Welcome to the latest State of the Cloud, the monthly column from Cloudwards where we take a look at all the industry news we were able to sniff out. For the first time in the two years we’ve been doing this column, we’re doing two months in one. With this funny bug doing the rounds, we found ourselves a bit preoccupied during the past few weeks.
This means that in this edition we have double the shenanigans, including tales of customer support run amuck, government crackdowns on email services and corporate rivalry with cloud gaming.
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Before we get to any of that, though, we’d like to give a shout out to all the people who have been in contact with us lately. Three of the four stories we feature in this edition wouldn’t have been possible unless we had been tipped off, so thank you. Between this column and that of February, we’ve done a fair bit of muckraking, so with your continued support we can keep it up.
GeForcing the Issue
We’ll start with something a bit more mainstream, though, mainly because it so directly impacts our recently launched cloud gaming category. For the uninitiated, these are services that allow you to play games remotely, meaning you can play the most high-spec games on the market today from anywhere, using any device. It’s cool as hell, and could be a real (get ready to groan) game changer.
Of course, the prospect of any kind of revolution is going to bring people that want to make money off of it and cloud gaming is no different. All the big names are involved with it by now, from Google to Microsoft to Sony. Also big is Nvidia, the graphics card manufacturer, with its GeForce Now service, which was one of the first cloud gaming services to be announced.
However, it’s also the first to run into trouble. The main bone of contention is licensing, which seems to be the biggest hurdle for all kinds of new tech, as we discuss in our many posts on the streaming wars. In the case of GeForce Now, it seems that Nvidia put games up on its platform without as much as a by-your-leave from their developers.
Complicating this is that at times, the games are being offered through yet another platform, like Steam, making it even harder for developers to grasp where their games are, how they are being played and by whom. In retaliation, Bethesda and Activision, as well as several other publishers and indies, have barred their games from being played via Nvidia’s cloud.
While we more or less understand where these objections are coming from, it also reminds us a bit of the music industry which is still fighting a losing battle over streaming. Technology has made distribution of things like software, music and movies ethereal and diffused. Everybody seems to grasp that, except for the companies behind these products.
That said, for now it seems the cloud gaming world is going to shape up much like the console or streaming worlds, with different services holding licenses from different studios, and some going across. It’s a shame, really, especially as it will force consumers to either make some choices or shell out extra.
Sit Up and Take Tutanota
Speaking of running into blocks, Tutanota — a secure email service and one of the best around, at that — has run into some trouble. It’s no stranger to difficulties considering the business it’s in, but in February it was blocked completely in Russia as well as for AT&T subscribers in the U.S.
Now, the Russian decision shouldn’t surprise anybody, really, as it’s one of those places where people with opinions different than the established norm often find themselves … well, let’s go with “hindered,” shall we? Only countries like North Korea and China are worse and, well, that’s saying something.
No surprise, then, that a paranoid regime like Russia’s would block a service that allows for secure communication. Why, however, AT&T, a telecom provider, would do so remains a mystery. Tutanota CEO Matthias Pfau said that he has reached out to AT&T, the problem isn’t cleared up yet, so if you’re using that network, you can’t check your Tutanota mail.
However, more importantly, this acts like a signal of why net neutrality is so important. Had the States kept protections in place, AT&T would not have been able to pull this off. However, with them removed, telecom providers can do whatever they want. Maybe AT&T has a rival email service it’s promoting? Either way, it’s a blow to internet freedom with no conclusion in sight.
The Drive That Thundered
From the bigger issues, we now go to some smaller ones. We got a nice bit of scuttlebutt from readers the past two months, so let’s take a look at two particularly interesting stories. We’ll start with something from the world of cloud storage.
ThunderDrive is a relative newcomer among our cloud storage reviews. When we first reviewed it, about six months ago, it showed a decent bit of promise, though there were a few rough edges to it. However, it had enough going for it that we gave it a decent rating in our review.
This okay rating was, however, enough for many readers to try ThunderDrive out, no surprise in an industry that’s always evolving and where many digital hoarders are looking for the best possible deal.
However, as the months went by, negative comments started accruing rapidly beneath the review. These ranged from the usual “not what I expected” complaints, which isn’t out of the ordinary for a new service, to outright accusations of fraud on the part of the company.
“Fraud” is a heavy word that shouldn’t be thrown too lightly, but there seems to be some justification to it. The more minor point is that ThunderDrive is running a script called BeDrive to power its service while using Amazon for storage, which nobody really has a problem with, but then outright denies its using it despite evidence to the contrary. It’s not the biggest deal, but it becomes one when you refuse to acknowledge it.
However, what is a major issue under any circumstance is not honoring your money-back guarantee. This massive no-no disqualifies any service from use in our opinion, and ThunderDrive is one of the worst offenders we’ve come across since we started operation.
In one example, our reader Alex sent a request for a refund and was accused of having a “mental disability” by support staff during the ensuing exchange (as well as deploying the usual “it’s not us” defense).
We have no words. Seriously, none. We’ve been doing this for a few years now and none of us could utter more than a mumbled exclamation when seeing the below image.
So, unless being ripped off and abused is your thing, we recommend you stay away from ThunderDrive. We’ve adjusted all ratings in our review until we can do a proper rewrite of the whole thing, but we doubt anything better than rock bottom will come out of it. As you may expect, we have received no reaction from ThunderDrive about any of these issues.
Living in a BoxPN
Sorrowfully enough, the ThunderDrive fiasco isn’t the only customer experience gone wrong in this column. Recently, we were contacted by John, a longtime customer of VPN service BoxPN, who had a disturbing tale.
He had recently moved, but due to the coronavirus outbreak couldn’t get his regular internet hooked up and decided to go with a 5G connection instead. However, BoxPN wouldn’t connect, which meant John needed to do some troubleshooting. However, upon logging into his BoxPN dashboard, he quickly realized he was logged into somebody else’s account.
Now, you don’t need to be a 1337 hacker to realize this is really bad. The fact that it happened using a VPN — a service expressly aimed at keeping you safe — is just a bitter ironic cherry on top of a pretty nasty cake.
John is a good citizen, though, so instead of ripping off this unknown person’s credit card details or downloading massive amounts of copyrighted material through their account — any of which he could easily have done — he notified BoxPN support. However, in documents seen by Cloudwards, they didn’t seem to take any of this particularly seriously.
Not only did they pooh-pooh the security issue (really, there’s no other word for it), they also managed to place the blame for it on John who did nothing but log into his account. After a brief exchange he decided that BoxPN would no longer be the service for him, upon which he found out that he couldn’t actually close the account, only cancel payment and let it lapse.
An odd story, overall, and we thank John for sharing it with us, especially as it means we’re completely withdrawing our tepid recommendation for BoxPN and recommending you check out this article on the best VPN services instead.
With that tale of consumer woe we’ll leave you for the month, in the hope that you got a little wiser — as well as a few chuckles — from your perch in quarantine. April is shaping up to be an interesting month as the industries we cover are actually seeing an upsurge despite the failing economy, and we look forward to sharing any scandals that come out.
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We hope all of you stay safe in these turbulent times, and that you keep sharing any and all of the odd stories that are coming out of the world of tech. Thank you for reading.