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This week, Ubisoft’s new shooter The Division 2 shifts to D.C., how Google is approaching gamers, and MySpace manages to delete a decade of user files. But first, what responsibility do online platforms have over horrific, violent content?

Attack on New Zealand mosques was live streamed

The attack on the New Zealand mosques was horrific enough. Worse is that the alleged shooter published the live video of his actions on Facebook, where it was quickly copied to YouTube and other social media channels.

This was the intent, of course, and despite all of the automatic systems to remove the video, it’s still circulating.

The New Zealand Herald reports that a teenager has been charged with sharing the stream.

Facebook and YouTube insist they did the best they could.

It’s another incident that calls into question whether the platforms that allow such content to be published without first being screened should be allowed.

MySpace appears to have lost more than a decade of user music

MySpace hasn’t been relevant in the online world for years, but it was once an important social site, one that led to the discovery of musicians including the Arctic Monkeys, Calvin Harris, and Kate Nash, among others.

But sometime in 2018 during a migration to a new data server, the company claims it lost all music and videos. This was only revealed after about a year of users emailing MySpace support and asking what was going on (as documented on Reddit).

Archivist Jason Scott posted a screenshot of what appears to be a response from MySpace saying the data is lost.

Andy Baio, who helped build and was CTO of Kickstarter, wonders if perhaps it may have been more intentional than MySpace is letting on.

Google wants you to play and watch more games, and Jade Raymond is going to help

Now we know what Jade Raymond is going to be doing at Google. Last week, the veteran of video game development announced she had accepted a vice president role at Google.

At the time there was no revelation as to what she’d be doing. But at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco yesterday, Google laid out its plan for gaming and gamers, and Raymond is key to that plan.

Raymond started in the industry as a programmer for Sony. While working for Ubisoft in Montreal, she lead the team that created Assassin’s Creed, one of the most popular and lucrative game franchises. She later opened Ubisoft Toronto before moving back to Montreal to create Motive Studio for Electronic Arts.

Raymond is the head of Stadia Games and Entertainment, which is the creative wing of Google’s new gaming initiative. This will include working with existing game developers as well as building a network of development studios to create new game experiences.

Google says that its game platform, Stadia, will get games out of the box and onto whatever screen they want to play on. The company also wants to more closely connect game playing with game watching.

The concept relies on cloud-based processing, so while you might not need a console or gaming computer to play, your gaming experience does rely on the quality of your high-speed internet connection. But Google says that because it can create a nearly direct link between its data centres and the screen a player is using, the latency that can be so problematic when playing games over the internet isn’t an issue.

There is no connection to the “public” internet, claims Google, so security and privacy are also protected.

Last year, Google and Ubisoft showed that a graphically-intense game, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, could be played in a browser at a resolution of 1080p and at 60 frames per second. The goal is to deliver 4K, HDR video at 60 fps.

And Stadia wants to make it easy for you to start playing, so you can go from watching a trailer for a new game and playing it within seconds. On any screen you happen to be using: computers, tablets, smartphones, and TVs.

In the presentation on Tuesday, Google showed a player moving from Chromebook, to computer, to smartphone, to tablet, to television (through a Chromecast), and the game appeared to continue exactly from where the player left off.

There is a controller to support this play. The Stadia game controller looks like others, but connects through Wi-fi, and it identifies the screen you want to use, so you can use the same controller no matter what screen you use. It also includes a capture button so you can instantly share a video of your play, and a button to access Google Assistant, which can enable instant support, should developers choose to include that.

Stadia will be available this year in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., and parts of Europe. Pricing for the service has not been announced.

The Division 2 shifts action to Washington, D.C.

The Division 2, developed by Massive and published by Ubisoft, is a solid sequel to the first game. The franchise is set in America after a pandemic has led to the collapse of society as we know it. The first game was set in New York; this latest chapter moves to Washington.

It’s a crisp, fine-tuned experience, providing exhilarating cover-and-shoot gaming, punctuated by the collection of weapons and gear.

If there’s a knock on the game it’s that the developers and publisher insist this is not a political game, all while doing things like having a firefight set in the middle of a museum exhibit on the Vietnam War.

The Division 2 is available now for PS4, Windows, and Xbox One.

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This week, the eerie accuracy of fake faces, Canadians and internet behaviour, and the video games Metro Exodus and Observer. But first, Tesla reverses a decision on price drops of electric vehicles.

Tesla drops the price of its electric vehicles, raises them the next week

Tesla has a problem sticking to a strategy. Last week it was one thing. Now the opposite is happening.

Last week, the car manufacturer announced that it was dropping the prices on all its vehicles, including the Model S and Model X, and introduced a new trim package of the Model 3. The idea was to sell more cars by getting closer to the price point that CEO Elon Musk wanted for the Model 3, which was intended to be for the average consumer.

In order to save costs, the company said it would close down showrooms, arguing that most customers are purchasing their Tesla online anyway.

In a blog post published this week, the company has revealed that “Tesla will need to raise vehicle prices by about 3% on average worldwide” because it will not be closing down so many stores.

The price of the new, Standard Range Model 3, will remain at Cdn$47,600, before incentives, which vary depending on where in Canada you live.

If you want a Model S, Model X, or premium Model 3, you’ve got until March 18 before prices go up.

Computers are creating human faces with eerie accuracy

In an effort to make us “aware of the ease with which digital identities can be faked, and to help you spot these fakes at a single glance,” University of Washington professors Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West have used data from a generative adversarial network created by NVIDIA to generate realistic-looking faces.

How well can you differentiate between a real face and a fake one?

Bergstrom and West created the Which Face Is Real website as part of their critical-thinking course, Calling Bullshit, which is offered at UW.

Canadians wary of internet threats and privacy breaches

In December, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) conducted a survey of 1,200 Canadians to suss out opinions and attitudes about internet privacy, security, and information. The results were released last month, and are unsurprising.

Here are some highlights:

Social media and fake news

  • 75% say they come across fake news at least sometimes
  • 57% have been taken in by a fake news item
  • 70% are concerned that fake news could impact the outcome of the next federal election

Privacy

  • 72% are willing to disclose some or a little personal information in exchange for a valuable/convenient service
  • 87% are concerned that businesses with access to customers’ personal data willingly share it with third parties without consent
  • 86% believe it is important that government data, including the personal information of Canadians, be stored and transmitted in Canada only

Cybersecurity

  • 87% are concerned about a potential cyberattack against organizations with access to their personal data
  • Only 19% say they would continue to do business with an organization if their personal data were exposed in a cyberattack
  • 78% are concerned about the potential security threats related to the Internet of Things

  • 69% believe the high cost of internet services, including for mobile data, is hurting Canada’s economy and prosperity
  • 83% believe that universal access to high-speed internet is important for Canada’s overall economic growth and prosperity
  • 70% agree that the Canadian government should be doing more to support public access to high-speed internet
  • 66% support the principles of net neutrality

What strikes me, though, is the disconnect between how people have responded to this survey and how they actually behave. If only 81% say they would stop doing business with an organization if their data was exposed we should be seeing a lot fewer people on Facebook these days.

I suspect that people are concerned about privacy and security, but have little concept of how threatened they are in reality.

Two new games from Eastern European developers dwell in dystopia

Earlier this year, two games were released that immerse players in strange futures.

Metro Exodus, developed by 4A Games, based in the Ukraine, is the third game in the first-person shooter franchise based on the novels of Russian writer Dmitry Glukhovsky. This Russia is a place where citizens are struggling to survive a nuclear apocalypse. In the first two games, much of the activity takes place in the subway tunnels of Moscow, which are deep under the surface, therefore providing an environment safe from fallout.

In Exodus, the setting shifts outside, giving us a glimpse of what a nuclear winter looks like. The narrative is structured around pulling apart the story constructed in the first games. It’s a clever trick to inject something new to the games while keeping them familiar and serves to force players who have played those earlier games to reconsider exactly what they thought happened.

Along with battling bizarre, mutated monsters you will be managing your meagre resources and scavenging and crafting. This is a post-apocalyptic setting after all.

Metro Exodus, available for PS4, Windows, and Xbox One, is a standard shooter experience that is distinguished by its setting.

Observer was originally developed by Polish studio Bloober Team back in 2017 (for PS4, Windows, and Xbox One) and has ported to the Nintendo Switch. The game features Rutger Hauer as Daniel Lazarski, a detective of sorts who has the ability to see the world around him through different augmentation filters, and to hack into not just machines, but minds.

The cyberpunk atmosphere is well suited to the plot, which centers around the uncontrolled power of corporations in a future in which nationalism has collapsed after a “digital plague” ravishes society.

There’s no combat here, but plenty to think about. As Lazarski, you collect information and evidence from the environment, piecing together a story as you go. The bleak tone is very Blade Runner and Hauer instills his character with a palpable weariness.

While the controls of Observer are at times frustrating, and the experience a bit uneven, the exploration and hacking provide a different kind of game to play on the Switch.

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Last week on The Shift with Drex, I talked about Hololens 2, announced by Microsoft at Mobile World Congress, how you can import a spreadsheet from a photo with Excel, a possible massive fine for Facebook in the U.S., the retirement of Reggie Fils-Time from Nintendo, and news of two new Pokémon games coming to the Nintendo Switch.

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This week, Microsoft wants you to be able to create a spreadsheet from a photograph, Facebook could be facing a fine in the U.S., Reggie Fils-Aime stepping down from Nintendo, and new Pokémon games are coming to the Nintendo Switch this fall. But first, details on the new Hololens 2 augmented reality headset.

Hololens 2 revealed by Microsoft at Mobile World Congress

In Barcelona last week, Microsoft showed the second generation of its augmented reality headset, Hololens.

Hololens 2 is different from virtual reality headsets in that the lens are transparent, designed to provide you with information layered on top of your actual environment.

Hololens is self contained, so it doesn’t need to be physically tethered to a computer, and this next-gen model is lighter, more comfortable to wear, and was created so people who wear corrective lenses can also use the device.

It’s also commercially available for the first time, although with a US$3,500 price tag it’s not a consumer product.

Import that spreadsheet from a photo with Microsoft Excel

On the list of killer features that will make life easier is new functionality coming to Microsoft Office 365.

It allows you to take a picture of a spreadsheet and have it automatically transformed into an Excel spreadsheet.

The new feature is currently being tested with Office Insiders and will roll out on Office 365 for Android first, before coming to iOS.

Facebook could be looking at a “multibillion-dollar” fine in U.S.

As reported by the Washington Post (paywall):

“The Federal Trade Commission and Facebook are negotiating over a multi-billion dollar fine that would settle the agency’s investigation into the social media giant’s privacy practices, according to two people familiar with the probe. The fine would be the largest the agency has ever imposed on a technology company, but the two sides have not yet agreed on an exact amount.”

The company is facing a fine in the UK over the Cambridge Analytica incident, and is fighting a lawsuit brought by the District of Columbia’s attorney general. Other states are also considering cases.

So long, Reggie! Fils-Aime retiring from Nintendo

Reggie Fils-Aime has been integral to Nintendo. As the president of Nintendo of America he helped launch the Wii – a resounding success – and the Wii U – not so much – and the Switch – another success! Not to mention all the variations of the DS handheld systems.

He made it clear to gamers that he was one of them, and they loved him for it.

Fils-Aime announced last week that he’s retiring, and is handing off the role of president to the aptly named Doug Bowser, currently head of sales for Nintendo of America.

Yes, Bowser is his real name.

New Pokémon games coming to Nintendo Switch this year

No Nintendo gaming platform can be considered complete without proper main series Pokémon games that were designed with the platform in mind. So in a sense, the Nintendo Switch isn’t truly whole until later this year, when Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are released.

The two new games take place in the Galar region, inspired by the geography of the United Kingdom. Players will begin the adventure with one of three new Pokémon. Nintendo describes them as being:

  • Grookey, a Grass-type Chimp Pokémon, is mischievous and full of boundless curiosity
  • Scorbunny, bursting with energy, is a Fire-type Rabbit Pokémon that is always running about
  • Sobble, a stealthy Water-type Water Lizard Pokémon, shoots out attacks as it hides itself in water

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