Spotify Says 2 Million Users Hacked Apps To Suppress Ads On Its Free Service ( 54

Earlier this month, Spotify revealed that it had begun cracking down on people using hacked versions of apps. These apps allowed users with free accounts to suppress advertising and take advantage of paid features. Now, Spotify has disclosed just how many people have been taking advantage of this hack: around 2 million users. Engadget reports: That's not an insignificant number, and it's understandable why Spotify is cracking down on them. As the company explains in an amended F1 filing with the SEC this week, these users forced the company to adjust its metrics and key performance indicators. The disclosure notes, "Unauthorized access to our Service may cause us to misstate key performance indicators, which once discovered, corrected, and disclosed, could undermine investor confidence in the integrity of our key performance indicators and could cause our stock price to drop significantly." As a result, Spotify has adjusted its monthly active users from 159 million at the end of 2017 to 157 million.

CDs, Vinyl Are Outselling Digital Downloads For the First Time Since 2011 ( 112

Digital downloads had a short run as the top-selling format in the music industry. It took until 2011, a decade after the original iPod came out, for their sales surpass those of CDs and vinyl records, and they were overtaken by music streaming services just a few years later. Now, digital downloads are once again being outsold by CDs and vinyl, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. From a report: The RIAA released its 2017 year-end revenue report on Thursday, showing that revenue from digital downloads plummeted 25 percent to $1.3 billion over the previous year. Revenue from physical products, by contrast, fell just 4 percent to $1.5 billion. Overall, the music industry grew for a second year straight. And with $8.7 billion in total revenue, it's healthier than it has been since 2008, according to the report. Nearly all of the growth was the result of the continued surge in paid music subscription services like Spotify and Apple Music. Those services grew by more than 50 percent to $5.7 billion last year and accounted for nearly two-thirds of the industry's revenue. Physical media accounted for 17 percent, while digital downloads made up just 15 percent.

KeepVid Site No Longer Allows Users To 'Keep' Videos ( 71

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: For many years, KeepVid has been a prime destination for people who wanted to download videos from YouTube, Dailymotion, Facebook, Vimeo, and dozens of other sites. The web application was free and worked without any hassle. This was still the case earlier this month when the site advertised itself as follows: "KeepVid Video Downloader is a free web application that allows you to download videos from sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitch.Tv, Vimeo, Dailymotion and many more." However, a few days ago the site radically changed its course. While the motivation is unknown at the time, KeepVid took its popular video download service offline without prior notice. Today, people can no longer use the KeepVid site to download videos. On the contrary, the site warns that using video download and conversion tools might get people in trouble. "Video downloading from the Internet will become more and more difficult, and KeepVid encourages people to download videos via the correct and legal ways," the new KeepVid reads. The site now lists several alternative options to enjoy videos and music, including Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and Pandora.

YouTube Will 'Frustrate' Some Users With Ads So They Pay for Music ( 191

YouTube will increase the number of ads that some users see between music videos, part of a strategy to convince more of its billion-plus viewers to pay for a forthcoming subscription music service from the Google-owned video site. Bloomberg: People who treat YouTube like a music service, those passively listening for long periods of time, will encounter more ads, according to Lyor Cohen, the company's global head of music. "You're not going to be happy after you are jamming 'Stairway to Heaven' and you get an ad right after that," Cohen said in an interview at the South by Southwest music festival. Cohen is trying to prove that YouTube is committed to making people pay for music and silence the "noise" about his company's purported harm to the recording industry. The labels companies have long criticized YouTube for hosting videos that violate copyrights, and not paying artists and record companies enough.

Chinese Companies Are Buying Up Cash-Strapped US Colleges ( 205

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Chinese companies are taking advantage of America's financially strapped higher-education system to buy schools, and the latest deal for a classical music conservatory in Princeton, New Jersey, is striking chords of dissonance on campus. Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co. agreed in February to pay $40 million for Westminster Choir College, an affiliate of Rider University that trains students for careers as singers, conductors and music teachers. The announcement came just weeks after the government-controlled Chinese company changed its name from Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure Co. The pending purchase rankles some Westminster faculty and alumni, who question what a longtime maker of steel spans knows about running an elite school whose choirs sang with maestros Leonard Bernstein, Arturo Toscanini and Seiji Ozawa. Alumni are among those suing in New York federal court to block the sale, saying it violates Westminster's 1991 merger agreement with Rider and will trigger the choir college's demise.

EU Wants To Require Platforms To Filter Uploaded Content (Including Code) ( 110

A new copyright proposal in the EU would require code-sharing platforms like GitHub and SourceForge to monitor all content that users upload for potential copyright infringement. "The proposal is aimed at music and videos on streaming platforms, based on a theory of a 'value gap' between the profits those platforms make from uploaded works and what copyright holders of some uploaded works receive," reports The GitHub Blog. "However, the way it's written captures many other types of content, including code."

Upload filters, also known as "censorship machines," are some of the most controversial elements of the copyright proposal, raising a number of concerns including: -Privacy: Upload filters are a form of surveillance, effectively a "general monitoring obligation" prohibited by EU law
-Free speech: Requiring platforms to monitor content contradicts intermediary liability protections in EU law and creates incentives to remove content
-Ineffectiveness: Content detection tools are flawed (generate false positives, don't fit all kinds of content) and overly burdensome, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that might not be able to afford them or the resulting litigation
Upload filters are especially concerning for software developers given that: -Software developers create copyrightable works -- their code -- and those who choose an open source license want to allow that code to be shared
-False positives (and negatives) are especially likely for software code because code often has many contributors and layers, often with different licensing for different components
-Requiring code-hosting platforms to scan and automatically remove content could drastically impact software developers when their dependencies are removed due to false positives
The EU Parliament continues to introduce new proposals for Article 13 but these issues remain. MEP Julia Reda explains further in a recent proposal from Parliament.

Apple Buys Texture, a 'Netflix For Magazines' App ( 43

Apple said on Monday it will acquire Texture, a digital magazine app, as the iPhone maker looks to fill the gap left by Facebook's pullback from news distribution. From a report: The deal is Apple's latest move to build out its content and services platform, coming just three months after it announced plans to acquire Shazam, the music recognition app, for around $400m. First launched in 2010, Texture has been described as "Netflix for magazines," as its $10-per-month subscription service provides unlimited access to more than 220 publications including People, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, National Geographic and Vogue. Further reading: Recode.

Inside the Booming Black Market For Spotify Playlists ( 44

The black market for Spotify playlists is booming. It's cheaper than you might expect to hack the system -- and if it's done right, it more than pays for itself, the Daily Dot reports. From the article: It's impossible to overstate the value of Spotify playlists. The company dominates the streaming music market, with 159 million active users and 71 million paid subscribers -- nearly double Apple Music's subscription base, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal. More importantly, Spotify has made playlists its defining feature. [...] The rising value of Spotify playlists has spurred a new form of payola -- the decades-old illegal practice of paying for a song to be broadcast on the radio -- with massive amounts of money changing hands behind the scenes. An August 2015 expose by Billboard quoted an unnamed major-label executive who claimed playlist adds were being sold for "$2,000 for a playlist with tens of thousands of fans to $10,000 for the more well-followed playlists." Spotify responded by updating its terms of service to explicitly prohibit "selling a user account or playlist, or otherwise accepting any compensation, financial or otherwise, to influence the name of an account or playlist or the content included on an account or playlist." But the practice of paying for placement, as with other forms of payola before it, hasn't died out. It's just been remixed.

In a matter of minutes and for a mere $2, you can pay to have your song considered by one of the 1,500 curators working on SpotLister, one of several new services that sells access to prominent Spotify users. The site was founded by two 21-year-old college students -- Danny Garcia, a guitar player at New York University, and a close friend who requested anonymity due to unrelated privacy concerns. They started a "private-for-hire" PR company in 2016 that offered "pitching services" to generate buzz on SoundCloud and, later, Spotify. The two would take on anywhere from 15 to 20 clients a month, each paying anywhere from $1,000-$5,000 to secure prominent placement on playlists.


Slashdot Asks: What Are Some Apps and Online Services You Use To Discover, Track and Evaluate Movies, TV Shows, Music and Books? 84

Earlier this week, news blog Engadget had a post in which the author outlined some of the apps that could help people keep track of TV shows, books, and music habits. A reader, who submitted the story, said the list was quite underwhelming. Curious to hear how Slashdot readers tackle these things.

Amazon Launches a Low-Cost Version of Prime For Medicaid Recipients ( 88

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Amazon announced this morning it will offer a low-cost version of its Prime membership program to qualifying recipients of Medicaid. The program will bring the cost of Prime down from the usual $12.99 per month to about half that, at $5.99 per month, while still offering the full range of Prime perks, including free, two-day shipping on millions of products, Prime Video, Prime Music, Prime Photos, Prime Reading, Prime Now, Audible Channels, and more. The new program is an expansion on Amazon's discounted Prime service for customers on government assistance, launched in June 2017. For the same price of $5.99 per month, Amazon offers Prime memberships to any U.S. customer with a valid EBT card -- the card that's used to disburse funds for assistance programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program (WIC). Now that same benefit is arriving for recipients of Medicaid, the public assistance program providing medical coverage to low-income Americans. To qualify for the discount, customers must have a valid EBT or Medicaid card, the retailer says.

Google Is Selling Off Zagat ( 33

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Seven years after picking up Zagat for $151 million, Google is selling off the perennial restaurant recommendation service. The New York Times is reporting this morning that the technology giant is selling off the company to The Infatuation, a review site founded nine years back by former music execs. The company had been rumored to be courting a buyer since early this year. As Reuters noted at the time, Zagat has increasingly become less of a focus for Google, as the company began growing its database of restaurant recommendations organically. Zagat, meanwhile, has lost much of the shine it had when Google purchased it nearly a decade ago. The Infatuation, which uses an in-house team of reviewers to write up restaurants in major cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and London, is picking up the service for an undisclosed amount. The site clearly believes there's value left in the Zagat brand, even as the business of online reviews has changed significantly in the seven years sinceGoogle picked it up.

Leaked Apple Email Hints at the Possible End of iTunes: Report ( 145

An anonymous reader shares a report: Apple could kill off iTunes in the near future, a new report suggests. It cites an email that Apple reportedly wrote to people in the music industry recently, announcing the "end of iTunes LPs." The iTunes LP format was first introduced in 2009 and let publishers add interactive artwork, along with assorted iTunes Extras, with their content. The LP format never achieved great popularity. However, the fact that Apple plans to ditch iTunes LPs in 2018 potentially hints at the possibility that Apple may stop selling iTunes music downloads in the near future. The Apple email announcing the change was reportedly sent two weeks ago from an address at "The iTunes Store" and signed by "The Apple Music Team." But its existence has only been highlighted now through a report by the U.K. newspaper The Metro. "Apple will no longer accept new submissions of iTunes LPs after March 2018," the letter notes. "Existing LPs will be deprecated from the store during the remainder of 2018. Customers who have previously purchased an album containing an iTunes LP will still be able to download the additional content using iTunes Match." The news about the possible winding down of iTunes would come as no surprise to many users. Not only has iTunes been outdated for years in terms of its interface and functionality, but Apple clearly aims to move to a streaming model of music selling. Further reading: 'Apple Stole My Music. No, Seriously'; Apple Says It Doesn't Know Why iTunes Users Are Losing Their Music Files; iTunes Turns 13 Today -- Continues To Be 'Awful'.

Spotify Is Cracking Down On Users Pirating Premium-Like Service ( 83

People who access Spotify using hacked apps that remove some of the restrictions placed on free accounts are receiving warning emails from the company. Noting that "abnormal activity" has been observed from the user's software, Spotify warns that future breaches could result in suspension or even termination of a user's account. TorrentFreak reports: "We detected abnormal activity on the app you are using so we have disabled it. Don't worry -- your Spotify account is safe," the email from Spotify reads. "To access your Spotify account, simply uninstall any unauthorized or modified version of Spotify and download and install the Spotify app from the official Google Play Store. If you need more help, please see our support article on Reinstalling Spotify." While the email signs off with a note thanking the recipient for being a Spotify user, there is also a warning. "If we detect repeated use of unauthorized apps in violation of our terms, we reserve all rights, including suspending or terminating your account," Spotify writes.

Apple Is Reportedly Making Its Own High-End Noise-Cancelling Headphones ( 87

Apple is planning to push into the high-end audio market with the launch of noise-cancelling, over-ear headphones. The cans are expected to launch at the end of this year and will rival headsets from market leaders like Bose and even the company's own Beats by Dre brand. Bloomberg reports: Work on the Apple headset has been on-and-off over the past year. The company encountered similar problems with the HomePod during its development, including multiple redesigns, according to the people. It's possible Apple will redesign the headphones again before launch, or scrap the project altogether, they warned, asking not to be identified discussing private development work.

Even With Double the Subscribers, Spotify Says Apple Will Always Have an Edge Owning the App Store ( 25

On Wednesday, Spotify filed for a direct listing in the U.S., sidestepping the traditional IPO process, and now we're starting to see some of the true financial guts of the company -- and some of the significant risks it faces from challenging services from Apple and Google. From a report: Apple, for example, charges apps a percentage of revenue for subscriptions processed through the App Store. Apple Music, meanwhile, will always deliver Apple 100 percent of the subscription revenue that it receives from subscribers (sans record fees and all that kind of stuff, of course). Apple, too, has a direct integration with its iOS devices and also a huge amount of brand recognition, even though Spotify is a massive service. Spotify says it has 159 million monthly active users and 71 million premium subscribers, while Apple has 36 million paying subscribers as of February 2018. Spotify said, "In addition, Apple and Google also own application store platforms and are charging in-application purchase fees, which are not being levied on their own applications, thus creating a competitive advantage for themselves against us. As the market for on-demand music on the internet and mobile and connected devices increases, new competitors, business models, and solutions are likely to emerge."

ESRB Introducing 'In-Game Purchases' Label in Response To Loot Box Controversy ( 97

The Entertainment Software Rating Board will begin labeling video games that contain in-game purchases, a response to lawmakers who have noticed the outcry over so-called loot crate systems and have signaled a willingness to legislate them. From a report: The labeling will "be applied to games with in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency," the ESRB said in a news release this morning, "including but not limited to bonus levels, skins, surprise items (such as item packs, loot boxes, mystery awards), music, virtual coins and other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes and upgrades (e.g., to disable ads)." The label will appear separate from the familiar ESRB rating label (T-for-Teen, M-for-Mature, etc.) and not inside it. Additionally, the ESRB has begun an awareness campaign meant to highlight the controls available to parents whose households have a video game console.
Operating Systems

Apple To Suspend iTunes Store Support For 'Obsolete' First-Gen Apple TV ( 123

The original Apple TV, first introduced in 2007, will no longer be able to connect to the iTunes Store due to new security changes to be implemented by Apple. The news comes from a support document, which also mentions that PCs running Windows XP or Windows Vista will lose access to the most recent version of iTunes. Ars Technica reports: According to the document, the "obsolete" original Apple TV won't be updated in the future to support access to the iTunes Store. After May 25, users will only be able to access iTunes on second-generation Apple TVs and newer streaming devices. The same security changes affecting the first-gen Apple TV will also affect Windows XP and Vista machines. Users on such devices can still run previous versions of iTunes, so they should still be able to play their music library without problems. However, affected users won't be able to make new iTunes purchases or re-download previous purchases. Only machines running Windows 7 or later after May 25 will have full access to iTunes, including the ability to make new purchases and re-download older purchases.

Samsung Rescues Data-Saving Privacy App Opera Max and Relaunches it as Samsung Max ( 16

Samsung has rescued Opera Software's Opera Max data-saving, privacy-protecting Android app from oblivion and relaunched it today as Samsung Max. From a report: Norwegian tech company Opera, which first became known for its desktop browser when it launched in 1995, has offered mobile browser apps across various platforms for years. But in 2014, it launched the standalone Opera Max app for Android, designed to get its users more bang from their data plan, along with some VPN-like features. The app compresses data such as photos, music, and videos while promising "no noticeable loss of quality." Opera Max can also block background processes to conserve battery and data. The app was given a number of new features over the past few years, but last August the company revealed it was pulling the plug on Opera Max once and for all.

Slashdot Asks: Which Smart Speaker Do You Prefer? 234

Every tech company wants to produce a smart speaker these days. Earlier this month, Apple finally launched the HomePod, a smart speaker that uses Siri to answer basic questions and play music via Apple Music. In December, Google released their premium Google Home Max speaker that uses the Google Assistant and Google's wealth of knowledge to play music, answer questions, set reminders, and so on. It may be the most advanced smart speaker on the market as it has the hardware capable of playing high fidelity audio, and a digital assistant that can perform over one million actions. There is, however, no denying the appeal of the Amazon Echo, which is powered by the Alexa digital assistant. Since it first made its debut in late 2014, it has had more time to develop its skill set. Amazon says Alexa controls "tens of millions of devices," including Windows 10 PCs.

A new report from The Guardian, citing the industry site MusicAlly, says that Spotify is working on a line of "category defining" hardware products "akin to Pebble Watch, Amazon Echo, and Snap Spectacles." The streaming music company has posted an ad for a senior product manager to "define the product requirements for internet connected hardware [and] the software that powers it." With Spotify looking to launch a smart speaker in the not-too-distant-future, the decision to purchase a smart speaker has become all the more difficult. Do you own a smart speaker? If so, which device do you own and why? Do you see a clear winner, or can they all satisfy your basic needs?

YouTube Red is Having an Identity Crisis ( 42

During an onstage conversation at Recode's Code Media this week, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki called YouTube Red a music streaming service -- first time any executive from the company has referred to YouTube Red as foremost a music service. From a report: This differs from comments that other YouTube executives have made in the past, including YouTube's head of global content Susanne Daniels, who last year described YouTube Red as a premium subscription streaming service that offers Hollywood-quality shows and movies.

Launched in October 2015, YouTube Red has always been positioned by YouTube as three services in one: It offers ad-free access to all of YouTube; it's a music streaming service that also gives access to Google Play Music; and it's consistently releasing original movies and TV shows, starring Hollywood talent and homegrown stars that users already subscribe to. Two years later, this has created somewhat of an identity crisis for the streaming service. As Wojcicki said in her interview, she sees YouTube Red as a music service. And she does not expect to spend billions of dollars on content to effectively compete with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others.

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