Music

Apple Buys Shazam To Boost Apple Music (bloomberg.com) 15

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple agreed to acquire music-identification service Shazam, taking ownership of one of the first apps to demonstrate the power of the iPhone, recognizing songs after hearing just a few bars of a tune. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but a person familiar with the situation said Apple is paying about $400 million for the U.K.-based startup. That would be one of Apple's largest acquisitions ever, approaching the size of its 1996 purchase of Next Computer Inc. which brought co-founder Steve Jobs back to the company. That transaction would be worth more than $600 million in today's dollars. The Shazam app uses the microphone on a smartphone or computer to identify almost any song playing nearby, then points users to places they can listen to it in future, such as Apple Music or Google's YouTube.

"Apple Music and Shazam are a natural fit, sharing a passion for music discovery and delivering great music experiences to our users," Apple said in an emailed statement on Monday. "We have exciting plans in store, and we look forward to combining with Shazam upon approval of today's agreement. Since the launch of the App Store, Shazam has consistently ranked as one of the most popular apps for iOS," Apple also said. "Today, it's used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, across multiple platforms." The acquisition would help Apple embed that capability more deeply into its music offerings. The company's digital assistant Siri gained Shazam integration in 2014, so users could ask it what song is playing in the background.

Businesses

The First Women in Tech Didn't Leave -- Men Pushed Them Out (wsj.com) 142

An anonymous reader writes: A column on the Wall Street Journal argues that sexism in the tech industry is as old as the tech industry itself. At its genesis, computer programming faced a double stigma -- it was thought of as menial labor, like factory work, and it was feminized, a kind of "women's work" that wasn't considered intellectual (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). In the U.K., women in the government's low-paid "Machine Operator Class" performed knowledge work including programming systems for everything from tax collection and social services to code-breaking and scientific research. Later, they would be pushed out of the field, as government leaders in the postwar era held a then-common belief that women shouldn't be allowed into higher-paid professions with long-term prospects because they would leave as soon as they were married. Today, in the U.S., about a quarter of computing and mathematics jobs are held by women, and that proportion has been declining over the past 20 years. A string of recent events suggest the steps currently being taken by tech firms to address these issues are inadequate.
Privacy

How Email Open Tracking Quietly Took Over the Web (wired.com) 80

Brian Merchant, writing for Wired: There are some 269 billion emails sent and received daily. That's roughly 35 emails for every person on the planet, every day. Over 40 percent of those emails are tracked, according to a study published last June by OMC, an "email intelligence" company that also builds anti-tracking tools. The tech is pretty simple. Tracking clients embed a line of code in the body of an email -- usually in a 1x1 pixel image, so tiny it's invisible, but also in elements like hyperlinks and custom fonts. When a recipient opens the email, the tracking client recognizes that pixel has been downloaded, as well as where and on what device. Newsletter services, marketers, and advertisers have used the technique for years, to collect data about their open rates; major tech companies like Facebook and Twitter followed suit in their ongoing quest to profile and predict our behavior online. But lately, a surprising -- and growing -- number of tracked emails are being sent not from corporations, but acquaintances. "We have been in touch with users that were tracked by their spouses, business partners, competitors," says Florian Seroussi, the founder of OMC. "It's the wild, wild west out there." According to OMC's data, a full 19 percent of all "conversational" email is now tracked. That's one in five of the emails you get from your friends. And you probably never noticed.
Businesses

Net Neutrality: 'Father Of Internet' Joins Tech Leaders in Condemning Repeal Plan (theguardian.com) 150

More than 20 internet pioneers and leaders including the "father of the internet", Vint Cerf; the inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee; and the Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak have urged the FCC to cancel its vote to repeal net neutrality, describing the plan as "based on a flawed and factually inaccurate" understanding of how the internet works. From a report: "The FCC's rushed and technically incorrect proposed order to repeal net neutrality protections without any replacement is an imminent threat to the internet we worked so hard to create. It should be stopped," said the technology luminaries in an open letter to lawmakers (PDF) with oversight of the Federal Communications Commission on Monday. The letter refers to the FCC's proposed Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which removes net neutrality protections introduced in 2015 to ensure that internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon would treat all web content and applications equally and not throttle, block or prioritise some content in return for payment. The FCC's vote on the proposed order is scheduled for 14 December and it is expected to be approved. "It is important to understand that the FCC's proposed order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology," the internet pioneers state, adding that the flaws were outlined in detail in a 43-page comment submitted by 200 tech leaders to the FCC in July.
Bitcoin

The Case that Bitcoin Is a Bubble (economist.com) 207

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from the Economist: It seems that every day, Bitcoin seems to hit a new high. But the reported price can move up and down by $1,000 or so within a few hours. This might have made it a great investment for those who got in at the right price and are nimble enough to get out in time. But it doesn't make it a useful means of exchange (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). When the price is rising fast, those who use bitcoin will be reluctant to part with it; when the price falls, those who sell goods will be reluctant to accept it.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Futures Surge In First Day Of Trading (npr.org) 55

On their first day of trading, bitcoin futures surged past $18,000, adding to a streak for the digital currency that began the year at just $1,000 and has nearly tripled in value over the past month alone. From a report: Reuters reports that bitcoin futures, traded through the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), saw January contracts, which opened at $15,460 in New York on Sunday evening, leap to a high of $17,170 during Asian hours. Trading, which began at 6 p.m. ET (5 p.m. CT), was so intense that halts designed to cool volatility were triggered twice on the CBOE. The halts are "not surprising based on the volatility of the underlying [asset]. The futures are behaving as expected and designed," Tom Lehrkinder, senior analyst at consulting firm Tabb Group, was quoted by CNBC as saying.
Facebook

Former Facebook Exec Says Social Media is Ripping Apart Society (theverge.com) 315

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Verge: Another former Facebook executive has spoken out about the harm the social network is doing to civil society around the world. Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels "tremendous guilt" about the company he helped make. "I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works," he told an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business, before recommending people take a âoehard breakâ from social media. Palihapitiya's criticisms were aimed not only at Facebook, but the wider online ecosystem. "The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we've created are destroying how society works," he said, referring to online interactions driven by "hearts, likes, thumbs-up." "No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it's not an American problem -- this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem." Also read: Sean Parker Unloads on Facebook 'Exploiting' Human Psychology
Businesses

Fired Tech Workers Turn To Chatbots for Counseling (bloomberg.com) 93

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report: For months Lovkesh Joshi was quietly terrified of losing his job as a manager at a top Indian tech services company. Joshi didn't want to burden his wife or friends so he turned to a chatbot therapist called Wysa. Powered by AI, the app promises to be "loyal, supportive and very private," and encourages users to divulge their feelings about a recent major event or big change in their lives. "I could open up and talk," says the 41-year-old father of two school-age children, who says his conversations with the bot flowed naturally. "I felt heard and understood." Joshi moved to a large rival outsourcer two months ago. The upheaval in India's $154 billion tech outsourcing industry has prompted thousands of Indians to seek solace in online therapy services. People accustomed to holding down prestigious jobs and pulling in handsome salaries are losing out to automation, a shift away from long-term legacy contracts and curbs on U.S. work visas. McKinsey & Co says almost half of the four million people working in India's IT services industry will become "irrelevant" in the next three to four years. Indians, like people the world over, tend to hide their mental anguish for fear of being stigmatized. That's why many are embracing the convenience, anonymity and affordability of online counseling startups, most of which use human therapists.
Robotics

After Automating Order-Taking, Fast Food Chains Had to Hire More Workers (theatlantic.com) 219

An anonymous reader quotes the Atlantic: Blaine Hurst, the CEO and president of Panera, told me that because of its new [self-service] kiosks, and an app that allows online ordering, the chain is now processing more orders overall, which means it needs more total workers to fulfill customer demand. Starbucks patrons who use the chain's app return more frequently than those who don't, the company has said, and the greater efficiency that online ordering allows has boosted sales at busy stores during peak hours. Starbucks employed 8 percent more people in the U.S. in 2016 than it did in 2015, the year it launched the app...

James Bessen, an economist at Boston University School of Law, found that as the number of ATMs in America increased fivefold from 1990 to 2010, the number of bank tellers also grew. Bessen believes that ATMs drove demand for consumer banking: No longer constrained by a branch's limited hours, consumers used banking services more frequently, and people who were unbanked opened accounts to take advantage of the new technology. Although each branch employed fewer tellers, banks added more branches, so the number of tellers grew overall. And as machines took over many basic cash-handling tasks, the nature of the tellers' job changed. They were now tasked with talking to customers about products -- a certificate of deposit, an auto loan -- which in turn made them more valuable to their employers. "It's not clear that automation in the restaurant industry will lead to job losses," Bessen told me.

Businesses

Exhausted Amazon Drivers Are Working 11-Hour Shifts For Less Than Minimum Wage (mirror.co.uk) 283

schwit1 quotes the Daily Mirror: Drivers are being asked to deliver up to 200 parcels a day for Amazon while earning less than the minimum wage, a Sunday Mirror investigation reveals today... Many routinely exceed the legal maximum shift of 11 hours and finish their days dead on their feet. Yet they have so little time for food or toilet stops they snatch hurried meals on the run and urinate into plastic bottles they keep in their vans. They say they often break speed limits to meet targets that take no account of delays such as ice, traffic jams or road closures.

Many claim they are employed in a way that means they have no rights to holiday or sickness pay. And some say they take home as little as £160 for a five-day week amid conditions described by one lawyer as "almost Dickensian"... The Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency has vowed to investigate after drivers contacted them to complain about conditions.

Security

Touting Government/Industry 'Partnership' on Security Practices, NIST Drafts Cybersecurity Framework Update (scmagazine.com) 15

Remember NIST, the non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce? Their mission expanded over the years to protecting businesses from cyberthreats, including a "Cybersecurty Framework" first published in 2014. "The original goal was to develop a voluntary framework to help organizations manage cybersecurity risk in the nation's critical infrastructure, such as bridges and the electric power grid," NIST wrote in January, "but the framework has been widely adopted by many types of organizations across the country and around the world." Now SC Media reports: The second draft of the update to the National Institute of Standards and Technology's cybersecurity framework, NIST 1.1, is meant "to clarify, refine, and enhance the Cybersecurity Framework, amplifying its value and making it easier to use," according to NIST. Specifically, it brings clarity to cybersecurity measurement language and tackles improving security of the supply chain. Calling the initial NIST CSF "a landmark effort" that delivered "important benefits, such as providing common language for different models" of standards and best practices already in use, Larry Clinton, president and CEO of the Internet Security Alliance, said "it fell short of some of the most critical demands of Presidential Executive Order 13636, which generated its development...

"To begin with, the new draft makes it clear that our goal is not some undefined metric for use of the Framework, but for effective use of the Framework. Moreover, this use-metric needs to be tied not to some generic standard, but to be calibrated to the unique threat picture, risk appetite and business objective of a particular organization"... Clinton praised the process used by NIST as "a model 'use case' for how government needs to engage with its industry partners to address the cybersecurity issue." The internet's inherent interconnectedness makes it impossible for sustainable security to be achieved through anything other than true partnership, he contended.

Slashdot reader Presto Vivace reminds you that public comments on the draft Framework and Roadmap are due to NIST by 11:59 p.m. EST on January 19, 2018. "If you have an opinion about this, NOW is the time to express it."
Toys

Ask Slashdot: Are There Any Good Smartwatches Or Fitness Trackers? 248

"What's your opinion on the current state of smartwatches?" asks long-time Slashdot reader rodrigoandrade. He's been researching both smartwatches and fitness trackers, and shares his own opinions: - Manufacturers have learnt from Moto 360 that people want round smartwatches that actually look like traditional watches, with a couple of glaring exceptions....

- Android Wear 2.0 is a thing, not vaporware. It's still pretty raw (think of early Android phones) but it works well. The LG Sport Watch is the highest-end device that supports it.

- LTE-enabled smartwatches finally allow you to ditch your smartphone, if you wish. Just pop you nano SIM in it and party on. The availability is still limited to a few SKUs in some countries, and they're ludicrously expensive, but it's getting there.

Keep reading for his assessment of four high-end choices -- and share your own opinions in the comments.
Power

China Has Launched the World's First All-Electric Cargo Ship (futurism.com) 148

slash.jit writes: China has launched the world's first all-electric cargo ship. It can travel 80 kilometers (approximately 50 miles) after being charged for 2 hours. As noted by Clean Technica, 2 hours is roughly the amount of time it would take to unload the ship's cargo while docked. Oh...and Ironically, the world's first all-electric cargo ship is being used to move coal.
China Daily reports that the 230 foot long vessel is equipped with a 2,400 kWh lithium-ion battery, a cheaper and cleaner power supply. And Clean Technica notes that that battery is comprised of 1,000 individual lithium-ion packs, while "Adding enough power to carry more cargo is simply a matter of adding more battery packs."
Businesses

Reporter Regrets Letting Amazon's Delivery People Into His House (washingtonpost.com) 114

An anonymous reader writes: Washington Post reporter Geoffrey A. Fowler describes his short-lived experience with "Amazon Key", a $250 smart lock system with a security camera that grants Amazon's delivery people access to your home. The lock sounds "like R2-D2 with constipation," and at one point it actually jammed (though his persistent delivery person eventually got it working properly). The unlocking of the door triggers a live video feed of the delivery -- which is also stored in a private archive online -- plus an alert to your phone -- and the Post's reporter writes that "The biggest downsides to the experience haven't been the strangers -- it's been Amazon."

They missed their delivery windows four out of eight times, and though the packages all arrived eventually, all four were late by a least a day. But his larger issue is that Amazon "wants to draw you further into an all-Amazon world... Now Amazon wants to literally own your door, so it can push not just packages but also services that come through it, like handymen, dog-walkers, groceries, you name it." His ultimate question? "Who's really being locked in?"

The Post's reporter notes that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, "but I review all tech the same." He did identify some advantages to the $250 smart lock system -- the door can now also be unlocked with the Amazon Key app, and he can even share that access with his friends by giving them a special access code.

But he also notes that security researchers discovered a way to freeze Amazon's security camera, potentially allowing a rogue delivery person to lurk in your house. And all things considered, it was apparently all too creepy. "After two weeks, my family voted to remove the Amazon Key smart lock and take down the camera."
Businesses

Patreon Hits Donors With New Fees, Angering Creators (venturebeat.com) 143

Patreon's changing their fee structure to make donors cover payment-processing fees (standardized to 2.9%) -- plus an additional 35 cents for every pledge. Long-time Slashdot reader NewtonsLaw reports that Patreon's users are furious: Despite Patreon's hype that this is a good thing for creators, few of these actually seem to agree and there's already a growing backlash on social media... many fear that their net return will be lower because the extra fees levied on patreons are causing them to either reduce the amount they pledge or withdraw completely... For those patrons supporting only a few creators the effect won't be large, but for those who make small donations to many creators this could amount to a hike of almost 40% in the amount charged to their credit cards. Without exception, all the content creators I have spoken to would have:

a) liked to have been consulted first

b) wanted the option to retain the old system where they bear the cost of the fees.

As a content creator, I've already seen quite a few of my patreons reducing their pledge and others canceling their pledges completely -- and I understand why they are doing that.

"Everyone hates Patreon's new fee," writes VentureBeat, adding "Many creators are saying it's unfair for patrons to have to pay transaction fees. In addition to that, most people support multiple creators and not just one, and they'll have to pay the extra fee for each pledge they make."

Tech journalist Bryan Lunduke is already soliciting suggestions on Twitter for an open source or Free Software solution that accepts donations from multiple payment systems, and while the change doesn't go into effect until December 18th, NewtonsLaw writes that "it's starting to look as if many content creators will be getting a slightly larger percentage of a much smaller amount as a result of this lunacy by Patreon -- something that will see them far worse off than the were before."
Privacy

People Keep Finding Hidden Cameras in Their Airbnbs (buzzfeed.com) 166

"Airbnb has a scary problem on their hands: People keep finding hidden cameras in their rental homes," reports the New York Post. "Another host was busted last month trying to film guests without their knowledge -- marking the second time since October that the company has had to publicly deal with this sort of incident." BuzzFeed reports: In October, an Indiana couple visiting Florida discovered a hidden camera disguised as a smoke detector in their Airbnb's master bedroom. Earlier that same year Airbnb was forced to investigate and suspend a Montreal listing after one of the renters discovered a camera in the bedroom of the property... Hidden cameras aren't just an issue for Airbnb -- it's been a hot-button topic in hospitality for years. There are hundreds of stories about hotels using unlawful surveillance. [For example, this one.]

Airbnb recommends its customers read the reviews of the host of any rental property they might be interested in, and also offers an on-platform messaging tool that allows communication between host and guests... "Cameras are never allowed in bathrooms or bedrooms; any other cameras must be properly disclosed to guests ahead of time," Airbnb spokesperson Jeff Henry told BuzzFeed News.

This time the couple discovered hidden cameras that were disguised as a motion detectors. Airbnb says they've permanently banned the offending host -- and offered his guests a refund -- adding that this type of incident was "incredibly rare."
The Almighty Buck

Insurers Are Rewarding Tesla Owners For Using Autopilot (reuters.com) 138

Britain's largest auto insurance company Direct Line is testing out an idea to let Tesla owners receive a 5% discount for switching on the car's autopilot system, seeking to encourage use of a system it hopes will cut down on accidents. Reuters reports: The move - confirmed by company representatives in response to Reuters' questions - is Tesla's only tie-up in the UK and comes at a time when the company is trying to convince insurers that its internet-connected vehicles are statistically safer. Direct Line said it was too early to say whether the use of the autopilot system produced a safety record that justified lower premiums. It said it was charging less to encourage use of the system and aid research.

"Crash rates across all Tesla models have fallen by 40 percent since the introduction of the autopilot system ... However, when owners seek to insure their Tesla vehicles, this is not reflected in the pricing of premiums," Daniel Pearce, Financial Analyst at GlobalData, said. Direct Line, which is enjoying soaring motor insurance prices in Britain, said it sets premiums for Tesla drivers based on the risk they present, including who is driving, their age, driving experience and claim history.

Music

Apple Is Reportedly Buying Shazam For Nearly Half a Billion Dollars (phonedog.com) 59

Apple is close to acquiring Shazam, one of the most recognized services for music recognition. While the exact amount is unknown, the service may be purchased by Apple for around $400 million. PhoneDog reports: Apple is close to acquiring Shazam, say sources speaking to TechCrunch. The deal will reportedly be signed this week and could be announced as early as next Monday. A report from Recode echoes the news of Apple acquiring Shazam, adding that Shazam will likely be valued at around $400 million. Apple -- and other companies -- already offer a music recognition service, but Apple must see something in Shazam's services that it thinks can help improve its own music recognition if it's going to drop nearly half a billion dollars on this deal. Shazam is able to identify TV shows, films, and advertisements in addition to music, so perhaps Apple sees some benefit to these abilities, too.
Music

YouTube to Launch New Music Subscription Service in March (bloomberg.com) 57

An anonymous reader shares a report: YouTube plans to introduce a paid music service in March, according to people familiar with the matter, a third attempt by parent company Alphabet Inc. to catch up with rivals Spotify and Apple. The new service could help appease record-industry executives who have pushed for more revenue from YouTube. Warner Music Group, one of the world's three major record labels, has already signed on, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private talks. YouTube is also in talks with the two others, Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, and Merlin, a consortium of independent labels, the people said.

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