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How a Slack UI change sparked the Ars Technica civil war

We were fighting about emoji as “status” messages in Slack channels.

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Danger, danger! 10 alarming examples of AI gone wild

Going rogue! 10 scary examples of AI gone wildImage by geralt via PixabayScience fiction is lousy with tales of artificial intelligence run amok. There's HAL 9000, of course, and the nefarious Skynet system from the "Terminator" films. Last year, the s...

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Netflix is so big that it doesn’t need net neutrality rules...

Netflixreader comments 28 Share this story Netflix has long been an outspoken supporter of net neutrality rules, but the streaming video provider says it is now so popular with consumers that it wouldn't be harmed if the rules were repealed. The potential of reversing net neutrality rules increased the moment Donald Trump became president-elect, as Republicans in the Federal Communications Commission and Congress want to get rid of the rules.

But in a letter to shareholders yesterday, Netflix reassured investors that this won't affect the company's financial performance or service quality. "Weakening of US net neutrality laws, should that occur, is unlikely to materially affect our domestic margins or service quality because we are now popular enough with consumers to keep our relationships with ISPs stable," Netflix wrote. The FCC's rules prohibit ISPs from blocking or throttling traffic or giving priority to Web services in exchange for payment.

Because of the rules, small video providers that aren't as popular as Netflix don't have to worry about being blocked or throttled by ISPs or having to pay ISPs for faster access to customers.
ISPs would prefer that customers subscribe to the ISPs' own video services, and thus have incentive to shut out competitors who need access to their broadband networks. Though Netflix is no longer worried about its own access to broadband networks, the company's shareholder letter said the company still supports the net neutrality rules. "On a public policy basis, however, strong net neutrality is important to support innovation and smaller firms," Netflix said. "No one wants ISPs to decide what new and potentially disruptive services can operate over their networks, or to favor one service over another. We hope the new US administration and Congress will recognize that keeping the network neutral drives job growth and innovation." Netflix fought some high-profile battles against Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable in 2014, before the net neutrality rules were passed. Netflix at the time was seeking free interconnection so that it could deliver video traffic to the ISPs' networks directly instead of paying transit providers to carry its traffic to the ISPs.

This alone showed that Netflix was already a giant: Most video providers aren't so big that it's worth building out their own content delivery networks. Netflix ultimately paid ISPs for interconnection but the dispute had an impact on the FCC's net neutrality proceedings. The FCC didn't ban interconnection payments but set up a complaint process so that companies like Netflix can challenge specific payment demands as being "unjust" or "unreasonable." There have been no major public disputes since then. Netflix ended 2016 with 47.9 million paid memberships in the US and another 41.2 million outside the US.
In North America, Netflix accounts for about 35 percent of downstream Internet traffic during peak viewing periods, according to Sandvine's Internet Phenomena report. Netflix's letter to shareholders this week also poked fun at rival HBO for discouraging binge-watching by doling out episodes of new shows one at a time instead of all at once as Netflix does. Despite its previous fights with ISPs, Netflix has gained a privileged status with those same companies.

For example, Netflix is now available on Comcast's X1 set-top boxes, letting customers browse Netflix video alongside Comcast content. Netflix, video, however, is not exempt from the data caps Comcast imposes on customers.

Those data caps and overage fees do remain a roadblock for online video providers that seek to offer a replacement for the cable TV services offered by ISPs.

AT&T and Time Warner still trying to sidestep FCC scrutiny of...

Enlarge / AT&T will own a bunch of new media properties if it is allowed to buy Time Warner.Aurich Lawson reader comments 23 Share this story AT&T and Time Warner say they have a plan to avoid a Federal Communications Commission review of their pending merger. An FCC review would be necessary if Time Warner transfers any FCC licenses to AT&T, but Time Warner might get rid of any such licenses before the deal is finished. "Time Warner has conducted a review of all licenses that it holds that are granted by the FCC," AT&T said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday. "While subject to change, it is currently anticipated that Time Warner will not need to transfer any of its FCC licenses to AT&T in order to continue to conduct its business operations after the closing of the transaction." AT&T did not elaborate on how the licenses would be disposed of. "Time Warner has been looking to transfer or sell its licenses to another broadcaster for some time, according to a person familiar with the matter," Bloomberg reported today. "Time Warner can contract with third parties instead of owning the licenses, the person said." This may be difficult. As we reported in October, Time Warner-owned programmers such as HBO, CNN, and Turner Broadcasting System have dozens of FCC licenses that let them upload video to satellites used by pay-TV companies. These licenses are "integral to their business," one industry lawyer who spoke with Ars at the time said. Whatever happens at the FCC, the AT&T/Time Warner merger will be reviewed by the Department of Justice. While the Justice Department could sue to block the AT&T/Time Warner merger on antitrust grounds, the FCC reviews deals based on a "public interest" standard that forces the merging companies to prove that the deal is good for consumers. AT&T is attempting to buy Time Warner for $85.4 billion. Time Warner, the programming giant, is a separate entity from Time Warner Cable, which was recently purchased by Charter. President-elect Donald Trump opposed the AT&T/Time Warner merger during his election campaign. Although Trump transition team members reportedly reassured AT&T that the deal will be scrutinized without prejudice, "Trump remains opposed to the megamerger... because he believes it would concentrate too much power in the media industry," Bloomberg reported, citing sources close to Trump.

The Grand Tour reportedly the most illegally downloaded TV show ever

Enlargereader comments 22 Share this story The Grand Tour is "the most illegally downloaded programme ever," according to new data from an anti-piracy firm.

The first episode, which we reviewed very positively, garnered 7.9 million downloads; episode two was picked up 6.4 million times; and the third ep was pilfered by 4.6 million people.

Amazon's new motoring show apparently even beats out HBO's Game of Thrones, which has been the most pirated TV show for the last few years. These figures were handed to the Daily Mail from Muso, an anti-piracy firm that may or may not be angling to pick up Amazon as a client. While Muso doesn't say how it derived those Grand Tour download figures, they're about in-line with previous analyses of the scale of BitTorrent downloads.
I think Muso is mistaken when it says The Grand Tour is "the most illegally downloaded programme ever," though, unless it's using some particularly creative accounting methods. Last year TorrentFreak estimated that the season finale of Game of Thrones was downloaded 14.4 million times via BitTorrent, and all signs point to GoT increasing in popularity in 2016. Our own analysis mostly tallies with that of TorrentFreak, too. How did Muso arrive at that figure of 7.9 million, then, and why was that enough for Grand Tour to steal the illustrious "most downloaded" mantle from Game of Thrones? Sadly, Muso didn't provide its methodology. We've asked the company for more details, and will update this story if it responds. Muso's figures are further confused by a comment from its chief commercial officer, which said that 7.9 million was the total "across different platforms." Does that mean that Muso has somehow managed to tabulate how many people are watching The Grand Tour on copyright-infringing streaming TV sites or downloading it from file-hosting sites? GoT's 14.4 million downloads was via BitTorrent alone; add the other platforms and the figure will be much larger. (We don't know how much larger, but 20+ million is likely.) Even if Grand Tour isn't the most downloaded show ever, our own analysis shows that it has been very popular on torrent sites and undoubtedly on streaming and file-sharing sites as well. Pirates love the show for two reasons: a) Clarkson, Hammond, and May are very popular; and b) The Grand Tour is exclusively available for Amazon Prime subscribers in just a small handful of countries, including the UK, US, Japan, and Germany. Amazon has never broken out its Prime subscriber numbers, but analysts peg it around 60 to 65 million worldwide.

Amazon says The Grand Tour will be available in 200 countries by the end of December, presumably via some other means than Prime, but for now there are millions of fans who can only obtain the show via unofficial means. By way of comparison, HBO has about 140 million subscribers worldwide (and Game of Thrones is available on other channels such as Sky Atlantic), and Netflix has about 90 million. Amazon, which in its 22-year history has never revealed more data than it absolutely has to, also hasn't announced the official viewer figures for The Grand Tour on Prime Video, so we can't even attempt to analyse the show's relative piracy level versus Game of Thrones.

Amusingly, even Clarkson, Hammond, and May haven't been told how popular their own show is. This post originated on Ars Technica UK

AT&T/Time Warner merger won’t rip off customers and competitors, AT&T CEO...

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.AT&T reader comments 53 Share this story AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson spoke at a Senate antitrust subcommittee hearing today about his company’s proposed $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner and denied that the merger will bring any harm to customers or competitors. Senators and witnesses at the hearing said AT&T and Time Warner combined might restrict valuable programming such as HBO to AT&T’s TV services or charge rival TV providers a higher price to carry it. They also discussed AT&T’s zero-rating, which exempts the company’s own video content from mobile data caps while requiring online video providers to pay for the same data cap exemptions. Merger concerns boil down to AT&T controlling both distribution and video content instead of one or the other. AT&T is already one of the country’s largest providers of home and mobile Internet service, and it's the largest cable or satellite TV provider thanks to its acquisition of DirecTV last year. AT&T controls distribution of video by operating these Internet and TV services. Buying Time Warner—the owner of HBO, CNN, Turner, Warner Bros., and more—would also give AT&T control over much of the programming that is viewed on its Internet and TV services. (Note that Time Warner is completely separate from Time Warner Cable, which was recently purchased by Charter.) But there’s nothing to worry about, Stephenson said. Although limiting access to Time Warner content might benefit AT&T’s distribution business, such limitations would cripple the business model of Time Warner, he said. AT&T wouldn’t spend $85.4 billion on Time Warner if it planned to impair that business dramatically, he said. “The business model's fundamental premise is wide and broad distribution of content into every home, particularly in the United States of America,” Stephenson said in response to questions from senators. There is no “reason to believe we could use Time Warner programming or AT&T networks to hurt related markets,” he also said in prepared testimony. “Simply put, it would be irrational business behavior to do so. Time Warner’s programming is more valuable when distributed to as many eyes as possible. Moreover, in order to have great programming, it is imperative that we attract great creative talent to develop it. The best way to attract that talent is through widespread distribution of Time Warner content.” “The solution is not even less competition” AT&T argues that it can create a more effective competitor to cable TV companies by putting DirecTV and Time Warner content on its mobile network and letting the video stream without counting against data caps. AT&T also wants to be a bigger competitor in the online advertising market against Google and Facebook. But any benefits must be weighed against potential disadvantages for Americans, said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). “The solution for less competition is not even less competition,” Klobuchar said. Video distributors have complained that AT&T could raise the prices competitors pay for Time Warner content or deny access to that content, she said. Independent content creators worry that AT&T will favor Time Warner programming over content made by smaller companies, stifling diversity of viewpoints, she also said. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) disputed AT&T and Time Warner’s argument that it wouldn’t be able to attract programming talent if it limited distribution. HBO attracted the talent necessary to put on shows like The Sopranos even though the channel was “exclusive” to those cable customers who were willing to pay extra, he said. Just as The Sopranos pushed customers to subscribe to HBO, exclusive access to Time Warner programming could push customers to DirecTV’s satellite and online services or HBO’s standalone streaming service, Franken argued. AT&T would have incentive to limit access to Time Warner video because AT&T's distribution network is so large, with more than 130 million wireless subscribers and 25 million TV subscribers in the US, said Gene Kimmelman, CEO of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, who also testified at today’s hearing, recently said that restricting content to AT&T’s network “would be like selling toothpaste and not putting it in [drugstore chain] Duane Reade. It doesn’t make any sense.” Franken said that analogy doesn’t make sense. “It’s more like selling Game of Thrones and not letting Comcast subscribers watch it,” Franken said. “Or making Comcast pay more for the privilege of having Game of Thrones or Veep or the rest of the lineup.” “Nothing is preventing a combined AT&T/Time Warner from going to any of its competitors in the pay-TV market and charging double,” Franken also said. “I don’t think these hypotheticals are outlandish at all; you’d have every reason to do this if you could make more money. This is the incentive that's created by the merger.” Bewkes testified today that “it would make no sense to not sell HBO on the Comcast system, on the Verizon system.” He also argued that AT&T and Time Warner together still wouldn’t have enough market power to significantly raise competitors’ prices. Online video may face threat An even bigger threat will be posed to online video companies that don’t have the same negotiating power as Comcast, Kimmelman said. “I'm not worried about Comcast not getting Time Warner content,” Kimmelman said. “I'm worried about the online distribution… not being able to get exactly what it needs to be a player and a competitor.” While AT&T’s purchase of DirecTV helped the combined company offer better video and broadband bundles, the AT&T/Time Warner merger doesn’t seem to provide any similar efficiencies that benefit customers, Kimmelman said. Any improvements that AT&T can make by owning Time Warner could also be achieved by striking business deals while remaining separate companies, he said. “They could contract to do those same things without the risk of a merger,” Kimmelman said. The merger’s fate will be decided by the Department of Justice and possibly the Federal Communications Commission. The purpose of the Senate hearing was to provide a public forum for evaluating the merger’s effects. The merger's relation to net neutrality rules for Internet providers was raised by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Noting that the rules could be overturned under President-elect Donald Trump, Leahy said, "any weakening of these rules will cause serious harm to consumers—harm that will only be further exacerbated by mergers in this industry." It wasn’t just Democratic senators who raised problems with the deal. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) discussed concerns about the merger’s implications for a “free and diverse media.” “This is something I recently experienced, because on weekends when I’m at the farm I always watch channel 349 on DirecTV,” Grassley said, referring to Newsmax, a channel recently dropped from DirecTV. "I found out it wasn’t there anymore… I found out what is going on is an unfair contract negotiation." Grassley described several other points detailed by merger critics and said they should be carefully analyzed: There’s concern that a combined company will give preferential treatment—for example, favorable channel placement and zero-rating pricing—to Time Warner’s premium entertainment programming to the disadvantage of other content producers, in particular small independent producers. There’s concern about AT&T/Time Warner’s ability to leverage their assets to negotiate better licensing arrangements or raise the price of their content to the detriment of other distributors. There’s concern about the merged company’s ability to employ “bullying” tactics to dictate rates and terms to other networks. There’s concern that this acquisition will concentrate too much power into one conglomerate, resulting in higher prices and fewer programming options for consumers... These are all serious concerns which should be scrutinized carefully by the antitrust regulators tasked with reviewing this transaction. AT&T has reason for optimism Although Trump once vowed to block the AT&T/Time Warner merger, AT&T executives were reportedly encouraged by recent meetings with Trump’s transition team. AT&T could benefit from regulators evaluating the merger against market power exerted by newer companies like Google and Facebook. Quoting the American Enterprise Institute, Grassley said that “with tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and others changing the way consumers access content, it’s legitimate to ask whether ‘what looks straightforwardly anti-competitive in the old industrial-merger models might not be so simple in the merger of modern media platforms.’”

FCC Republicans try to protect AT&T and Verizon in net neutrality...

Mike Mozartreader comments 39 Share this story The two Republican members of the Federal Communications Commission criticized the FCC for investigating AT&T and Verizon in a net neutrality case centering on data cap exemptions.

Any action taken now will be overturned under President Donald Trump, they promised. The FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau last week said it reached a preliminary conclusion that AT&T is violating net neutrality rules by using data cap exemptions (or "zero-rating") to favor DirecTV video on its mobile network.

The FCC also kicked off a similar examination of Verizon's data cap exemptions. AT&T and Verizon are exempting their own video services from mobile data caps while charging other companies for the same zero-rating treatment. But Republicans, who opposed the net neutrality rules and will gain the FCC majority from Democrats after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, are trying to protect AT&T and Verizon from FCC action. "Chairman [Tom] Wheeler launched yet another broadside against free data for consumers, notwithstanding the objections of Republican commissioners," Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai said Friday. "This end-run around Congress’s clear instruction is sad—and pointless.

For any unilateral action taken by the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau at the Chairman’s direction in the next 49 days can quickly be undone by that same bureau after January 20, 2017." Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, recently urged Wheeler to "avoid directing its attention and resources in the coming months to complex, partisan, or otherwise controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest in reviewing." Other Republicans in Congress said the FCC should focus "only on matters that require action under the law" and an ongoing spectrum auction. Wheeler agreed to halt any controversial rulemakings in his remaining time as chair, but he did not say that he would stop investigating potential violations of current rules. The FCC's Republicans want Wheeler to hold off on both rulemakings and the investigation of AT&T and Verizon. "In light of the multiple directives we have received from Congress to avoid directing attention and resources to complex or controversial matters, the staff of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is inappropriately pressing forward and escalating its investigation of certain providers’ zero-rated video services," Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said. "It would be difficult to come up with a better example of a complex, controversial policy at the current Commission than this attempt to intimidate providers in order to shut down popular offerings to consumers." Any action taken now "can be reviewed and potentially reversed within weeks," he said. The Republicans aren't necessarily opposed to any enforcement action taken in Wheeler's last couple months.

The FCC on Friday also proposed a fine against NECC Telecom for allegedly charging excessive and unlawful universal service fees to customers; Pai and O'Rielly haven't publicly objected to that action. But whether zero-rating schemes should be outlawed has been controversial, even among Democrats.

The FCC's net neutrality rules don't ban zero-rating, but they let the commission decide on a case-by-case basis whether a particular implementation harms consumers or competitors. Some small ISPs are worried about data cap exemptions offered by large providers.

AT&T's proposed purchase of Time Warner, the owner of HBO, CNN, and Warner Bros., would help AT&T expand zero-rating of its own content and further disadvantage small ISPs, according to the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA). "AT&T has recently begun to 'zero-rate' (i.e. exempt from data caps) its DirecTV content, and it has stated its intention to expand zero-rating to the Time Warner content it would obtain through this proposed merger," said WISPA, which represents hundreds of small ISPs. "Allowing any ISP to favor certain content has a direct, harmful impact on thousands of small, competitive ISPs that do not own content and lack the ability to negotiate fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory access to content."

Trump team reassures AT&T over Time Warner merger review

Enlarge / AT&T will own a bunch of new media properties if it is allowed to buy Time Warner.Aurich Lawson reader comments 99 Share this story AT&T is reportedly feeling confident about its ability to buy Time Warner after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump's transition team—even though Trump himself vowed to block the merger during his campaign. "Donald Trump’s transition team has reassured AT&T that its $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner will be scrutinized without prejudice," the Financial Times reported yesterday. "After talking with the president-elect’s team, AT&T executives are confident that their deal has a good chance of passing regulatory scrutiny, people informed about the conversation said." Time Warner, the programming company that owns CNN and HBO, is a separate entity from Time Warner Cable, the ISP that was recently purchased by Charter Communications. Trump railed against AT&T's proposed purchase of Time Warner during a campaign speech in October. “As an example of the power structure I'm fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” Trump said at the time. In that speech, Trump complained about the media's coverage of his campaign. But it wouldn't be a surprise to see Trump back down from his pledge to block the AT&T/Time Warner merger. AT&T is encouraged by Trump appointing "former competition officials with a hands-off record on antitrust enforcement" to his transition team, AT&T sources told the Financial Times. That includes former Federal Trade Commission member Joshua Wright, who criticized "[t]he new anti-merger fervor" in a recent New York Times opinion article, saying that anti-merger sentiments are based on a false presumption that mergers always lead to higher prices instead of cost savings and product improvements. As he prepares to shift the Federal Communications Commission from Democratic to Republican control, Trump has also appointed advisors who want to reduce regulatory burdens on telecom companies. That's likely good news for telecom companies that want to increase consolidation and face fewer consumer protection regulations. While it isn't 100 percent certain that the FCC will have a chance to review AT&T/Time Warner, a liberal Justice Department and FCC could be expected to scrutinize the deal on several grounds. As we've written in previous articles, owning Time Warner would give AT&T incentive to raise the prices that its rivals (such as Comcast, Charter, and Verizon) pay to distribute Time Warner programming on their cable TV systems, which could indirectly raise consumers' TV bills. AT&T could also harm online video services that compete against DirecTV by charging them higher prices for content or refusing to license videos. As it does with DirecTV, AT&T could favor Time Warner video on its mobile network by letting it stream without counting against the data caps applied to video services like Netflix. Though President Obama's FCC allowed AT&T to buy DirecTV last year, it prevented AT&T from buying T-Mobile in 2011 and Comcast's attempt to buy Time Warner Cable in 2015. The FCC also recently said that AT&T may be violating net neutrality rules by allowing DirecTV video to stream without counting against mobile data caps while charging other companies for the same privilege. But under Trump, those net neutrality rules could be overturned, and AT&T could end up securing another big merger approval.