It’s time once again to take a look back at some of the news stories we’ve covered here at GaS in 2014 as well as following up on later developments.
In January, AT&T started offering companies the chance to make “sponsorship” payments that meant they picked up the tab when users streamed or downloaded their content, such as movie trailers, over 4G. The payment would mean the data wouldn’t count towards the user’s monthly usage allowance. It turned out that very few businesses had much interest in the idea, and all it really served to do was spark more debate about net neutrality.
Sony launched PlayStation Now, letting you stream games to various Sony devices rather than run them locally, paying a rental fee per game. As of December, it’s still only in an open beta release and is US/Canada only. Most reviews suggest it works surprisingly well, as long as your device is hard-wired to your router.
World Wrestling Entertainment launched an online service that combined a 24-hour streaming channel (including live events) with a video-on-demand library. From a tech perspective the concept has worked reasonably well, but despite switching to a pay-monthly system with no minimum contract, the customer base is showing little signs of growth, suggesting only a small proportion of free TV viewers are interested in spending any money on the product.
A pocket drone that folds up to fit in your pocket, but can fly while carrying a digital video camera, attracted nearly a million dollars in Kickstarter funding. Users can control the device using a traditional remote control, by setting a pre-set route for the drone’s GPS, or having it automatically follow an Android device. The first completed models started shipping last week.
A Federal Appeals Court ruled that the Federal Communication Commission did not have the authority to enforce its own net neutrality rules when trying to ban Verizon from slowing down or blocking access to some users or sites. The court noted the FCC had previously classed broadband as an information service (and thus under the looser regulations of Title I of the Telecommunications Act) rather than a common carrier communication service (which comes under the tighter Title II.) That’s led to discussions and consultations all year about whether the FCC should reclassify broadband to allow it to enforce net neutrality — a position recently publicly supported by President Obama –and whether such a reclassification would itself be legal.
Apple agreed to pay up to $32.5 million compensation to parents whose kids had been able to make expensive in-app purchases without having to type in an iTunes account password. The compensation only applied to the 45 days after Apple changed settings so that once you typed in a password it wasn’t needed again for 15 minutes, but before Apple made it possible to switch off this option. Google has since reached a similar settlement, worth at least $19 million, covering purchases between March 2011 and November 2014. For the first year or so of that period, Google didn’t require a password at all for in-app purchases, while for the rest of that time a 30 minute window applied.
A Spanish smartphone maker and a US encryption firm launched a modified Android handset where all communications are encrypted in one form or another. The Blackphone went on sale in the summer and a dedicated app store will launch next month — with a strict vetting process of course.
A Dutch court overturned a court order that ISPs in the Netherlands must block access to The Pirate Bay. The judges said overturning it wasn’t so much to do with the principle of the law, but rather that it had simply proven too ineffective at combating piracy to be justifiable. It’s been a bad year for the site since then: one co-founder was arrested last month on the Laos-Thailand border after fleeing Sweden in 2009 over copyright charges relating to the site, while another received a 42-month jail sentence in October on unrelated hacking charges. Meanwhile the Pirate Bay itself was shut down earlier this month when Swedish police found and confiscated servers; rival IsoHunt is offering a clone of the site until if and when The Pirate Bay returns.
In February, an autistic boy’s mother discovered he didn’t want a birthday party as he had no friends at school. She set up a Facebook page to ask people to send Happy Birthday messages to Colin. The page went on to receive more than two million “likes” and become a true online community.
The man who created WebTV, Steve Perlman, said he’d found a way round the problem that cellphone towers used for mobile broadband have to be placed far enough apart that signals don’t overlap, leaving each cell split between multiple users, while some areas are deadspot. Perlman’s solution allowed each device to combine signal from multiple towers into an individual “cell”. Perlman has since lobbied the FCC to establish minimum spectrum efficiency requirements when it awards wireless licenses, a suggestion that seems to be falling on deaf ears.