you and separate from the registered user. But it requires that you use the mobile-platform app to instigate a “scan” process.

As well, Google has baked in to their Google Services update package for Android 6.0+ the necessary software code to detect unknown tracker devices that are following you. This includes the necessary user interface to warn you against unknown tracker devices following you and help you identify or disable these devices.

This is part of an Apple and Google initiative to establish an Internet Engineering Task Force draft specification that mandates particular anti-surveillance features in Bluetooth-driven item-location platforms that work with iOS or Android smartphones. It avoids the need for companies who want to build item-location platforms to design them responsibly without needing to reinvent the wheel.

What needs to happen to prevent covert surveillance with item-location platforms

Once the IETF specification regarding anti-surveillance features for item-location platforms is set in stone. there has to be some form of legal mandate regarding its implementation in computing platforms and computer-assisted item-location platforms. This could be through other international standards regarding radiocommunications and telecommunications devices or customs and other legislation and regulation regarding the trade in goods.

The anti-surveillance features in these item-location platform would need to be able to perform well within a crowded location especially where multiple devices of the same platform and owned by different owners are likely to be there. Think of, say a busy bar or nightclub where many people are likely to be moving around the venue.

Similarly, these features would need to work properly with situations where a passenger’s luggage is transported in the baggage hold of the same transport as its owner. This is because some passengers may use an AirTag or luggage with integrated item-finding technology in order to avoid losing their baggage.

The devices need to support universal platform-independent NFC “touch-and-go” technology to allow someone to identify lost tracking devices. This would then show up contact details about who own the device or how to return it to its owner. This is more so where a computing device that has or is connected to an NFC sensor but doesn’t run iOS or Android is used to identify the tracking device’s owner, something that would be common with laptop or 2-in-1 computers. Such a situation would come in to its own with a lost-and-found office who uses regular computers running desktop operating systems as their main office computer equipment.

As well, item-location devices should be easy to disable like removing the battery or enforcing a factory reset on the device. This would come in to its own if the device was being used to track someone and such a device was discovered by its target or someone assisting the target.

Let’s not forget that wearables like smartwatches and fitness trackers, along with headphones and similar personal-audio devices are being equipped with location-tracking functionality. This is to allow people to locate lost smartwatches or earbuds or premises owners, lost-and-found offices and the like to return abandoned devices to their owners. Here, they would have to be part of an established platform and be subject to the same conditions as tag-style devices.

There could also be one or more innovation challenges for manufacturers of various third-party devices in one or more sectors that work to detect covert surveillance of people using item-location devices. Such devices like, perhaps, turnstile-type devices could be designed to provide augmented signalling of tracker devices unrelated to a user’s smartphone but moving with the user or their possessions.

Add to this education programs for third parties like IT support, the security sector, the social-work sector and similar groups to help staff work against covert surveillance of people they work with using item-location devices. This could be about assisting with locating and defeating unwanted devices or configuring users’ personal technology for privacy.

Similarly there has to be action taken about the sale of devices that are modified to avoid detection by the person who is being tailed. This is more so where there have been AirTags sold through online marketplaces like Etsy that have their speaker removed or disconnected to avoid audible “pinging” and detection by the stalking victim. Such action could be in the form of statutory action like radiocommunications regulations regarding such devices sold on the secondary market or customs regulation regarding devices that are imported or exported.

Conclusion

What I see of this effort by Apple and Google is a significant step towards responsible secure design of item-location platforms and an example of what responsible design is about.

Questions are being raised about generative artificial intelligence

What is AI

Artificial intelligence is about use of machine learning and algorithms to analyse data in order to make decisions on that data. It is more so about recognising and identifying patterns in the data presented to the algorithm based on what it has been taught.

This is primarily used with speech-to-text, machine translation, content recommendation engines and similar use cases. As well, it is being used to recognise objects in a range of fields like medicine, photography, content management, defence, and security.

You may find that your phone’s camera uses this as a means of improving photo quality or that Google Photos uses this for facial recognition as part of indexing your photos. Or Netflix and other online video services use this to build up a “recommended viewing” list based on what you previously watched. As well, the likes of Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri or Google Assistant use this technology to understand what you say and create a conversation.

What is generative AI

Generative artificial intelligence applies artificial intelligence including machine learning towards creating content. Here, it is about use of machine learning, typically from different data collections, and one or more algorithms to create this content. It is best described as programmatically synthesising material from other material sources.

This is underscored by ChatGPT and similar chatbots that use conversational responses to create textual, audio or visual material.  This is seen as a killer app for generative AI. But using a “voice typeface” or “voice font” that represents a particular person’s voice for text-to-speech applications could be a similar application.

Sometimes generative AI is used as a means to parse statistical information in to an easy-to-understand form. For example, it could be about an image collection of particular cities that is shaped by data that has geographic relevance.

The issues that are being raised

Plagiarism

Here, one could use a chatbot to create what apparently looks like new original work with material from other sources without attributing the content creators for the material that existed in these sources.

Nor does it require the end-user to make a critical judgement call about the sources or the content created or allow the user to apply their own personality to the content.

This affects academia, journalism, research, creative industries and other use cases. For example, education institutions are seeing this as something that impacts on how students are assessed, such as whether the classic written-preferred approach is to be maintained as the preferred approach or to be interleaved with interview-style oral assessment methods.

Provenance and attribution

It can also extend to identifying whether a piece of work was created by a human or by generative artificial intelligence and identifying and attributing the original content used in the work. It also encompasses the privacy of individuals that appear in work like photos or videos; or where personal material from one’s own image collection is being properly used.

This would be about, for example, having us “watermark” content we create in or export to the digital domain and having to identify how much AI was used in the process of creating the content.

Creation of convincing disinformation content

We are becoming more aware of disinformation and its effect on social, political and economic stability. It is something we have become sensitised to since 2016 with the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election victory in the USA.

Here, generative artificial intelligence could be used to create “deepfake” image, audio and video content. An example of this being a recent image of an explosion at the Pentagon, that was sent around the Social Web and had rattled Wall Street.

These algorithms could be used to create the vocal equivalent of a typeface based on audio recordings of a particular speaker. Here, this vocal “typeface” equivalent could then be used with text-to-speech to make it as though the speaker said something in particular. This can be used as a way to make it as though a politician had contradicted himself on a sensitive issue or given authority for something critical to occur.

Or a combination of images or videos are used to create another image or video that depicts an event that never happened. This can involve the use of stock imagery or B-roll video mixed in with other material.

Displacement of jobs in knowledge and creative industries

Another key issue regarding generative artificial intelligence is what kind of jobs this technology will impact.

There is a strong risk that a significant number of jobs in the knowledge and creative industries could be lost thanks to generative AI. This is because the algorithms could be used to turn out material, rather than having people create the necessary work.

But there will be a want in some creative fields to preserve the human touch when it comes to creating a work. Such work is often viewed as “training work” for artificial-intelligence and machine-learning algorithms.

It may also be found that some processes involved in the creation of a work could be expedited using this technology while there is room to allow for the human touch. Often this comes about during editing processes like cleaning-up and balancing audio tracks or adjusting colour, brightness or contrast in image and video material with such processes working as an “assistant”. It can also be about accurately translating content between languages, whether as part of content discovery or as part of localisation.

There could be the ability for people in the knowledge and creative industries to differentiate work between so-called “cookie-cutter” output and artistic output created by humans. This would also include the ability to identify the artistic calibre that went in to that work.

The want to slow down and regulate AI

There is a want, even withing established “Big Tech” circles, to slow down and regulate artificial intelligence, especially generative AI.

This encompasses slowing down the pace of AI technology development, especially generative AI development. It is to allow for the possible impact that AI could have on society to be critically assessed and, perhaps, install “guardrails” around its implementation.

It also encompasses an “arms race” between generative-AI algorithms and algorithms that detect or identify the use of generative AI in the creation of work. It will also include how to identify source material, or the role generative AI had in the work’s creation. This is because generative AI may have a particular beneficial role in the creation of a piece of work such as to expedite routine tasks.

There is also the emphasis on what kind of source material the generative AI algorithms are being fed with to generate particular content. It is to remind ourselves of the GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) concept that has been associated with computer programming where you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

What can be done

There has to be more effort towards improving social trustworthiness of generative AI when it comes to content creation. It could be about where generative AI is appropriate to use in the creative workflow and where it is not. This includes making it feasible for us to know whether the content is created by artificial intelligence and the attribution of any source content being used.

Similarly, there could be a strong code of ethics for handling AI-generated content especially where it is used in journalism or academia. This is more so where a significant part of the workload involved in creating the work is contributed by generative AI rather than it being used as part of the editing or finishing process.

Chromecast or Apple TV within a public-access Wi-Fi network

Chromecast and similar devices are being used as an alternative to smart TVs

How you can use a Chromecast or Apple TV in that hotel room

There are situations where you may want to use a device like a Chromecast, Apple TV box or a network printer in a place like a hotel that has that headline public-access Wi-Fi network facility. Or you may want to make use of a portable Internet radio to listen to that Internet-hosted radio station at the worksite you are working at which has a public-access Wi-Fi network.

But you will find it difficult to use these kinds of devices on these networks for many reasons.

One of these is that if a public-access Wi-Fi network is properly setup, each device that is on the network is to be logically isolated so that other devices on that network can’t discover your devices. This is more to assure user privacy and data security for all network users.

But this will interfere with arrangements where you need to discover another device that you own that is on the network in order to use it, such as to “cast” media to a Chromecast or Apple TV. It can also interfere with file sharing between two computers or the use of portable NAS devices.

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled micro music system

Sony CMT-MX750Ni 3-piece music system – this has been used to try Internet-radio functionality via a public-access Wi-Fi network

As well, some of these networks are set up with a Web-based captive portal or implement Wi-Fi PassPoint / Hotspot 2.0 or other authentication approaches. This is even if it is about assenting to the terms and conditions of service for use of the public-access Wi-Fi network. Here, these kinds of login experiences don’t work at all with devices that have a limited user interface like a small display or a user interface based around a D-pad. In a lot of cases, you will deal with devices that don’t even have a Web browser at all to work with these captive portals.

I previously covered Wi-Fi mobile networks and how they work. This included the use of travel routers or Mi-Fi devices, or NAS and similar devices that support “Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi routing”.

Travel Routers and portable NAS devices

Mobile NAS as bridge setup

Wireless NAS as a bridge between mobile client devices and another Internet-providing network. This is a similar setup for travel routers that support “Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi” operation.

One approach is to use a travel router or Wi-Fi-capable portable NAS that supports “Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi routing”. This means that the device connects to the public access network while creating its own Wi-Fi network, acting as a router. With Wi-Fi-capable portable NAS devices, you have to enable this function through something like enabling “Share Wi-Fi Connection”. You have to set the NAS so that the data that it has is not shared to the Wi-Fi network it is connected to, something you do when you set up “secure” or “private” operation.

Newer multimedia-ready hotel-room networks

Be also aware that there is an increasing number of network solutions being pitched to hotels and similar lodging establishments that create small home-network-grade Wi-Fi networks unique to each room or apartment. Some companies are even pitching this as part of their public-access Wi-Fi solution or building-wide network / Internet solution for residential or accommodation places like hotels or build-to-rent apartment buildings.

This is achieved through a distinct room-specific network served by a router installed in the room or a VLAN specific to a room or account and operates for the user’s tenure that works like a small home network.

These setups may also be to support a TV or audio setup enabled for Google Chromecast, Apple AirPlay, DLNA, Spotify Connect or other common home-network media protocols. The TV or audio setup is something that a hotelier would like to provide as an amenity to their “switched-on” guests who make use of online services and smartphones for their multimedia consumption. Such networks will typically have a “small-network-standard” Wi-Fi network covering your room or suite and will have an SSID network name and password peculiar to that network.

Most likely, if you do bring along your equipment and have it work with the room-specific multimedia network, you will be able to discover it as long as your computer or mobile devices are linked to that particular network. This could mean that your Spotify-Connect-capable wireless speaker could work with Spotify on your smartphone like it does at home if all these devices are connected to the room-specific network.

You may find that the hotel you are staying in may be set up this way and there could be printed material in your room about this kind of network existing and how to “get on board”. Typically this requires you to connect your smartphone and your devices to the room-specific network once you have activated that network connection.

Your regular laptop computer as a travel router

Logitech MX Anywhere 3 mouse on glass table near laptop

Your laptop that runs Windows 10 or MacOS 13 Ventura or newer operating systems also offers this same functionality

Laptops that run Windows 10 or MacOS 13 Ventura onwards can offer this same functionality natively. This is infact an approach that I used to run my Chromecast with Google Play as an audio-video output device for my Samsung Galaxy A52s smartphone at the Elsinor Motor Lodge in order to play my music through the motel room’s TV speakers.

Windows 10 onwards

Windows 11 Settings - Network And Internet - Mobile Hotspot option highlighted

Enable the Mobile Hotspot option in Windows 10 or 11 so your laptop becomes a travel router or mobile hotspot

  1. Select “Settings” which is the gear-shaped icon to open the Settings menu
  2. Select “Network and Internet” on the left of the Settings screen to open the Network and Internet window.
  3. Enable Mobile Hotspot whereupon you will see the setup for sharing your computer’s Wi-Fi connection.
  4. To see your hotspot properties, click the “ > “ next to the “Enable Mobile Hotspot” toggle. Note down the Network Properties on this screen which correspond to the SSID (Network Name) and Password for the Wi-Fi hotspot created by your Windows computer.

    Windows 11 - Network And Internet - Mobile Hotspot Settings

    These are the settings you need to go over to make sure your mobile hotspot works. The network details refer to what your devices need to be connected to.

MacOS 13 Ventura onwards

  1. Click the Apple icon at the top left of the screen and select “System Settings
  2. Select “General” then select “Sharing
  3. Look for “Internet Sharing” and click the i nearby that option
  4. Select the network connection that has the Internet service – this could be Wi-Fi or Thunderbolt Bridge.
  5. Select the network connection the other devices will connect to using the “To Computers Using”, which will be Wi-Fi
  6. You then have the option to create a Network Name (SSID) and Password for the hotspot network. Note down the SSID and Password you created for the hotspot,
  7. Once everything looks OK, click Done and toggle Internet Sharing on.
  8. Click Start in the pop-up message to confirm Internet Sharing.

Setting up your devices

Then, set up your devices like your network media player or network printer to link to the hotspot network you created in the above steps. Most network media devices will require you to go through the “manual Wi-Fi setup” process with some devices, especially speakers, requiring you to link to a “setup” Wi-Fi access point integrated in the device and running a setup Website hosted by that device.

That also means that your smartphone or tablet has to connect to the hotspot network if it is to benefit from the devices that you connected to that network. This would be important for media-sharing protocols like Chromecast or DLNA, or network-printing protocols like AirPrint or Mopria.

When you are finished

If you are using Windows or MacOS as a travel router, turn off the “Mobile Hotspot” or “Internet Sharing” functionality before you pack up your equipment. This is to assure secure operation and also saves on battery power for your laptop computer. With a travel router or portable NAS, you just simply disable the network-sharing functionality when you pack the equipment up.

Remember that the settings will stay the same for your Mobile Hotspot or Internet Sharing functionality so you don’t need to connect to a new Wi-Fi network if you use the same method again. This also holds true for travel routers or portable NAS units that implement network sharing.

In the case of that multimedia-ready hotel room network, you will still have to connect your equipment including your computer or mobile devices to these networks when you set yourself up in your room. This is because the guest credentials are likely to change as a means of protecting guests’ own equipment and experience.

Apple TV to become a group videophone with your iPhone

Article

Apple TV FaceTime conversation image courtesy of Apple

Facetime and other videoconferencing apps now feasible for Apple TV with your iPhone as a camera and microphone

You can now FaceTime from your Apple TV | ZDNET

Apple’s TVOS 17 Brings FaceTime to Apple TV, Find My Remote Functionality to Siri Remote – CNET

FaceTime is coming to Apple TV | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Apple

tvOS 17 brings FaceTime and video conferencing to Apple TV 4K (Press Release)

My Comments

A device class I always have wanted to see when it comes to videocalling and videoconferencing is a group videophone that connects to an ordinary large-screen TV set or monitor for its display and audio output. The idea behind this display concept for this use case is so that a group of people at one location can participate in a videocall. Example situations include a group of family members at the “family house” making a videocall to distant relatives during Christmas Day; or someone intent on buying a business, meeting with their lawyer at the lawyer’s office and talking with the vendor who is at another location.

A few companies are working on having their platform-based set-top boxes or streaming sticks serve this function by adding group videocall functionality to their set-top platform and it is something I was wanting to see Apple do with their Apple TV set-top box. This function works on Apple TV devices that run the next major version of tvOS i.e. tvOS 17.

As well, an iPhone or iPad running iOS/iPadOS 16 works as the camera and microphone for the Apple TV, thanks to Apple’s “Continuity Camera” functionality that was introduced to MacOS and now being “haked in” to tvOS. This is to be facilitated with a stand that Apple will supply as a first-party accessory so you can have the rear cameras facing you during the video call. The iOS device will link to the Apple TV via a Bluetooth link or the fact it is on the same logical small network thanks to Wi-Fi.

This functionality is to support Apple’s native FaceTime videoconferencing platform but Apple is to provide developer support for software developers who want to build or port desktop videoconferencing software to tvOS. Zoom and Webex will be the first two third-party videoconferencing platforms to have this tvOS support.

There is the ability to use the Apple TV’s Siri Remote to initiate a FaceTime call or you can transfer a FaceTime call you are engaging in to the Apple TV so that the other parties appear on the TV screen and you can hear them on your TV’s sound setup. Most likely third party applications will support a similar process.

In this setup, you will have to use the Apple TV’s Siri Remote to control the videocall such as to mute the iPhone’s camera or microphone, hand the call back to the iPhone to continue it privately or to end the call. If messages come in to the iPhone during the call, a simple notification not attributed to the message’s source will pop up so as to keep the message effectively private.

The SharePlay functionality, which allows you to share what you are currently watching from a video source hosted on your Apple TV will still operate so you can use Apple FaceTime to tantalise another person about that show.

There are still questions to answer regarding how the FaceTime facility will authenticate users who set it up to make or take calls using only the Apple TV Siri Remote, rather than using an iPhone and transferring where necessary. As well, would the ability to transfer a FaceTime call from your iPhone to the Apple TV be only limited to the Apple ID accounts that the Apple TV device is associated with? This can be an issue where the Apple TV device is bound to one Apple ID account to represent the whole household rather than each adult individual registering their Apple ID with the same Apple TV device.

At the moment, this functionality is part of a developer-only beta software package but is expected to be fully established as part of tvOS between September to November 2023.

Maintaining a competitive Internet-service landscape

D-Link DIR-X5460 Wi-Fi 6 router press picture courtesy of D-Link USAAn issue that will have to be kept in governments’ minds is the assurance of a high-quality value-for-money Internet service that is affordable for all people in all areas of the country.

A requirement to maintain a competitive Internet-service landscape may not be needed if the incumbent infrastructure provider is providing an Internet service that represents proper value-for-money for everyone. This may hold true for a country like New Zealand with its Chorus FTTP infrastructure network which was one of those infrastructure networks that was split away from the incumbent telecommunications service.

This includes a high-throughput service of current expectations, access to a decent-standard Internet service by people who live in rural areas as well as access at an affordable price for low-income and marginalised communities and the non-profit or start-up / small-business sector. Such services may be assisted through programs like “solidarity tariffs” for low-income people or a universal-service obligation fund that is used to subsidise rural setups.

The competitive market

There are different approaches to assuring a competitive Internet-service landscape especially at the infrastructure level.

France implements a requirement to have a minimum number of infrastructure-level providers in larger towns and cities. In addition, they assess all last-mile Internet-provision technologies for provision of Internet service in a competitive manner at the infrastructure level.

Or countries like the UK and Germany encourage and give blessing to independent operators that provide their own fibre-to-the-premises or fibre-to-the-building Internet-service infrastructure. In a lot of cases, such services are offered before the dominant infrastructure provider or ISP offers infrastructure or retail Internet service in the area. Or these networks are offered to an established area in competition to the area’s dominant provider. Here, such operators cover a particular village, town or city; or part thereof and offer retail Internet service that is above average for its class. They are also encouraged to set up presence in multiple areas in order to give more settlements decent Internet service or increase competition in other settlements.

In some cases like with some towns and cities within the USA, the local or regional government provides infrastructure-level or retail Internet service to the area’s citizens. This is typically as an extension to the local government entity establishing its own Internet infrastructure for its own needs and making further value out of it. But this approach has caused friction with the dominant ISPs in those areas due to the provision of competing Internet service in an area where they control the Internet-service market.

These independent infrastructure providers could be required by some jurisdictions to offer wholesale Internet access if they become large enough to do so. This can be deemed by their appearance in a minimum number of cities, them passing a minimum number of premises or acquiring a minimum number of subscribing customers.

There can also be a requirement for an infrastructure operator to accept being “built over” by a competitor i.e. having a competing operator build their infrastructure in that operator’s territory, able to serve that operator’s customers. Such a requirement can be brought about typically by metrics similar to required wholesale-service provision like number of premises passed or subscribing customers.  Or if the population centre has a minimum population size, minimum area or minimum number of homes and businesses, the infrastructure provider has to accept being built over,

In the same context, there will be a question about whether a retail ISP would be able to use multiple wholesale providers especially within the same population centre. This may come in to its own where different wholesale providers offer different wholesale-service standards like higher throughput, symmetrical throughput or business-grade guaranteed service quality. Similarly it could be about extending reach to communities not served by the wholesale provider they are primarily contracted with.

Social tariffs and plans

Another issue that is cropping up is the provision of affordable use plans for certain user classes. This was a practice often done in social democracies where the incumbent telephony-service provider, typically a government entity that was part of the post office, provided affordable basic residential telephony service for poorer communities or provided affordable business telephony service for community organisations.

One user class this would be for are people who are living below the poverty line. Here, disadvantaged communities not having access to Internet service they can afford makes it hard for them to participate in education, employment / entrepreneurship or society, or complete everyday transactions. It is also seen as a factor that exacerbates the “digital divide” between those who can use online services and those who can’t.

This user class would be identified by having access to income-based welfare benefits including concession or subsidised-healthcare cards. Some jurisdictions may even provide particular income-independent concession programs for at-risk people groups like senior citizens or Indigenous and refugee communities. In addition, social tariffs could be offered to people who live in social or affordable / rent-controlled housing typically offered to people who are on limited means.

Some ISPs even use social tariffs as part of their efforts to remove the digital divide, along with subsidised computer equipment for the home or facilitating / sponsoring computer-literacy education programs.

Another user class would be the charitable and non-profit sector who would need Internet service to fulfil their functions. Such organisations may be identified through registration in business registers as being “non-profit” or “charity”, including registration in “charity-commission” registers. As well, some service providers may also factor in organisational revenue or profits. Similarly, start-ups and small businesses could be provided these tariffs such as through business-assistance / incubator programs or rent-controlled business premises that are offered to these businesses.

But there would be the issue of providing an Internet service that satisfies current expectations for standard services when providing social tariffs to these customer groups. That means something that you can run your life or business with reasonably.good Internet service without paying too much for that service.

The existence of social tariffs and plans and the kind of services offered under these plans could be an indication of how competitive the Internet service sector is and whether it is working in a customer-centric manner. But these social tariffs could be supported through approaches like a universal-service-obligation fund, public-sector funding or voluntary-sector funding.

Assuring lively competition

But how can a lively competitive Internet service market be assured? This question is more so where there is that dominant risk of market concentration for wholesale or retail Internet service.

Such concentration can lead towards monopolistic or cartel-like behaviour that is hostile to customers or suppliers such as price-gouging or onerous terms and conditions for the provision of service. As well, this behaviour can facilitate denial of service to communities not seen as being valuable such as rural communities or neighbourhoods of social disadvantage.

Here, governments would need to take a whole-of-government approach to work against market concentration at the infrastructure or retail level. This would involve action by the telecommunications regulators as well as competition-and-consumer watchdogs and may also involve properly-enforced antitrust legislation and regulation. As well, regional and local governments would have to work in a manner to assure lively competition for Internet services in their area when it comes to things like the capacity to regulate telecommunications infrastructure or planning, access to the highways for infrastructure installation, or planning regulation for new developments.

It should include the ability to reject proposed corporate mergers or force the break-up of larger dominant companies. Or it could be about encouraging competitors to set up shop in markets of a significant size that are dominated by a monopoly or cartel.

Conclusion

To assure common access to Internet service that befits current expectations, there needs to be a lively competitive market for this kind of service if the incumbent ISP or infrastructure provider doesn’t provide this kind of service everywhere at affordable prices.