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Phone flip: New Quibi series ‘Wireless’ empowers the viewer

Inside Telecom Staff

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Phone flip New Quibi series 'Wireless' empowers the viewer

NEW YORK (AP) — Most directors insist on having final edit approval of their films. Not the creators of “Wireless.”

The series on the mobile-platform Quibi employs an ingenious way to tell a story on a smartphone: You see different things on the screen depending on whether you hold your phone vertically or horizontally.

Horizontally, a traditional cinematic film follows a college student navigating the snowy Colorado mountains. But flip your phone vertically and you see his smartphone as he scrolls through photos, checks the map or calls his mom.

That means that the viewer becomes the editor. And each viewer sees a slightly different film, depending on at what points they rotate the phone.

“You’re never going to have the same experience as somebody else watching the show,” said Zach Wechter, the director, co-creator and co-writer. “It really is in our viewers’ hands when they’re going to turn the phones at any given moment.”

The 10-episode series that launched this week has the backing of director Steven Soderbergh, an eager adopter of nascent technology whose influential films include “Sex, Lies and Videotape” and “Traffic.”

He signed on to be an executive producer after seeing “Pocket,” a short film by Wechter and his creating partner Jack Seidman that experimented with the two-screen technology.

“It was the first thing I’d ever seen that I felt was designed to be watched and experienced on the phone and absolutely worked,” Soderbergh said.

The show signals a technological jump for Quibi, which launched during the pandemic offering mobile-friendly installments of movies and TV in 10 minutes or less.

The platform initially got fewer subscribers than hoped, despite landing celebs like Chance the Rapper, Chrissy Teigen and Jennifer Lopez. Even so, it heads into the weekend Emmy Awards with an impressive 10 nominations.

The technological leap with “Wireless” means it waves goodbye to passive entertainment. By letting viewers rotate their phones and choose their perspective, Wechter is empowering the audience, letting them feel like they’re controlling the story.

“I’d like to think that our project is something that will inspire filmmakers and artists to consider the possibilities of this new frontier — a new landscape for storytelling,” Wechter said.

“Wireless” stars Tye Sheridan as a college student with an unhappy past and a secret habit who is driving to a New Years Eve’s party to try to rekindle a relationship with his ex-girlfriend.

As he drives over the mountains, we watch what he does on his phone: Scrolling through Instagram, checking maps, firing up Tinder, texting friends, asking Siri questions and cuing up the band Brockhampton on the stereo. The human in horizontal mode and the technological on vertical are fused.

The filmmakers have so seamlessly integrated the phone-in-the-phone that our hero listens to his old voicemail messages and looks at photos from happier times to give context for his emotions. They’ve even created a fake, chirpy online commercial for a fictional vehicle, the Chevy Colorado.

Wechter said he was inspired to create the show based on how much time everyone spends on their phone these days, and says we have almost an emotional relationship with our devices. Soderbergh agrees, calling them “an additional appendage.”

“I think the ubiquity of smartphones is one of the most impactful parts of our lives nowadays,” Wechter said. “It really just was birthed out of realizing how essential these devices have become in our day-to-day lives.”

Soderbergh laughs that filmmakers these days are lamenting how putting their work on a phone is a depreciation of their work. “This is a complete inversion of what you typically hear a filmmaker say: To experience it NOT on your phone would be a diminishment.”

He hopes viewers will watch the thriller and then re-watch it, flipping their phone for more looks at the in-screen phone during the second time or focusing more on the actor’s perspective. “I hope other people will seize on the ability to do their own edits.”

In an interesting twist, Andie MacDowell, who starred in the indie “Sex, Lives and Videotape” 31 years ago, voices the college student’s mom in this Quibi show. Soderbergh laughs at the old technology of that film, which used video confessionals. “Think about how quaint that seems,” he said. “It’s like a Jane Austen novel compared to what we are experiencing now.”

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By MARK KENNEDY AP Entertainment Writer.

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Under Biden, China faces renewed trade pressure

Inside Telecom Staff

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The U.S.-Chinese trade war isn’t going away under President Joe Biden.

Biden won’t confront Beijing right away, economists say, because he wants to focus on the coronavirus and the economy. However, Biden looks set to renew pressure over trade and technology grievances that prompted President Donald Trump to hike tariffs on Chinese imports in 2017.

Negotiators might tone down Trump’s focus on narrowing China’s multibillion-dollar trade surplus with the United States and push harder to open its state-dominated economy, which matters more in the long run, economists say. But no abrupt tariff cuts or other big changes are expected.

“I think Biden will focus more on trying to extract structural reforms,” said Louis Kuijs of Oxford Economics. “It’s going to take some time before we get any shift or explicit announcements.”

Biden is evaluating tariffs on Chinese goods and wants to coordinate future steps with allies, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday. She gave no indication of possible changes.

“The president is committed to stopping China’s economic abuses,” Psaki said.

Trump acted on complaints that are shared by Europe and other traders, but Washington has little to show for its bruising war. It brought President Xi Jinping’s government to the bargaining table but roiled global trade, raised consumer prices and wiped out jobs.

The last major development was a year ago, when Beiing promised in the “Phase One” agreement of January 2020 to buy more soybeans and other U.S. exports and stop pressuring companies to hand over technology.

China fell short on those purchases. Amid the coronavirus turmoil, it bought about 55% of what it promised. As for tech policy, some economists say those changes matter but question whether it counts as a win. They say Beijing might have made them anyway to suit its own plans.

China faces more opposition than ever in Washington due to its trade record, territorial disputes with neighbors, crackdown on Hong Kong, reports of abuses against ethnic Muslims and accusations of technology theft and spying.

“The ground has shifted in a significant way,” said Nathan Sheets, a former Treasury undersecretary for international affairs in the Obama administration.

Katherine Tai, Biden’s choice to succeed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, sounded a hawkish note on China in a speech this month.

“We face stiffening competition from a growing and ambitious China,’’ said Tai. “A China whose economy is directed by central planners who are not subject to the pressures of political pluralism, democratic elections or popular opinion.’’

That means China has to make changes if wants to make progress, said Raoul Leering, global trade analyst for ING. He said that while many of Trump’s statements were “close to nonsense,” he was right that China has more trade barriers and official intervention in the economy than the United States.

“It will depend on China, the speed at which they reform and change policies, to see whether Biden will roll back trade barriers,” he said.

Chinese officials say they want better relations but have announced no potential concessions.

Foreign Ministry Wang Yi, quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency, expressed hope Washington “will regain its rationality.” A foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, appealed to Washington to “bring China-U.S. relations back to the right track of development as soon as possible.”

After 2 1/2 years and 13 rounds of talks, negotiators have yet to tackle one of the biggest irritants for China’s trading partners — the status of politically favored state companies that dominate industries from banking to oil to telecoms.

Europe, Japan and other governments criticized Trump’s tactics but echo complaints that Beijing steals technology and breaks market-opening promises by subsidizing and shielding companies from competition.

Those complaints strike at the heart of a state-led development model Communist Party leaders see as the basis of China’s success.

They are building up “national champions” such as PetroChina Ltd., Asia’s biggest oil producer, and China Mobile Ltd., the world’s biggest phone carrier by subscribers. The party in 2013 declared state industry the “core of the economy.”

Outside the state sector, the party is nurturing industrial leaders in solar power, electric cars, next-generation telecoms and other fields.

Beijing could offer to drop its claim to being a developing economy, a status it insists on despite having become one of the biggest manufacturers and a middle-income society, Leering said. Under WTO rules, that allows the Communist Party to protect industries and intervene more in the economy.

Giving that up “would be a very important gesture,” Leering said.

Trump’s opening shot in 2017 was a tax hike on $360 billion worth of Chinese imports. Beijing retaliated with tariff hikes and suspended soybean imports, hitting farm states that voted for Trump in 2016.

The U.S. trade deficit with China narrowed by by 19% in 2019 over a year earlier and by 15% in the first nine months of 2020.

That failed to achieve Trump’s goal of moving jobs to the United States. Importers shifted instead to Taiwan, Mexico and other suppliers. The total U.S. trade deficit dipped slightly in 2019, then rose nearly 14% through November last year.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office estimates tariff hikes cost the average U.S. household nearly $1,300 last year. Businesses postponed investments, undoing some of the benefits of Trump’s 2017 corporate tax cut.

A study by the U.S.-China Business Council and Oxford Economics found the U.S. economy lost 245,000 jobs due to the tariffs. It said even a modest reduction would create 145,000 jobs by 2025.

Trump stepped up pressure by cutting off access to U.S. technology for telecom equipment giant Huawei Technologies Ltd. and other companies seen by American officials as possible security risks and a threat to U.S. industrial leadership. Americans were ordered to sell shares in Chinese companies Washington says have links to the military.

The Communist Party responded by vowing to accelerate its two-decade-old campaign to make China a self-reliant “technology power.”

Psaki, the White House spokeswoman, said Biden also was reviewing those issues but gave no indication of possible changes.

Biden wants to hold Beijing accountable for “unfair and illegal practices” and make sure American technology doesn’t facilitate its military buildup, Psaki said.

Biden’s envoys have the option of fine-tuning Trump’s penalties by dropping some in exchange for Chinese policy changes, said Kuijs. But he and other economists say rolling back tariffs and curbs on access to technology and financial markets is unlikely to be a priority.

“It is difficult to see a U.S. reversal of the recent hawkish trends in China policy,” Sylvia Sheng of JP Morgan Asset Management said in a report.

Tech curbs are unlikely to be eased because Washington “regards China as a competitor,” said Tu Xinquan, director of the Institute for WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

Tariff cuts look like the only short-term option, Tu said. He said Biden could defend getting rid of taxes the World Trade Organization says were improperly imposed.

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Google says Chrome cookie replacement plan making progress

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Google says it’s making progress on plans to revamp Chrome user tracking technology aimed at improving privacy even as it faces challenges from regulators and officials.

The company gave an update Monday on its work to remove from its Chrome browser so-called third-party cookies, which are used by a website’s advertisers or partners and can be used to track a user’s internet browsing habits.

Third-party cookies been a longtime source of privacy concerns and Google said a year ago that it would do away with them, in an announcement that shook up the online advertising industry.

The changes will affect Chrome, the world’s dominant web browser, as well as other browsers based on Google’s Chromium technology such as Microsoft’s Edge. Rival browsers Safari and Mozilla Firefox have already removed third-party cookies by default but Google is taking a more gradual approach.

In a blog post, Google’s group product manager for user trust and privacy, Chetna Bindra, sought to ease fears about the project, saying the proposals will “help publishers and advertisers succeed while also protecting people’s privacy as they move across the web.”

Google said it was releasing new data on one proposed technology, which does away with “individual identifiers” and instead groups users into large demographic flocks.

The technique hides individual users in the online crowd and keeps a person’s web history private on a device’s browser. Tests results showed it can be an effective replacement for third party cookies, and advertisers can expect to see “at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising,” Bindra said.

Conversions are actions users take when they see an ad, such as clicking to make a purchase or watch a video. Advertisers will be able to test out the system for themselves in the coming months.

Marketers for an Open Web, a U.K. industry lobbying group, said Google’s announcement did nothing to ease concerns voiced by the ad industry and regulators and questioned whether the company’s data showed what it claimed.

Google’s plan has drawn scrutiny from Britain’s competition watchdog, which this month opened an investigation into whether it could undermine online ad competition and entrench Google’s dominant position in the digital advertising industry.

U.S. officials are also challenging Google’s behavior. A group of states filed a lawsuit against the company last month accusing it of “anti-competitive conduct” in the online ad industry.

LONDON (AP) — By KELVIN CHAN

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Russian hack of US agencies exposed supply chain weaknesses

Inside Telecom Staff

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Russian hack of US agencies exposed supply chain weaknesses

The elite Russian hackers who gained access to computer systems of federal agencies last year didn’t bother trying to break one by one into the networks of each department.

Instead, they got inside by sneaking malicious code into a software update pushed out to thousands of government agencies and private companies.

It wasn’t surprising that hackers were able to exploit vulnerabilities in what’s known as the supply chain to launch a massive intelligence gathering operation. U.S. officials and cybersecurity experts have sounded the alarm for years about a problem that has caused havoc, including billions of dollars in financial losses, but has defied easy solutions from the government and private sector.

“We’re going to have to wrap our arms around the supply-chain threat and find the solution, not only for us here in America as the leading economy in the world, but for the planet,” William Evanina, who resigned last week as the U.S. government’s chief counterintelligence official, said in an interview. “We’re going to have to find a way to make sure that we in the future can have a zero-risk posture, and trust our suppliers.”

In general terms, a supply chain refers to the network of people and companies involved in the development of a particular product, not dissimilar to a home construction project that relies on a contractor and a web of subcontractors. The sheer number of steps in that process, from design to manufacture to distribution, and the different entities involved give a hacker looking to infiltrate businesses, agencies and infrastructure numerous points of entry.

This can mean no single company or executive bears sole responsibility for protecting an entire industry supply chain. And even if most vendors in the chain are secure, a single point of vulnerability can be all that foreign government hackers need. In practical terms, homeowners who construct a fortress-like mansion can nonetheless find themselves victimized by an alarm system that was compromised before it was installed.

The most recent case targeting federal agencies involved Russian government hackers who are believed to have sneaked malicious code into popular software that monitors computer networks of businesses and governments. That product is made by a Texas-based company called SolarWinds that has thousands of customers in the federal government and private sector.

That malware gave hackers remote access to the networks of multiple agencies. Among those known to have been affected are the departments of Commerce, Treasury and Justice.

For hackers, the business model of directly targeting a supply chain is sensible.

“If you want to breach 30 companies on Wall Street, why breach 30 companies on Wall Street (individually) when you can go to the server — the warehouse, the cloud — where all those companies hold their data? It’s just smarter, more effective, more efficient to do that,” Evanina said.

Though President Donald Trump showed little personal interest in cybersecurity, even firing the head of the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency just weeks before the Russian hack was revealed, President Joe Biden has said he will make it a priority and will impose costs on adversaries who carry out attacks.

Supply chain protection will presumably be a key part of those efforts, and there is clearly work to be done. A Government Accountability Office report from December said a review of 23 agencies’ protocols for assessing and managing supply chain risks found that only a few had implemented each of seven “foundational practices” and 14 had implemented none.

U.S. officials say the responsibility can’t fall to the government alone and must involve coordination with private industry.

But the government has tried to take steps, including through executive orders and rules. A provision of the National Defense Authorization Act barred federal agencies from contracting with companies that use goods or services from five Chinese companies, including Huawei. The government’s formal counterintelligence strategy made reducing threats to the supply chain one of five core pillars.

Perhaps the best-known supply chain intrusion before SolarWinds is the NotPetya attack in which malicious code found to have been planted by Russian military hackers was unleashed through an automatic update of Ukrainian tax-preparation software, called MeDoc. That malware infected its customers, and the attack overall caused more than $10 billion in damage globally.

The Justice Department in September charged five Chinese hackers who it said had compromised software providers and then modified source code to allow for further hacks of the providers’ customers. In 2018, the department announced a similar case against two Chinese hackers accused of breaking into cloud service providers and injecting malicious software.

“Anyone surprised by SolarWinds hasn’t been paying attention,” said Rep. Jim Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat and member of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, a bipartisan group that issued a white paper calling for the protection of the supply chain through better intelligence and information sharing.

Part of the appeal of a supply chain attack is that it’s “low-hanging fruit,” said Brandon Valeriano, a cybersecurity expert at the Marine Corps University. A senior adviser to the solarium commission, he says it’s not really known just how dispersed the networks are and that flaws in the supply chain are not uncommon.

“The problem is we basically don’t know what we’re eating.” Valeriano said. “And sometimes it comes up later that we choke on something — and often we choke on things.”

WASHINGTON (AP) — By ERIC TUCKER

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