Twitter Launches New Option to Follow Specific Topics, in Addition to User Accounts

Twitter is now beginning to feature an additional option to follow topics, allowing for more user engagement and tweet discovery across the platform. Once a user follows a topic, the tweets will appear on timelines like those of the people they follow. The new feature also may match you with other topics you may like based on those you follow and engage with.

Over 300 topics will be released and available for users to consume, the subjects varying. One thing that Twitter topics will not cover yet is politics. The platform is staying away from the subject considering how sensitive the unintended consequences could be.

The topics will be curated from machine learning algorithms and human editors. The platform is not relying on algorithms alone, which is a smart move considering they are not always reliable in determining what content is relevant to users or topics. Another helpful addition to the new feature could include being able to share tweets to the people involved in the topics, rather than with all of their followers.

The only way to tell if the new option for topics on Twitter will succeed is to wait and see the reaction of the users, and to see if it falls flat like previous introductions of new features to the platform.


National TV Ad Spending Skyrockets As New Streaming Services Release


Image Source: AP Photo/Richard Drew

Today is a significant day in media history as the brand new streaming service Disney + dropped at midnight. Apple TV’s streaming service also was made available to consumers within the past couple of weeks leaving many researchers asking questions on what the future of streaming will hold as some of the top media organizations in the world now operate fully functional media streaming services.

One of the biggest outcomes we have been seeing from these new platforms being released is a massive jump in television advertisements by organizations like Walt Disney preparing for their products release. Disney Plus in specific over the last two months has spent around $24.9 million dollars on TV advertisements with 21 different creative pieces that aired a total of 2,516 times.

This kind of aggressive marketing by the Walt Disney organization comes with hopes that Disney + will catch fire with its loved and box office breaking film/television selections including popular production companies they own such as Marvel Studios, Pixar, and National Geographic. Apple TV in contrast has made an even bigger mark in television ad spending over the past couple of months, leading the industry with an astonishing $47.7 million dollars spent and over 3,176 total airings.

Both Disney + and Apple TV commercials have been appearing during similar program slots that contain a high quantity of ratings such as NFL Football, MLB World Series, The 71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, and The Walking Dead.

Although brand new releases, Disney + and Apple TV are not the only streaming platforms that have caused the dramatic spike in TV ad spending recently. Other platforms well established in the industry such as Amazon Prime Video ($36.6 million total spending) and Hulu ($28.2 million total spending) have also been marketing themselves aggressively since September. Many believe this comes in response to these companies trying to compete with Disney + and Apple TV’s new platforms and try to remain the top subscription platforms in media.

I am personally very curious to see how the introduction of new streaming platforms will change how/who consumers will subscribe to. Clearly after industry leaders like Netflix and Hulu have made millions of dollars off of media streaming, other major players want a piece of the pie. Over the past couple of years platforms like Netflix offered content from many different media production companies including Disney. Thus, as these giant contracts begin to expire in the next coming years, it is anticipated that the companies like Walt Disney will make their productions exclusive and only capable of being accessed through a subscription to Disney +. Clearly the impact of streaming video and audio has changed the media world entirely and will continue to grow well into the future.




How Technology Changed Race and Identity

The New York Times article, A Greater Understanding of Race and Identity Through Tech, starts off talking about what the most important tech for work is and writer mentions that due to the constant loud and busy atmosphere, noise-canceling headphones are crucial. The noise-canceling headphones allow individuals to focus while completing tasks. While using the headphones, the writer discusses how he listens to a podcast called Ear Hustle. Ear Hustle is a podcast that is about San Quentin State Prison in California. The podcast talks about what life is like in the prisons and provides different perspectives of mass incarceration. The U.S. has the most individuals incarcerated and a majority of them are black and brown, and the writer talked about how listening to the podcast made he view black and brown people differently and made him rethink the system. The podcast isn’t the only media that changed his perspective on black and brown people, he says that social media also played a huge part. Social media created a sense of community for the black and brown people, especially after the killings of black and brown boys by police. Social media allowed personal content and footage of these events to be seen by the world and support you or not support you. Social media has many positive advantages, but it also has some disadvantages.

We are feeding machines with information everyday, and the information we choose to provide says a lot about who we are — our racism, our values, our strengths, our weaknesses.

This platform has become an outlet for outrage and outrage is the present. Outrage, at times, has brought awareness to communities and have helped move forward Black Lives Matter and outrage has also brought to light that racism through technology is a problem.

The Teens Who Hacked Microsoft’s Xbox Empire – And Went Too Far

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This article tells the story of a young man named David Pokora, a student at the University of Toronto who had a fascination for the inner workings of videogames, and mostly for the Xbox. Throughout his elementary school years, Pokora mastered the world of gaming and started to learn coding, which enabled him to do high level hacking at a very young age and pulling him into online hacking communities that were redefining what game consoles could do. He even managed to buy a development motherboard from a Wells Fargo tech manager in California, which allowed him to continue hacking Xbox systems as developers got rid of security flaws present in previous generations of consoles.

As Pokora and his circle of friends in Canada grew stronger in their hacking skills, they started stealing beta versions of unreleased software, angering the pros behind game development from who they started receiving messages of both anger and praise. Pokora’s actions, in his own perspective, were all in good will and just for fun. They involved tweaking codes here and there in order to modify small things one can do inside a game, like making characters jump into the clouds, fire different projectiles, and turn blue skies into rain. When he started selling hacks to gamers on Xbox live around 2009, he forgot about his commitment to fairness and started making thousands of dollars by providing gamers with hacks that could, for example, make Call of Duty soldiers fly, walk through walls, and sprint at abnormal speeds. With around $8,000 flowing in from paying customers on a busy night of gaming, Pokora had to hire employees to administer the madness of selling hacks.

Things started to get a more intense as Pokora partnered with another Australian gamer who lured him into invading the most private data of Epic, a North Carolina game development company. While reading Epic’s emails, they found out about an FBI investigation that was being launched on how their security had been breached and game software stolen. The investigation, however, quickly died down and the hackers thought they had gotten away with their first encounter with the law.

After other situations involving crimes such as breaking into the Microsoft headquarters and counterfeiting an Xbox prototype, Pokora and his friends ended up waist deep in secret investigations involving their names, which they did not know about until officials arrested them.

Pokora, after spending the entire winter of 2014 on his usual routine of hacking Xbox games, decided to take a trip down to Delaware to pick up a bumper he’d ordered online for his car. He brought his father to take turns behind the wheel as they did not plan to pay for any lodging in the U.S. and wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible. “There is a chance I might get arrested,” Pokora jokingly told his father as they left Toronto. As they crossed the border, he was detained and held in a private prison in Ohio until his court date, and was later sentenced to 18 months in prison for wire fraud, identity theft, and conspiracy to steal trade secrets. The people who worked with him over the span of five years also got their share legal predicaments. Nathan Leroux, the high school kid from Indiana who helped Pokora build the counterfeit prototype, faced 23 months in prison and escaped his house-arrest in the United States while awaiting trial, paying a friend to smuggle him into Canada. When officials surrounded him while trying to run across the bridge into Canadian soil, he pulled out a knife and stabbed himself multiple times.

All the people involved in these hacking cases have now left prison and returned to normal life at various levels of success. Pokora re enrolled at the University of Toronto upon his return to Canada. “Pokora still struggles to understand how his love for programming warped into an obsession that knocked his moral compass so far askew. “As much as I consciously made the decisions I did, I never meant for it to get as bad as it did,” he says. “I mean, I wanted access to companies to read some source code, I wanted to learn, I wanted to see how far it could go—that was it. It was really just intellectual curiosity. I didn’t want money—if I wanted money, I would’ve taken all the money that was there. But, I mean, I get it—what it turned into, it’s regrettable.””

NASA Is Getting Serious About an Interstellar Mission

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Thanks to NASA and some heavy research going on at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, we are getting closer and closer to launching a mission to interstellar space, meaning going outside our solar system and exploring deeper into the galaxy. The challenge surrounding the current research is to find a balance between the shielding necessary to get close and around the sun and keeping the aircraft light so it can travel at speeds of 100,000 miles an hour.

“To put this in perspective, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, the only spacecraft to make it to interstellar space, are currently around 13 billion miles away from Earth. It took those spacecraft nearly four decades to cover this distance, but NASA’s new interstellar probe could make it there in less than 15 years.”

An interstellar probe will answer a lot of questions scientists have regarding the shape of the heliosphere, which is the habitable little bubble that surround our solar system, and will be able to provide data on the transition from solar system to interstellar space. A dedicated mission outside the solar system would develop our understanding on the formation of our galaxy and our place in it, but there are actually no guarantees this mission will ever launch despite strong interest from scientists around the world. By the end of 2021, Johns Hopkins researches will submit their finished project to a national survey on heliophysics, which determines sun-related mission priorities for the next 10 years. A similar mission, set to have launched in the early 2000s, was suspended on the basis that the technology necessary was not ready, but scientists are now confident that they have a vision they can execute, and aim to have the technology created by 2030. Today, there is also the differential that private space companies are also investing in building rockets, which speeds up the process in tech development since scientists have more options on who will take their ideas into space. This might very well turn into a competition between NASA and other private space entities around the world.

YouTube and Channel Operators Sued Over Children’s Privacy: The Fight Against Targeted Ads


Image Source: Getty Images, BBC News

It is no secret in the modern digital age that tracking our data while online is happening. Many describe this process so sophisticated and in depth that data collectors essentially can create a digital identity of all online consumers from the information they are capable of collecting. The advertising industry is no stranger to these kind of tracking methods often paying large amounts of money to receive information from data mining companies in order to better target consumers on the web.

Recently, YouTube and a multitude of some of its biggest channel operators including Hasbro, Mattel, and Cartoon Network are being hit with a new lawsuit claiming these organizations have illegally tracked young children to serve them with targeted ads on the platform.

California resident Nichole Hubbard filed a class action complaint last week claiming her child who was a frequent consumer of Hasbro’s “My Little Pony Office” on YouTube has fallen victim to this tracking.

Google and the channel operators collected my son’s personal information for the purposes of tracking, profiling, and targeting him with advertisements” (Hubbard, U.S. District Court San Jose).

This is far from the first lawsuit filed by concerned parents claiming that giant media companies and data collectors have actively and “fraudulently” tried to hide their acts of tracking children of a certain age and using their data to target them with advertisements on popular platforms online. Researchers have expressed their findings that companies like Google use their algorithms to collect “ill-gotten” data from billions of children’s YouTube video views.

These allegations if proven true are a direct violation of The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act which “prohibits companies from knowingly collecting personal information — including web-browsing data that is used to target ads — from children under 13, without their parents’ permission” (FTC). Google has been a long time promoter of YouTube to children’s companies such as Mattel and Hasbro as a top platform to reach the eyes of young children.

While the investigation is ongoing, two months ago Google was involved in a similar lawsuit when they agreed to pay 170 million to settle allegations against the FTC and New York Attorney General when YouTube was found guilty for collecting data from children under the age of 13 on the platform.

Personally, I believe these lawsuits and arising issues are far from over in the new digital age that is arising, especially towards specific platforms that some field executives deem to be the most powerful influences in the world. Big data and the concerns behind it are only growing as countless companies are finding more precise and intrusive ways to not only target specific users, but sell it for high profit to third party vendors looking to use strategic advertising.

We are at a point in digital media and data information where a breaking point is on the rise. We essentially have two specific identities in the modern era that will follow us forever which is our physical entity, and our identity online. Media companies and data collectors are recognizing the ways they can now reach and impact our lives through the online network, therefore extremely strict and proper regulations/penalties must be set in motion by our governments to essentially save humans basic rights especially when it comes to children.




Apple Requires Updates for Certain Devices

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If you happen to still be an owner of an iPhone 5, iPhone 4 or specific generations of ipads, then Apple has most likely sent you a reminder to update your devices before November 3rd. The most recent update available for the products is 10.3.4 which will be updating a multitude of applications. By not updating your devices prior to November 3rd you will no longer have access to certain applications and in order to use the applications again, you will have to update your device by connecting to a computer. All newer models of the iPhone and iPad are unaffected by this circumstance. 

Some people may ask why only older generations are being targeted? Is Apple trying to provide an incentive to upgrade old devices by forcing users who are unfamiliar with updating to go to a store? Or maybe Apple is just trying to improve services for older iPhone users? Regardless of intent, many iPhone 5 users who do not see news of this mandatory update will be utterly confused when their devices no longer operate as they should. After November 3rd it is possible many Apple customers will be making a trip to local stores for assistance with updating. 


Your Privacy does not matter when you Stream

Recent deals involving Roku and other companies have expanded the surveillance infrastructure that operates in the background of streaming services.

Welcome to the 21st century, where soon there will be more than just Netflix or Hulu streaming content to us. Coming very soon many different corporations and media tech companies will be unveiling their “new” streaming service, Disney+, Apple TV Plus, and Peacock just to name a few. What is creating all these streaming services is not the desire to share their content with you on their platform, it’s to make money, and the main way these companies do that is through advertising and data collection but the methods used to get the ad to you is coming from a dangerous place. 

Data collection is becoming the new currency for these streaming giants. They are able to collect data based on what shows you are watching, what device you are using to watch, your location, and so many other factors that create a pretty clear internet footprint of who you are and what interests you. These streaming companies collect all this data and use it to target you with widely specific advertisements. With streaming service becoming more and more popular, advertising companies now have a real-time data stream on their users that has never existed before with traditional television but with all this information being tracked and all the money the data is worth sometimes our privacy takes a back-seat for these companies so they can make some extra money. 

Advertisers are starting to shift spending from traditional television to streaming services by the tune of 3.8 billion dollars and many companies are trying to get on the money. With this rise in advertising within the streaming industry, many users of the streaming services are at risk of having their data taken without their knowledge. In recent years, tech giants such as Vizio TV and Samba TV has been accused of gathering and selling your data without your knowledge just by using your TV but even just knowing that these companies are doing this is not enough because this is such new ground, there are no laws or regulations in this data collection industry. Trackers and other software that collect our data on these platforms happen without us knowing and behind our backs only to target with super specific ads and without and rules data collection is only going to become more corrupt.


Roku buys Dataxu for 150 Million: The Strive to Become the Top OTT Platform Through DSP


Image by: Getty Images, Roku, DataXu

Over-the-top media services (OTT) are a growing form of media consumption platforms that offer users the ability to stream media directly over the internet. OTT media service giants such as Amazon Fire TV and Roku have competed to be the top platform for years in a growing world of streaming consumption.

Roku recently has shocked the industry buying the DSP, Dataxu, a marketing company that helps media professionals use data to improve their advertising. Dataxu goes off their company mission which is “Our software empowers you to connect with real people across all channels, including TV, capturing consumers’ attention when and where it matters most” (Dataxu)

The deal between the merger consisted of a 150 million in cash/stock deal. Roku intends with this deal to be able to use the data/marketing company to better be able to compete with other major OTT platforms like Amazon Fire TV who currently claims north of 34 million users. Roku has around 30.5 million users as of the summer of 2019, but one key feature has set Amazon Fire TV and Roku apart. Amazon currently has its own Demand-side platform (DSP) which is a system that allows buyers of digital advertising inventory to manage “multiple ad exchange and data exchange accounts through one interface” (Wikipedia).

As Amazon Fire TV has begun to allow video publishers to sell advertising through their own DSP, Roku hopes to use their newly acquired DSP, Dataxu, as a media-planning tool to help optimize their business outcomes since the software provides marketers with an automated self bidding, and self-serve platform for managing advertising campaigns.

Roku will not only now be able to compete more strongly with other OTT media services with Dataxu as as Demand-side platform to help them drive their number of users, but also receive profit from Dataxu’s current users all over the world.

Acquisitions such as these put an emphasis on the idea of media convergence as well as the importance of media companies to be innovative and involved in marketing/advertising technology, an area in which most of these giants make their revenue off of. Instead of integrating their own Demand-side platform like Amazon, Roku raised the stakes of the game by buying one to not only help their growing media service platform, but increase company profit/share in the technology realm significantly.




Twitter defends Trump

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Seemingly the backbone to the political landscape we currently have, Twitter has to defend the president from democrats who look to have the president’s account removed from the platform. President Trump has been locking horns with democrats over the impending impeachment inquiry of Trump. He has not been kind when going to twitter to voice his opinion on the matter, claiming the impeachment was a “coup” intended to strip Americans of their rights. Democrats look to suspend his Twitter account on the basis that his tweets are “blatant threats” that violate Twitter’s policies. 

Twitter has since taken a stand in favor of President Trump saying that Twitter has a right to the people to bend the rules for world leaders. Twitter cites that it is for the best interest of the public to keep world leader’s Twitter accounts active even though they may appear to violate Twitter’s own policies. Twitter has said that they would only take action against Trump or any world leader if they, “used their account to threaten an indiviual, promote terrorism or self-harm, or post private information like a phone number.” Twitter then followed up their defence of the president with another statement, “The accounts of world leaders are not above our policies entirely, presently, direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy saber-rattling on economic or military issues are generally not in violation of the Twitter Rules.”

This shows that Twitter is taking a stand not towards democrats or any political party but taking a stand protecting the public. We deserve and I think entitled to hear what the president is tweeting no matter what it is. It helps the public know what is going on, not only for the president, but the entire country. Protecting this kind of speech is dangerous but it serves the public by preserving those tweets for all of us.