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Shazam for Android now recognizes music played through headphones

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Shazam, the Apple -owned app that helps users identify songs playing around them, can now recognize songs you’re listening to through your headphones when using an Android phone or tablet.

Acquired by Apple for $400 million last year, the company introduced a feature called ‘Pop-Up Shazam’ to its Android app recently, which when enabled, works with any other Android app to track and identify songs playing externally or internally on the phone.

It’s a feature that many users have requested for years. Prior to this, when a user would chance upon a music track in say a YouTube video, they only had two inconvenient ways to shazam the song. They could either unplug the earphones from the phone and let the audio play through the built-in speakers, or draw an earpiece close to the mic of the phone.

The new feature enables Shazam to track the audio signal beaming off of other apps, thereby not completely relying on just output from the surrounding and a phone’s speaker. The app is tapping the audio signal by using a persistent notification that floats around and could be dragged — like the ones from Facebook Messenger — and can be activated by a single tap.

In our test, the feature worked as advertised through both wired and wireless earphones (amusingly, Apple’s AirPods) and on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube apps. iPhone users hoping to use a similar feature will likely have to patiently wait as persistent notification isn’t something that Apple’s mobile operating system currently supports. Apple did integrate Shazam into Siri in 2014, so it is possible that it may someday explore ways to further expand songs recognition feature on its platform.

Google has taken a shot at audio recognition in recent years, too, after it introduced a ‘Now Playing’ feature in its Pixel 3 series smartphone last year. If enabled, the phone actively looks for songs playing in the surrounding, identifies them and keeps a log.

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Abusive add-ons aren’t just a Chrome and Firefox problem. Now it’s Edge’s turn

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Microsoft

For years, Google and Mozilla have battled to keep abusive or outright malicious browser extensions from infiltrating their official repositories. Now, Microsoft is taking up the fight.

Over the past several days, people in website forums have complained of the Google searches being redirected to oksearch[.]com when they use Edge. Often, the searches use cdn77[.]org for connectivity.

After discovering the redirections weren’t an isolated incident, participants in this Reddit discussion winnowed the list of suspects down to five. All of them are knockoffs of legitimate add-ons. That means that while the extensions bear the names of legitimate developers, they are, in fact, imposters with no relation.

They include:

NordVPN
Adguard VPN
TunnelBear VPN
The Great Suspender
Floating Player — Picture-in-Picture Mode

“I had the tunnelbear extension installed, but I removed it once I figured out it was causing the issue,” Laurence Norah, a photographer at Finding the Universe, told me by email. “It’s easy enough to see it happening—if you install one of the affected extensions in Edge, open dev tools, and press the ‘sources’ tab, you’ll see something that shouldn’t be there like ok-search.org or cdn77.”

His account was consistent with images and accounts from other forum participants. Below are two screenshots:

Microsoft officials have yet to provide a response to email seeking comment for this post. But in This Reddit comment someone identifying herself as a community manager for Microsoft Edge said the company is in the process of investigating the extensions.

“The team just updated me to let me know that anyone seeing these injections should turn off their extensions and let me know if you continue to see them at that point,” the person using the handle MSFTMissy wrote. “Once I have any news from them, I will update this thread accordingly.”

None of the five legitimate developers of the real extensions responded to a request for comment. Readers should remember, however, that legitimate developers can’t be held responsible when their apps or add-ons are spoofed.

Along with Android apps, browser extensions are one of the weak links in the online security chain. The problem is that anyone can submit them, and Google, Mozilla, and now Microsoft haven’t come up with a system that adequately vets the authenticity of the people submitting them or the safety of the code.

Search engine redirections are typically part of a scheme to generate fraudulent revenue by ginning up ad clicks, and that’s what’s likely happening here. While reports indicate that the add-ons do nothing more than hijack legitimate searches, the privileges they require provide the possibility of doing much worse. Usage rights include things like:

  • Read and change all your data on the websites you visit
  • Manage your apps, extensions, and themes
  • Change your privacy-related settings

Anyone who has installed any of the above-mentioned Edge add-ons should remove them immediately. And the oft-repeated advice about browser extensions still applies here: (1) install extensions only when they provide true value or benefit and even then (2) take time to read reviews and check the developer for any signs an extension is fraudulent.

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Google is testing end-to-end encryption in Android Messages

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Enlarge / Security padlock in circuit-board background.

Google has begun rolling out end-to-end encryption for Rich Communication Service, the text-messaging standard the industry giant is pushing as an alternative to SMS.

Abbreviated as RCS, Rich Communication Service provides a, well, richer user experience than the ancient SMS standard. Typing indicators, presence information, location sharing, longer messages, and better media support are key selling points. They lead to things like better-quality photos and videos, chat over Wi-Fi, knowing when a message is read, sharing reactions, and better capabilities for group chats. As Ars Review Editor Ron Amadeo noted last year, RCS interest from carriers has been tepid, so Google has been rolling it out with limited support.

Google said on Thursday that it has now completed its worldwide rollout of RCS and is moving to a new phase—end-to-end encryption. Interest in end-to-end encryption has mushroomed over the past decade, particularly with revelations from Edward Snowden of indiscriminate spying of electronic communications by the NSA.

End-to-end encryption is the antidote to such snooping. It uses strong cryptography to encrypt messages with a key that’s unique to each user. Because the key is in sole possession of each user, end-to-end encryption prevents everyone else—including the app maker, ISP or carrier, and three-letter agencies—from reading a message. Messaging apps that currently provide E2EE include Signal, WhatsApp, and iMessage, to name just three.

Now, Google wants to join the club. For now, E2EE will be available only to people using the beta version of the Android Messages app. And even then, E2EE will work only for one-to-one messages between people using the Google app, and both senders and receivers will have to turn on chat features. The rollout will continue into next year.

In 2016, Google introduced its Allo messaging app. It, too, offered E2EE, but only when users dug into a settings menu and turned it on. Two years later, Google killed it. This time with RCS, Google said, “eligible conversations will automatically upgrade to be end-to-end encrypted.”

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AT&T raises DirecTV prices again amid customer losses and possible sale

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Enlarge / A DirecTV satellite dish seen outside a bar in Portland, Oregon, in October 2019.

Getty Images | hapabapa

AT&T has announced another round of price hikes for DirecTV satellite and U-verse TV services, with monthly prices set to rise up to $9 starting January 17, 2021.

“Due to increased programming costs, we’re adjusting the price of our video packages,” AT&T said in a notice on its website. “Periodically, TV network owners increase the fees they charge DirecTV for the right to broadcast their movies, shows, and sporting events.” Of course, AT&T itself determines some of these programming prices because it owns Time Warner.

A $5 monthly increase is coming to DirecTV’s 160-channel “Entertainment” package, which currently has a standard rate of $97 a month. A $7 monthly increase is coming to the 185-channel Choice package, currently at $115 a month. A $9 increase is coming to both the 250-channel Ultimate package (currently $142) and the 330-channel Premier package (currently $197).

New customers can get those packages for $64.99 to $134.99 under promotional pricing that expires after 12 months. “If you currently have a DirecTV TV promotion, you’ll keep that discount until it expires,” AT&T said. “Once your promo period ends, you’ll pay the new price for your package.”

There are also $1 and $3 increases for DirecTV’s Basic and Preferred Choice packages for international customers, $6 increases for certain Spanish-language packages, and $8 increases for “Xtra” packages. Only the Minimum service, Family, and ChineseDirect Plus plans are not getting increases.

AT&T is raising U-verse TV prices by $5 to $9 a month depending on the package, while keeping the price of the most basic U-verse package the same. U-verse provides TV over AT&T’s wired network. As with DirecTV, customers on U-verse promotional pricing won’t see the increase until the promotional period ends.

New fee, and some price cuts

DirecTV is also adding a “Federal Cost Recovery Fee of $0.19 per month,” similar to a fee that used to be charged once per year. Despite the name, the fee is not mandated by the government. AT&T said the fee covers “expenses that DirecTV pays to the Federal Communications Commission.”

While this fee is starting small, AT&T has a history of sneakily raising overall prices by adding new fees and then steadily raising them through the years. The Federal Cost Recovery Fee will be charged in addition to a number of other fees that AT&T excludes from listed prices so that it can advertise lower prices than it actually charges.

On the plus side, AT&T’s announcement did not include any increases for the Regional Sports Network and Broadcast TV fees, which were both raised a year ago. We asked AT&T if it plans another increase for these fees and will update this article if we get a response.

Believe it or not, AT&T says it is decreasing the price of some premium channels. That includes $3 decreases for Starz, Cinemax, and Showtime. There are also decreases of up to $3 for certain add-on bundles that include sports channels. But even with premium channels, there are some price increases, including a $2.96 boost to an add-on bundle that includes HBO Max, Starz, Showtime, Cinemax, and a sports-channel pack. Again, the full list of price changes can be found at this link.

Epic customer losses, pending sale

TV bills can vary wildly depending on the base package, add-on channels, and promotional pricing. AT&T charges an average of $130.55 per customer each month on DirecTV and its other premium TV services.

AT&T’s customer base has declined dramatically due to price increases, reduced use of promotional deals, and competition from cheaper streaming services. AT&T currently has 17.1 million Premium TV customers, down from over 25 million in early 2017. That category includes DirecTV satellite, U-verse, and the newer AT&T TV online service, which mimics cable TV with hidden fees, contracts, and big second-year price hikes.

AT&T has been seeking a buyer for DirecTV, and the offers reportedly value the satellite subsidiary at less than $16 billion—about a third of the $49 billion AT&T paid for the company in 2015. One possible deal would have AT&T retain majority ownership while another company takes over pay-TV operations for both DirecTV and U-verse. As CNBC reported this month, AT&T is in talks with private-equity firms “to sell a significant minority stake… in its pay-TV businesses in a complicated transaction that would shift legacy assets off the wireless carrier’s balance sheet.”

“Under the terms of the proposed deal, AT&T would retain majority economic ownership of the businesses and would maintain ownership of U-verse infrastructure, including plants and fiber,” CNBC wrote, citing unnamed sources. “The buyer would control the pay-TV distribution operations and consolidate the business on its books.”

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