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Apple and Epic Trial Opens With a Tour of the Fortnite ‘Metaverse’

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Cosmetics. Digital dances called “emotes” A currency called V-Bucks. Virtual concerts. Fortnite, the popular gaming platform, is more than just a game. It is a “metaverse,” full of virtual life, said Tim Sweeney, chief executive of Epic Games, the company that created Fortnite.

And Apple, he argued in federal court on Monday, wants an unfair cut of the money to be made in the Fortnite metaverse.

Mr. Sweeney offered a granular explanation of Fortnite to paint an expansive portrait of his company’s world on the first day of what is expected to be a three-week trial, pitting Epic against Apple in a fight over Apple’s App Store fees and other rules that could reshape the $100 billion app economy.

Epic sued Apple in August, arguing that Apple is unfairly leaning on its control of the App Store to extract an unfair cut of the money Epic makes from selling digital goods inside Fortnite.

Epic, valued at $29 billion and based in Cary, N.C., is not seeking monetary damages. The company wants Apple to allow apps like Fortnite to circumvent Apple’s payment systems and even offer their own app store within Apple’s.

The outcome of the trial will have wide-reaching implications for the broader antitrust push against big tech companies. Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Alphabet, which owns Google, face various antitrust claims by state and federal governments in the United States and Europe. Apple is also battling two potential class-action lawsuits from consumers and developers over its App Store fees.

Fortnite, Mr. Sweeney said, “is a phenomenon that transcends gaming,” he said. “Our aim of Fortnite is to build something like a metaverse from science fiction.”

Metaverse? A court reporter needed clarification. It’s a virtual world for socializing and entertainment, Mr. Sweeney said.

The legal arguments in the case center on the boundaries of the market the two companies are fighting over. Apple’s lawyers focused their opening statements on gaming, arguing that people can get access to Fortnite in many places other than the App Store, like gaming consoles.

Epic argues that the case is about the broader app economy and that Apple has a monopoly with its App Store for iPhone users. In particular, Epic is fighting a 30 percent commission that Apple takes on purchases made inside iPhone apps like Fortnite.

In a mostly empty courtroom in Oakland, Katherine Forrest of the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore opened Epic’s case by previewing a series of emails between Apple’s top executives. The emails were evidence, Ms. Forrest argued, that the tech giant purposely created a “walled garden” that locks consumers and developers inside. That forces them to use Apple’s payment system, she said.

Once Apple lured users and developers into its walled garden, “the garden gate was closed, the lock turned,” Ms. Forrest said. She compared Apple’s fees on in-app purchases for subscription services to a car dealership that takes a commission on gas sales.

Apple’s lawyers described, in their opening statement, a thriving market for app distribution that includes gaming consoles, desktop computer gaming and the mobile web. Karen Dunn of Paul, Weiss argued that the 30 percent commission was in line with industry standards and that Epic’s requests, if granted, would make iPhones less secure, while unlawfully forcing Apple to do business with a competitor.

Ms. Dunn added that Epic’s case was a self-serving way to avoid paying fees it owed Apple and was on shaky legal footing. “To win this case, Epic will have to convince this court of so many things that don’t make any sense,” she concluded.

The first day of the court fight over high-tech competition included in-the-weeds terms like hotfix, sideloading and multiplatform middleware services. But the day began with a familiar experience in the pandemic: Zoom difficulties. The trial’s start was delayed by around 40 minutes because of technical issues with the hotlines set up for remote listening.

In another sign of the pandemic’s changes to trials, everyone allowed into the mostly empty room wore a mask or face shield. The judge’s bench was surrounded by plexiglass dividers.

“It’s been an adventure — not even the year, but this case,” said Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers, who will decide the case.

App developers have privately grumbled over the years about Apple’s tight grip on its App Store and the secretive ways it enforces its rules. But few have dared to speak publicly about it, much less mount a legal challenge. Alongside its lawsuit, Epic created a nonprofit coalition to make the case for “fairness” from app platforms like Apple’s and Google’s, Apple’s lawyers testified on Monday; several dozen smaller companies have joined.

Mr. Sweeney has been vocal about his distaste for the app stores’ control over access to apps and its impact on his metaverse vision. Apple’s level of control, he said in an interview last year, is “completely unprecedented in human history.”

But Mr. Sweeney was so soft-spoken in his testimony on Monday, a court reporter had to repeatedly ask for clarification on gaming and technology terms. He wore a suit, ditching his usual, T-shirt and cargo shorts. He also wore a clear face shield.

In his testimony, Mr. Sweeney explained Epic’s decision to pursue the lawsuit. “I wanted to show the world through actions exactly what the ramifications of Apple’s policy were,” he said.

In a cross-examination, Richard Doren of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher hammered at Mr. Sweeney with a rapid series of yes-or-no questions to make the point that Epic also publishes Fortnite on other platforms, like gaming consoles — and that Epic is not complaining about them.

But Mr. Sweeney countered that the gaming consoles, which typically lose money on the hardware they sell and make it up on fees, have different business models from Apple’s and Google’s app stores, which are highly profitable.

Mr. Doren asked Mr. Sweeney if he knew that the actions Epic took last summer would cause Apple to kick his company’s app out of the App Store. He suggested that Mr. Sweeney had hoped Apple would cave in to the pressure because of Fortnite’s popularity.

“I hoped Apple would seriously reconsider its policy then and there,” Mr. Sweeney said. Apple did not, and Epic sued.

In the coming weeks, top Apple executives, including the chief executive, Tim Cook, and executives from Microsoft and Match Group are expected to testify.

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Google is about to start automatically enrolling users in 2FA

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In recent months, vulnerable apps, hacked websites, and zero-day exploits have accounted for an increasing amount of the reporting that we do here at BGR. There is risk in everything we do online, but there are many ways to mitigate that risk, such as turning on two-factor authentication (2FA) for any apps, services, or accounts that offer it. Speaking of 2FA, Google decided to take matters into its own hands on that front, as the company announced Thursday that it will soon enable 2FA by default for anyone with an “appropriately configured” Google account.

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“Today we ask people who have enrolled in two-step verification (2SV) to confirm it’s really them with a simple tap via a Google prompt on their phone whenever they sign in,” Google’s Director of Product Management, Identity and User Security, Mark Risher, said in a blog post. “Soon we’ll start automatically enrolling users in 2SV if their accounts are appropriately configured. (You can check the status of your account in our Security Checkup). Using their mobile device to sign in gives people a safer and more secure authentication experience than passwords alone.”

Basically, your account is “appropriately configured” if you have provided Google with recovery information, which could be a secondary email address, a phone number, or an authenticator app. You should already be using Google’s two-step verification, but if you’re not, at least make sure to visit the Security Checkup site.

As Google notes earlier in the blog post, searches for the phrase “how strong is my password” increased by 300% in 2020. Meanwhile, millions of you are still using passwords like “123456” or “password” or “qwerty,” so the resounding answer to that search query is an unequivocal “NO.” Make your passwords strong and difficult to guess, use different passwords for all of your accounts, and take advantage of Google’s Password Manager, which not only stores all of your passwords, but also lets you know when and if they have been compromised.

Google’s dream of killing passwords once and for all is still just that — a dream — but as we slowly work our way toward that glorious day, do what you can to keep your accounts and your personal data safe.

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Jacob started covering video games and technology in college as a hobby, but it quickly became clear to him that this was what he wanted to do for a living. He currently resides in New York writing for BGR. His previously published work can be found on TechHive, VentureBeat and Game Rant.


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Finding Dark Ships Via Satellite

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It would seem that for as long as there have been ships on the ocean, there’s been smuggling. The International Maritime Organisation requires ships to have AIS, the automatic identification system which is akin to a transponder on an airplane. However, if you don’t want to be found, you often turn off your AIS. So how do governments and insurance companies track so-called dark ships? Using satellite technology. A recent post in Global Investigative Journal tells the story of how lower-cost satellites are helping track these dark ships.

Optical tracking is the obvious method, but satellites that can image ships can be expensive and have problems with things like clouds. Radar is another option, but — again — an expensive option if you aren’t a big military agency with money to spend. A company called HawkEye 360 uses smallsats to monitor ship’s RF emissions, which is much less expensive and resource-intensive than traditional methods. Although the data may still require correlation with other methods like optical sensing, it is still cost-effective compared to simply scanning the ocean for ships.

The post tells the tale of an Iranian crude oil tanker. Noting a long gap in the AIS signal from the ship, HawkEye 360 attempted to locate the ship the next time it went dark. Of course, AIS can be off for other reasons, such as equipment failure or fear of piracy. Simply not squawking AIS isn’t a definite sign of malfeasance.

Using the satellite, radio transmissions on VHF channel 16 (156.8 MHz) — the standard calling frequency — were found from the ship and it appeared they were offloading crude oil to a refinery in Syria. With a specific target in mind, commercial satellite imaging picked up 3-meter resolution images of the ships and — apparently there is a database of ships at that resolution — identified four Iranian flag tankers at the site, three of which had arrived in stealth mode.

The HawkEye 360 satellites can pick up radar, emergency beacons, satellite phones, and VHF radio signals. A map shows the difference between the number of AIS signals in the South China Sea and the number of X-band radar signals. The AIS map looks sparse, whereas the radar map shows 3-4 times the number of vessels.

In another example, uses ESA’s Sentinel 1 satellite and synthetic aperture radar to locate ships going from China to North Korea. ICEYE, another smallsat company, is tracing illegal fishing activity around Argentina and smuggling near the UAE.

It is amazing to see how much satellite tech that would have been deep secret a few years ago is now commercially available. It isn’t just useful for law enforcement, either. The resolution is a far cry from the old weather satellites people tend to eavesdrop on.

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Designer modernizes retro iMac wallpapers for the new colourful M1 iMacs

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