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February 2020
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Xbox Chief Says Its Main Competitors Are Now Google, Amazon Rather Than Sony, Nintendo

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There are great rivalries in this world. The United States and Russia. The Yankees and the Red Sox. All of us and our mothers-in-law. And, in the gaming space for over a decade, there has been Microsoft and Sony. Since the Playstation 2 v. Xbox iteration of this, Sony and Microsoft have gone head to head in the console wars, with Nintendo also filling in some more niche-style gaming needs. The last battle in this war, the Playstation 4 v. the Xbox One, quite famously went in Sony's favor, with Microsoft having a disastrous pre-launch PR nightmare and sales numbers that ultimately saw Sony never once trailing its chief rival.And yet, as Sony has announced its forthcoming Playstation 5 console, the man in charge of Microsoft's Xbox product recently stated that Google and Amazon are its competitors now, not Sony and Nintendo.

Microsoft’s head of gaming and Xbox, Phil Spencer, has revealed that the company sees Amazon and Google as its main competition for the future. Speaking in an interview with newly launched technology publication Protocol, Spencer dismisses Sony and Nintendo’s ability to create a cloud infrastructure that will challenge Microsoft, Google, or Amazon.“When you talk about Nintendo and Sony, we have a ton of respect for them, but we see Amazon and Google as the main competitors going forward,” says Spencer. “That’s not to disrespect Nintendo and Sony, but the traditional gaming companies are somewhat out of position. I guess they could try to re-create Azure, but we’ve invested tens of billions of dollars in cloud over the years.”
This, of course, all revolves around game streaming services and gaming-as-a-service platforms. Spencer appears to indicate that such services are the way gaming will be done in the near future and Microsoft is somewhat uniquely positioned among the traditional console rivals to dive into that market, with the built out Microsoft Azure platform backing them. Sony and Nintendo aren't likely to be able to build out their own infrastructure to rival Azure, and would instead have to partner with another company. Except that Amazon and Google are the likely candidates for that and Google has its own Stadia product in place, despite its ongoing problems.But the real question is: Is Spencer right to bet on game streaming as the wave of the future? There are real roadblocks in its way. Google is not without resources and its Stadia product both hasn't lived up to expectations and has poisoned the well to at least some extent with the public. Those bad impressions may not last forever, but certainly it doesn't look like game streaming is going to be ready for prime time in this console cycle. Add to that the woeful state of broadband internet in America, not to mention how a lack of competition has allowed providers to put data caps in place, and you very quickly have to wonder if game streaming has an underlying American infrastructure problem that it can't possibly solve.You have to wonder too if Spencer is hedging his bets with all of this in preparation for losing yet another battle in the current console wars.
Cloud gaming still seems like it’s in the distant future, especially as Sony and Microsoft prepare to launch the traditional PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles later this year. Both next-generation consoles will go head-to-head throughout the important holiday season, and Nintendo is still seeing positive growth with its Switch sales, thanks to the new Switch Lite.
If past is prologue, you would expect Sony to rush into the next battle in a strong position compared with Microsoft. If that occurs, Spencer probably better be right if he's going to bet on game streaming.

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posted at: 12:00am on 08-Feb-2020
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How Attorney General Barr's War On Encryption Will Harm Our Military

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We've highlighted in the past that there are large parts of the federal government that recognize that strong encryption is actually very, very important for national security, and that the framing by Attorney General William Barr, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and even President Trump -- that there need to be back doors to encryption for "security" reasons -- is utter nonsense. The intelligence community has long recognized the importance of strong encryption. Even many people within the FBI think their bosses' position on this issue is bonkers. Late last year, we were pleasantly surprised to see the Defense Department step up as well, with a letter to Congress talking about just how important encryption is for national security.Over at Cyberscoop, former National Security Council cybersecurity expert Ari Schwartz has a nice article explaining just how important encryption is to protecting the military. It won't tread any new ground for anyone who understands the basics here, but it's nice to see more and more people highlighting this.

Last month, a brigade of U.S. soldiers deployed to the Middle East received instructions from their superiors to use two commercial encrypted messaging applications, Signal and Wickr, on their government issued cell phones. These leadership cues trickled down from the Department of Defense's (DoD) position that strong encryption is critical to national security. While U.S. Attorney General William Barr continues to push for a broad mandate for backdoors for law enforcement, those on the front lines of protecting America have notably decided on a different approach. Simply put, weakening encryption means putting our military service members at risk.
The key point -- and one that many of us have made for years is that the framing by Wray/Barr (and, for what it's worth, James Comey before them) is that there's some sort of conflict here between "security" and "privacy." But that's always been bullshit. The issue has always been between having both security and privacy vs. giving law enforcement easier access to data and information they can almost always get elsewhere with a little more effort. In short, it's a debate between having security and privacy widely available against a bit of convenience for law enforcement. As such, this should be no debate at all.
Let's stop wasting time suggesting that we need universal solutions that may solve law enforcement's short-term needs, but then put consumers and our military at risk.
Somehow, I don't think the time wasting is going to go away any time soon, unfortunately.

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