Wired: stop blocking our ads, pay for an ad-free version or go elsewhere

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Wired Magazine is taking a bold step into the unknown. Starting next week, the site will give its readers who use an ad blocker an ultimatum: either stop blocking their ads, pay to view an ad-free version of the site or turn to a different source for technology news.

As Bloomberg notes, Wired is planning to charge readers $3.99 for four weeks of ad-free access to its website. Mark McClusky, head of product and business development for Wired Magazine, acknowledged there are legitimate reasons that people use ad blockers such as wanting to speed up the browsing experience or not wanting their web activity to be tracked.

At the end of the day, however, Wired has to pay the bills just like every other major site on the Internet and outside of donations, the only real way to do that today is through advertising revenue or subscriptions.

McClusky believes that the portion of Wired’s readership that uses ad blockers (roughly 20 percent of its readership) are likely to be receptive to a discussion about their responsibility to support the businesses they rely on for information online. I, for one, am not nearly as confident in their reception as McClusky but I digress.

Most sites have been offering their content for “free” through ad-supported methods and any pushback against what the general population sees as the norm will no doubt create backlash. That said, Wired’s buck-a-week rate isn’t set in stone, however, as the publication says it could change based on reader response.

India blocks Facebook’s Free Basics Internet service

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Bringing the rest of the world online is proving to be tougher than Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg likely bargained for. Telecom regulators in India have banned the social network’s Free Basic service as part of a larger ruling in favor of net neutrality.

That realization isn’t entirely surprising as some in India have resisted the initiative for nearly a year now.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India ruled that no service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content. Or in other words, it effectively bans the practice of zero-rating in which end-users aren’t charged for using select applications or Internet services.

Facebook’s Free Basics is just that, a free service that offers access to select news and health sites, Wikipedia and of course, Facebook itself.

Regulators argue that such programs favor select services over others and that under net neutrality, all online services should be treated equally. Facebook, meanwhile, maintains that the goal of Free Basics is to bring more people online with an open, non-exclusive and free platform.

Zuckerberg and company are no doubt disappointed by the development but it’s not the end of the road for Free Basics. The service is currently available in 36 countries around the globe, helping to bring Internet access to more than 19 million people that Facebook says wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to get online.

Google will ban all Flash ads in 2017

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Google has announced that its entire advertising network, comprising of the Google Display Network and DoubleClick Digital Marketing, will be transitioning away from Flash-based ads to a 100% HTML5 solution over the next year.

The transition includes two firm deadlines: on June 30th, 2016, Google will stop accepting new Flash ads from advertisers; and on January 2nd, 2017, Google will stop displaying any Flash ads across its network. This means that in early 2017, Flash ads will effectively be banned from Google’s advertising network.

There is one exception to this ban, and that appears to be video ads, with the AdWords Google+ page stating “video ads built in Flash will not be impacted at this time.” Many video players around the web still rely on Flash, so it seems Google is waiting for more widespread adoption of HTML5 video players before it switches off support for Flash video ads.

For advertisers wanting to publish their ads in HTML5, the only ad format Google’s network will support, Google already provides a number of tools that make the transition from Flash easy. For users browsing the web, having one of the world’s largest web ad providers ditch Flash should improve the security and performance of your web browser.

There are still some steps to go before Flash has been completely eradicated, but it’s clear that everyone wants it gone as soon as possible. Even Adobe, who purchased Flash along with Macromedia in 2005, no longer wants to support it, having killed their authoring tool Flash Professional last year.

PayPal joins Netflix in geoblocking fight by cutting off VPN site’s payment services

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As the battle between Netflix and those using VPNs to bypass geoblocking restrictions rages on, it looks as if the streaming site has an ally in its fight: PayPal. Canadian ‘unblocker’ service UnoTelly has just had its payment processing agreement severed by PayPal for promoting copyright infringement, and many more VPN providers may soon face the same situation.

“On February 3rd, 2016, Paypal has severed payment processing agreement unilaterally and without prior warning,” Toronto-based UnoTelly said on its blog Thursday. The company has advised customers who were using PayPal to now use a credit card instead.

“We are disappointed at PayPal’s unilateral action and the way it acted without prior warning. We provide both DNS resolution and secure VPN services. Our services are network relays that connect people around the world.”

In an email explaining its decsion to UnoTelly, Paypal wrote: “Under the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, PayPal may not be used to send or receive payments for items that infringe or violate any copyright, trademark, right of publicity or privacy, or any other proprietary right under the laws of any jurisdiction.”

“This includes transactions for any device or technological measure that descrambles a scrambled work, decrypts an encrypted work or otherwise avoids, bypasses, removes, deactivates or impairs a technological measure without the authority of the copyright owner.”

Of course, the simple solution for VPN service customers is to switch to another method of payment, but not everyone has a credit card and many people prefer using PayPal. There’s also the fact that most people use VPN services for totally legitimate reasons, and as every one can be used to bypass Netflix’s geoblocking, will PayPal eventually cut ties with them all?

In a statement to CBC news, the company said it is going after “certain businesses that actively promote their services as a means to circumvent copyright restrictions and violate intellectual property laws.” Netflix has also used similar tactics, blocking usersof Australian VPN service Uflix last month.

It’s unclear whether Netflix specifically asked Paypal to clamp down on the payment services it provides to VPN companies, but the timing does suggest that this may be the case.

WhatsApp now has more than a billion active monthly users

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Instant messaging client WhatsApp has joined the one billion user club. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently revealed the milestone on the social network, congratulating co-founders Brian Acton and Jan Koum on the achievement.

If you recall, Facebook acquired the mobile messaging app for $19 billion nearly two years ago. Since that time, Zuckerberg said the community has more than doubled with 42 billion messages, 1.6 billion photos and 250 million videos being exchanged each day.

WhatsApp has come a very long way since launching in 2009. When we startedcharging its growth in late 2013, the service already had more than 400 million active monthly users. Eight months later, WhatsApp crossed the 600 million active monthly user milestone before eclipsing 700 million just five months after that.

Perhaps what’s most impressive of all is that WhatsApp currently has just 57 engineers on its team (and the backing of Facebook, of course).

In January 2015, WhatsApp finally added a desktop web application to supplement its mobile-first offering and last month, the service dropped its $0.99 annual subscription fee. A buck a year isn’t much in the eyes of the consumer but more importantly, it eliminated the need for a credit card – a real barrier for some, especially younger users.

Google removes Adblock Fast app from Play Store, others to follow?

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Samsung earlier this week added support for ad blocking via its new content blocker extension API. What that means is third-party developers can now create apps that, when installed, block ads when using Samsung Internet Browser, the company’s own mobile web browser.

As you can imagine, third-party developers jumped at the opportunity and have since published ad-blocking apps on Google Play. Google, however, isn’t terribly thrilled with this development and is reportedly pulling such apps from its mobile store.

One of those yanked apps is Adblock Fast from startup Rocketship Apps. The app shot up the free charts in the Productivity category, amassing more than 50,000 installs and a 4.25 star rating this week before being pulled.

Rocketship Apps CEO Brian Kennish told TechCrunch that Google said the app was removed for violating “Section 4.4” of the Android Developer Distribution Agreement. That section states that developers aren’t allowed to publish apps that interfere with the operation of other services or apps.

In this case, Samsung has granted developers permission to block apps in its mobile browser but that apparently doesn’t matter to Google. Of course, that’s not surprising considering the bulk of Google’s revenue comes from its advertising business.

Interestingly enough, similar ad blockers like Crystal for Samsung Internet and Adblock Plus (Samsung Browser) are still available on Google Play. It’s unclear if they will remain live or if Google simply hasn’t got around to pulling them down yet.

Anti-Adblock Killer extension prevents sites from blocking your ad-blocker

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Wired caused a bit of a stir earlier this week when it announced that it would block anyone who uses an ad-blocker from viewing its site. Worried that adblockers would eventually prevent them from making any money from their articles, Wired is rolling out technology next week that will detect and block ad-blocking extensions.

It seems like Wired’s efforts to block ad-blockers may be a bit fruitless, as a new extension has appeared for all major browsers that allows you to keep your ad-blocker enabled, even when a website asks you to disable it before viewing content. The extension, known as Anti-Adblock Killer, essentially tricks websites into thinking that you aren’t running ad-block at all times.

The extension has basically started a cycle of blocking and unblocking technologies. First, users blocked ads through very simple extensions, and then publishers fought back by developing tech that could block users running ad-blockers. Now we’re essentially seeing the ‘ad-blocker blocker unblocker’ to remove any restrictions from ad-block blocks.

The Anti-Adblock Killer extension is said to work against a wide range of ad-blocking technologies used by various publishers and websites. It’s currently available for Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Safari through a script manager, with installation instructions available through the project’s GitHub page.

Now it’s only a matter of time before we see technology that blocks ad-block blocker unblockers.

Amazon launches Lumberyard, a cross-platform 3D game engine that’s free to use

Amazon has launched a new video game engine it’s calling Lumberyard. The e-commerce giant says its free, cross-platform, 3D game engine will allow developers to make top-notch titles and tap into its bevy of web services (for a fee, of course).

Lumberyard is packed with hundreds of features including cloth physics, character and animation editors, a particle editor, a UI editor, audio tools, weather effects, vehicle systems, perception handling, camera frameworks and more. Amazon even says developers can add cloud-connected features like community news feeds, daily gifts and server-side combat resolution in minutes using a drag-and-drop interface.

As you’d expect, Lumberyard is fully integrated with Twitch. With the Twitch ChatPlay feature, viewers can use the chat interface to directly impact the game they are watching someone play in real-time. For example, a developer could make a game that lets Twitch watchers vote on game outcomes using simple chat commands. Another feature called Twitch JoinIn lets Twitch broadcasters invite viewers from their audience to play alongside them on-the-fly.

Amazon also detailed a new managed service for deploying , operating and scaling session-based multiplayer games called GameLift. The company promises it’ll reduce the time required to create multiplayer back-ends from thousands of hours to just minutes.

Available as of today in beta, Lumberyard allows developers to build both PC and console games with support for mobile titles and virtual reality platforms coming soon. Lumberyard is free to use, including the source code. Amazon stresses that there aren’t any seat fees, subscription fees or requirements to share revenue. Should a developer want to use AWS services, however, standard fees will apply.

GameLift, meanwhile, is priced at $1.50 per 1,000 Daily Active Users on top of the standard AWS fees for AWS services consumed.

If you’re serious about creating that game you’ve already dreamed of or are an established developer looking to broaden your horizons, Lumberyard may be worth a look.

Frinkiac is the Simpsons image search engine that you need in your life

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In the near thirty years that the Simpsons has been around, the show’s numerous catchphrases and quotes have made their way into everyday life. But trying to find images from the show to match the quotes hasn’t always been easy; Google searches often offer grainy YouTube stills recorded straight from a TV. Now, a brilliant new search engine dedicated to the dysfunctional family has been released, and it’s named after everyone’s favorite professor: Frinkiac.

The online tool contains an amazing three million screengrabs from the Simpsons’ first fifteen seasons. As you start typing in a line from the show, the engine will display the corresponding images from the episode – the more you type, the more accurate your search result becomes. Then it’s just a matter of clicking on the picture you want and hitting ‘Make Meme,’ which will overlay the quote onto the image. Best of all, you can edit the text yourself.

The project is the work of Paul Kehrer, Sean Schulte and Allie Young. “We had the idea several years ago when we were quoting The Simpsons at each other all day long, and it was surprisingly difficult to find an image of the scenes we were quoting on Google,” Schulte said.

Kehrer explains on his website that the engine determines what are relevant screens to capture in a “fairly naive way.” Frinkiac cuts scenes into 100 equal-sized parts and compares the average color of each part to the screenshot before. If the total difference is large enough, the image is saved.

The engine pairs the quote with the image by searching through the subtitle files of each episode. Once it finds the corresponding text, it matches the subtitle line’s timecode with the timecode of the screenshot.

I’ve already used Frinkiac to capture a few glorious Simpsons moments (“feels like I’m wearing nothing at all!” and “Mmmm…erotic cakes” are two favorites) and it really is one of those things that you never knew you needed until it arrived.

Providing that Fox, which is notoriously protective of the Simpsons license, doesn’t take it down, Frinkiac could become the number one site for all your Simpsons meme needs. Good Glavin!

Kanye West’s Tidal-exclusive album launch leads to mass piracy

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In what shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, the launch of Kanye West’s latest album, The Life of Pablo, exclusively through music streaming service Tidal has lead to a massive wave of piracy.

TorrentFreak is reporting that The Life of Pablo has already been illegally downloaded more than 500,000 times on just the first day after its launch. On various popular torrent sites around the web, the album is topping the list of music torrents by a significant margin, with more than 10,000 people sharing the most popular version at any one time.

While many highly anticipated albums typically get pirated in large numbers shortly after their release, TorrentFreak says that they haven’t seen this level of piracy for a single album before.

The reason why so many people are pirating Kanye’s latest album is simple: the limited release is preventing fans from purchasing and listening to it in the way they want to. With most other album launches, people can either purchase physical or digital copies of the album, or stream it through other services like Spotify, Apple Music, or Google Play, but with The Life of Pablo this isn’t possible.

Kanye’s decision to release his latest album exclusively through a relatively unpopular streaming service doesn’t seem to be paying off. Even if Tidal manages to sign up many new subscribers through this exclusive, it’s unclear whether users will stay around longer than the 30 day free trial, especially if Kanye changes his mind and releases the album through more services.

For now, at least, Kanye is sticking to his guns. His latest tweets have indicated that The Life of Pablo will “never never never be on Apple” and that it “will never be for sale” either. In that case, he shouldn’t be surprised if widespread piracy of his work continues.