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Amid 'idiotic blockchain phase,' EY and Microsoft tout smart contracts

Blockchain might actually prove helpful for a change


In an effort to demonstrate there are actual uses for blockchain technology, global professional services biz EY and Microsoft have teamed up to offer companies a way to manage rights and royalties.

Though the system is designed to serve any industry that deals with intellectual property licensing and royalty payments, the gaming industry – which involves authors, composers, photographers, video makers, developers and production houses – will serve as the test subject.

Ubisoft - a Microsoft game publishing partner - intends to test the system, which relies on the Quorum blockchain protocol, Microsoft's Azure cloud infrastructure and supporting technologies. The hope is that the payment tech will make contracts and royalties easier to manage.

"The opportunity to collaborate with EY and Microsoft on blockchain use cases in the domain of digital contracts and royalties is truly exciting," said Loic Amans, SVP of finance and strategic planning at Ubisoft, in canned remarks.

EY and Microsoft say their blockchain beast will "enable increased trust and transparency between industry players, significantly reduce operational inefficiencies in the rights and royalties management process, and eliminate the need for costly manual reconciliation and partner reviews."

It will, we're told, offer almost real-time insight into sales transactions, info that tends to be useful for marketing analytics. And the smart contract architecture is designed to simplify how those owed royalties get paid.

Paul Brody, EY global innovation leader for blockchain, contends blockchain tech is ideally suited to this particular situation.

"The scale, complexity and volume of digital rights and royalties transactions makes this a perfect application for blockchains," he said in a statement. "A blockchain can handle the unique nature of each contract between digital rights owners and licensors can be handled in a scalable, efficient manner with an audit trail for the participants."

A centralized database can handle such things too, which is why some people have argued that almost no one needs a blockchain.

The D word

To understand why, it helps to use the word "database" in place of "blockchain."

There are permissionless distributed databases like the Bitcoin blockchain where anyone can participate; there are permissioned distributed databases like Quorum, Corda and Hyperledger where a limited number of known parties participate; and there are traditional centralized databases, the sort that most of us are already familiar with.

Accountants HATE them: Microsoft's Xbox harnesses blockchain to pay games publishers

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Given that blockchains have a reputation for not scaling as well as traditional databases, it's not obvious why EY and Microsoft decided they couldn't just fire up an Azure SQL Database and be done with it.

In an academic paper published last year, ETH Zurich researchers Karl Wüst and Arthur Gervais say, "In general, using an open or permissioned Blockchain only makes sense when multiple mutually mistrusting entities want to interact and change the state of a system, and are not willing to agree on an online trusted third party."

In a phone interview with The Register, Brody described that very scenario. "If we ever want the system to appeal to a non-Microsoft company, those firms have to be confident that there's no systems administrator who can look at everything. What we have right now could be done by a centralized app. But that's not the endgame."

One system to bind them all

Initially, Ubisoft is participating but eventually, he said, the hope is that the system will include Microsoft, its thousands of game publishing partners and all the contractors those partners work with – voice-over artists, composers and the like.

Microsoft, he said, has tens of thousands of contracts with publishing partners which are mostly, but not entirely, the same.

"Traditional ERP systems are terrible at handling huge quantities of diverse contracts," he said.

With smart contract tied to this system, he said, the hope is that small payments that might have taken 180 days to distribute through existing mechanisms could happen immediately, with enough visibility into the calculations to satisfy payees that they're getting the appropriate amount.

There's an upside for Microsoft here too. "Internally, within Microsoft, they expect reduction in litigation related to game payments," he said.

Brody concedes that blockchain is not the answer for everything.

He said, "We're in the middle of this idiotic phase where everyone is saying, 'Can I use a blockchain for that?'"

EY, he said, has a five question test for clients to evaluate whether a blockchain would be helpful. It takes at least three affirmative answers to get the blockchain treatment. The Microsoft royalty system, he said, had four.

"It's one of the best fits we've ever seen," he said. ®

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Azure issues not adequately fixed for months, complain bug hunters

Redmond kicks off Patch Tuesday with a months-old flaw fix

Updated Two security vendors – Orca Security and Tenable – have accused Microsoft of unnecessarily putting customers' data and cloud environments at risk by taking far too long to fix critical vulnerabilities in Azure.

In a blog published today, Orca Security researcher Tzah Pahima claimed it took Microsoft several months to fully resolve a security flaw in Azure's Synapse Analytics that he discovered in January. 

And in a separate blog published on Monday, Tenable CEO Amit Yoran called out Redmond for its lack of response to – and transparency around – two other vulnerabilities that could be exploited by anyone using Azure Synapse. 

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Microsoft pledges neutrality on unions for Activision staff

Now can we just buy them, please?

Microsoft isn't wasting time trying to put Activision Blizzard's problems in the rearview mirror, announcing a labor neutrality agreement with the game maker's recently-formed union.

Microsoft will be grappling with plenty of issues at Activision, including unfair labor lawsuits, sexual harassment allegations and toxic workplace claims. Activision subsidiary Raven Software, developers on the popular Call of Duty game series, recently voted to organize a union, which Activision entered into negotiations with only a few days ago.

Microsoft and the Communication Workers of America (CWA), which represents Raven Software employees, issued a joint statement saying that the agreement is a ground-breaking one that "will benefit Microsoft and its employees, and create opportunities for innovation in the gaming sector." 

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Microsoft Defender goes cross-platform for the masses

Redmond's security brand extended to multiple devices without stomping on other solutions

Microsoft is extending the Defender brand with a version aimed at families and individuals.

"Defender" has been the company's name of choice for its anti-malware platform for years. Microsoft Defender for individuals, available for Microsoft 365 Personal and Family subscribers, is a cross-platform application, encompassing macOS, iOS, and Android devices and extending "the protection already built into Windows Security beyond your PC."

The system comprises a dashboard showing the status of linked devices as well as alerts and suggestions.

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Wi-Fi hotspots and Windows on Arm broken by Microsoft's latest patches

Only way to resolve is a rollback – but update included security fixes

Updated Microsoft's latest set of Windows patches are causing problems for users.

Windows 10 and 11 are affected, with both experiencing similar issues (although the latter seems to be suffering a little more).

KB5014697, released on June 14 for Windows 11, addresses a number of issues, but the known issues list has also been growing. Some .NET Framework 3.5 apps might fail to open (if using Windows Communication Foundation or Windows Workflow component) and the Wi-Fi hotspot features appears broken.

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Microsoft readies Windows Autopatch to free admins from dealing with its fixes

I got 99 problems but a patch ain't one? Well, that is the hope anyway

If Windows Autopatch arrives in July as planned, some of you will be able to say goodbye to Patch Tuesday.

Windows Autopatch formed part of Microsoft's April announcements on updates to the company's Windows-in-the-cloud product. The tech was in public preview since May.

Aimed at enterprise users running Windows 10 and 11, Autopatch can, in theory, be used to replace the traditional Patch Tuesday to which administrators have become accustomed over the years. A small set of devices will get the patches first before Autopatch moves on to gradually larger sets, gated by checks to ensure that nothing breaks.

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Microsoft promises to tighten access to AI it now deems too risky for some devs

Deep-fake voices, face recognition, emotion, age and gender prediction ... A toolbox of theoretical tech tyranny

Microsoft has pledged to clamp down on access to AI tools designed to predict emotions, gender, and age from images, and will restrict the usage of its facial recognition and generative audio models in Azure.

The Windows giant made the promise on Tuesday while also sharing its so-called Responsible AI Standard, a document [PDF] in which the US corporation vowed to minimize any harm inflicted by its machine-learning software. This pledge included assurances that the biz will assess the impact of its technologies, document models' data and capabilities, and enforce stricter use guidelines.

This is needed because – and let's just check the notes here – there are apparently not enough laws yet regulating machine-learning technology use. Thus, in the absence of this legislation, Microsoft will just have to force itself to do the right thing.

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US Copyright Office sued for denying AI model authorship of digital image

What do we want? Robot rights! When do we want them? 01001110 01101111 01110111!

The US Copyright Office and its director Shira Perlmutter have been sued for rejecting one man's request to register an AI model as the author of an image generated by the software.

You guessed correct: Stephen Thaler is back. He said the digital artwork, depicting railway tracks and a tunnel in a wall surrounded by multi-colored, pixelated foliage, was produced by machine-learning software he developed. The author of the image, titled A Recent Entrance to Paradise, should be registered to his system, Creativity Machine, and he should be recognized as the owner of the copyrighted work, he argued.

(Owner and author are two separate things, at least in US law: someone who creates material is the author, and they can let someone else own it.)

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio: Too edgy for comfort?

And perhaps too heavy, which is a weighty issue for a machine that turns into a tablet

Desktop Tourism My 20-year-old son is an aspiring athlete who spends a lot of time in the gym and thinks nothing of lifting 100 kilograms in various directions. So I was a little surprised when I handed him Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio and he declared it uncomfortably heavy.

At 1.8kg it's certainly not among today's lighter laptops. That matters, because the device's big design selling point is a split along the rear of its screen that lets it sit at an angle that covers the keyboard and places its touch-sensitive surface in a comfortable position for prodding with a pen. The screen can also fold completely flat to allow the laptop to serve as a tablet.

Below is a .GIF to show that all in action.

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Microsoft fixes under-attack Windows zero-day Follina

Plus: Intel, AMD react to Hertzbleed data-leaking holes in CPUs

Patch Tuesday Microsoft claims to have finally fixed the Follina zero-day flaw in Windows as part of its June Patch Tuesday batch, which included security updates to address 55 vulnerabilities.

Follina, eventually acknowledged by Redmond in a security advisory last month, is the most significant of the bunch as it has already been exploited in the wild.

Criminals and snoops can abuse the remote code execution (RCE) bug, tracked as CVE-2022-30190, by crafting a file, such as a Word document, so that when opened it calls out to the Microsoft Windows Support Diagnostic Tool, which is then exploited to run malicious code, such spyware and ransomware. Disabling macros in, say, Word won't stop this from happening.

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Microsoft's sought-after tabbed File Explorer gets closer to release

Users hopeful of waving bye to window overload as staggered rollout moves from Dev to Beta Channel

Microsoft has added tabbed File Explorer functionality to the Window Insider beta channel, opening up the possibility of it making an appearance in the next major Windows Update.

File Explorer Tabs turned up in the bleeding edge Windows Insider Dev Channel last week, although – as is so frustratingly often the case – Microsoft opted for a staggered rollout. (It's not as if you joined the Insider channel for the latest and greatest to actually get your hands on the latest and greatest, right?)

Since then, things went well enough for Microsoft to roll out the tabs in build 22621.160 for the Beta Channel. Build 22621 is currently in the Release Preview Channel and is expected to be the basis for Windows 11 22H2, due at some point in the coming months.

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