The Downside of a Spotify’s Free Google Home

Spotify is giving away a free Google Home Mini to any account with the family plan. That’s pretty neat. And they are doing it for new and existing users, which is great because it doesn’t make the mistake of punishing existing customers in the pursuit of acquisition.

It makes sense for Spotify – get folks to upgrade from the $10 personal plan to the $15 family plan. It makes sense for Google – they are throwing tons of money to be the smart speaker/display platform in your home. (Aside: I have a half-written blog post about why I switched from Alexa to Google Home, but the tl;dr is that being able to Chromecast Spotify was the deciding factor)

There’s no catch – a Google Home Mini ostensibly costs $50 and you get it for $0. So what’s the downside?

A person at my coworking space just posted this in Slack:

Last night someone got into my Spotify account to upgrade it to a Family Plan to take advantage of a promotion for a free Google Home Mini. I was able to cancel that upgrade (and got the free Home Mini too!), but definitely keep your eyes peeled for any unauthorized access

That brought up other stories about Spotify getting hacked, something that seems to happen with anecdotal regularity. Now there’s a financial incentive for the hacker: they can score a free Google Home that they can turn around and re-sell. You start paying $5 more per month so that hacker can re-sell your smart speaker.

As always, there are 2 things you should be doing to keep all your accounts safe:

  1. Use a unique password for every site, which means using a password manager. If you are all-in on Apple, iCloud Keychain does a decent job too. Mozilla is making inroads here too.
    Yes it’s a pain to start and change your passwords, but you absolutely need to be doing this. Hackers have databases of passwords from so, so many sites. Seriously, click that link and look at all the sites that have been hacked. I guarantee you use at least one of those sites. The hackers will try your password from those sites on other sites and if you reuse your passwords, you will get hacked. How sure are you that you don’t reuse that hacked password?
  2. Use 2 factor authentication wherever you can. Preferably with an app instead of SMS. Sadly, Spotify doesn’t support 2FA, which probably is why lots of folks have stories about them getting hacked.

If you do these 2 things, you will be miles ahead of most people.

Apple’s DRM Announcement

Eliminate DRM!
Originally uploaded by nim.

Apple announced that they’ll be offering DRM-free music in the iTunes Music Store! I don’t have much to add to the announcement, I’m just ecstatic that Apple is following up on Steve Job’s open letter. Beyond just offering DRM-free music, Apple even addressed Cory Doctorow’s lock-in argument by offering upgrades to existing downloads.

There were people who thought that the letter was a cynical attempt to avoid EU regulation by playing DRM off as a chain imposed by the record companies. I admit that I was leaning that way, it’s not the first time I was wrong about Apple and probably not the last. Like other doubters, I’m glad I was wrong.

I don’t really have much to add to the conversation, I’m just excited to download more music from iTunes in May (and this time I plan to keep it).

NPR’s most interesting podcast

Browsing through NPR’s Podcast Directory, one in particular stood out; not for its content but for the way it was created.

Most of the podcasts are simply NPR shows, but NPR: Most E-Mailed Stories is assembled based on the audience’s reaction to NPR news stories. People tend to share stories they like, so in theory the best stories bubble up to the top. This podcast collects the stories from NPR’s Most Emailed Stories that were aired in the past 24 hours.

A popular story list is hardly unique to NPR; Yahoo!, the New York Times, etc. all have these lists. The podcast is different.

There is no way NPR could do this without podcasting. The length of the show can vary wildly—the description on NPR’s site says “approx 30 minutes” but Friday’s show was 50 minutes long due to the popularity of a half hour interview with the author of The Republican War on Science. Podcasting has the power to free shows from the tyranny of the half hour slot.

Also interesting is where the premise of “most emailed” equalling “best” fails. The lead story from Friday’s podcast (containing Thursday’s shows) was a Day to Day story on an Ansel Adams photo. This story was likely the most emailed because of people wanting to share the breathtaking picture that accompanies it on the website. I doubt the audio would have made been considered the most important of the day had a human editor been choosing.

NPR: Most E-Mailed Stories shows how the media can use podcasting and the web to provide unique access to their content. It succeeds both as an experiment and as a practical resource for news and information.

(Oh, and if you want to know what other podcasts I listen to, I’ll try to keep my Odeo profile up to date with them)

Features lost in iTunes upgrades

hymnIt seems every new version of iTunes removes some feature in the interest of Apple’s suppliers. Are Apple’s customers filing bug reports saying “please make your program not work with my other programs” and “please let me do less with my music”? Is DRM a dealbreaker for the music industry? If people demanded that their music work with every music player, would the music industry respond by stopping production and sales of music?

Here’s my list of features that have been removed from iTunes:

Removes support for people who browse their music across subnets. (Workaround)
Lowered the number of times you can burn a playlist with iTMS music from 10 to 7. They did this post facto, which is a snobby way of saying that Apple changed the deal after they got your money. People paid them for a song that could be burned 10 times, and Apple changed that to 7 after they had people’s money. Not to get too geeky (in a post on DRM and copyright? OK, too late) but this Star Wars quote seems appropriate: I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.
Removes Hymn 0.6.1 compatibility. Hymn 0.6.1 left the Apple ID in songs downloaded from the iTunes Music Store to encourage people not to share music (since it could be traced back to them).

Apple had a choice to make: they could ignore this and let people de-cripple their music onymously or they could lock out music that had been de-crippled but could be tracked back to the owner. If they chose the latter there were two possible outcomes. The first was that the people who had broken every bit of DRM to date wouldn’t be able to remove an ID they were purposefully leaving in and Hymn would stop being able to de-cripple music, or people would start sharing de-crippled iTMS songs anonymously. Guess which Apple chose and guess what happened.

Removes iPod Download compatibility. (More on this and a workaround)
Limit to the number of people who can access iTunes shared music each day.
Removes JHymn 0.6.3 compatibility.

As a slight aside, I no longer have faith that people will recognize that DRM is harming them. I made a post over at PVRblog about TiVo Desktop 2.1, which goes to great lengths to tell people how they should watch their TiVoToGo files. If you look through the comments you’ll see lots of people who buy the line that they need to be protected from themselves, and that the media companies would walk away from a US$660 million market if it weren’t for DRM.

Not that DRM was ever a market issue, but I don’t believe consumers will stand up and ask why the music they pay for won’t play in an iPod and a Rio. I haven’t given up the copyfight, but the general public believes the lie that Big Copyright gets to tell companies and people what they can and can’t do. It depresses me when I think about all the great works that will be lost or never created. Anyway, leave any features lost in iTunes upgrades that I missed in the comments and I’ll add them to the list.

Grokster along party lines?

p2ppolitics.jpg If you watch the EFF’s Fred von Lohman in his debate on C-Span (via BoingBoing) you’ll notice that C-Span inserts three phone numbers: one for Democratic supporters, one for President Bush’s supporters and one for “others.”

Am I idealistic in thinking that Grokster goes across partisan lines? Caricaturing the sides quite a bit, Republicans don’t want liberal Hollywood controlling what kinds of businesses they can start and Democrats don’t want conservative corporations controlling their computers. I don’t recall President Bush ever taking a position on P2P, and I suspect that if Betamax was overturned he’d be upset if his iPod was outlawed.

If I want Big Copyright to file fewer frivolous lawsuits, if I want to use P2P to share music, if I love Larry Lessig, am I a Democrat or Republican?

Ted Olson, who represents Big Copyright in the debate, was Solicitor General for the Bush Administration. Does that mean that President Bush’s side in Grokster consists of “Hollywood-loving left-wing freak shows?”

(Also, about 20 minutes in the RIAA and MPAA’s lawyer tries to pull a Felton but von Lohman calls him on it. w00t)

iPod headphones as homework

I got home yesterday and saw my iPod headphones on the coffee table, mangled and broken. This wasn’t that big a deal because I had first noticed they were broken a few days earlier. I figured they got caught in the vacuum cleaner like my ill-fated SOCOM headset, or maybe they got underfoot. Except a few days earlier the metal speaker was simply disconnected from its housing, now the whole ear bud was removed. Oh yeah, and I threw them out when I saw how broken they were. WTF?

I had grabbed another set of the ubiquitous white ear buds after throwing out the broken ones and used them to fill the hole in my heart ear where the old ones had been. And, just like the old ones, I sort of left them on the coffee table. Then I realized what was going on.

As it turns out, my girlfriend’s dog really loves earwax. He’ll dig through the trash looking for the cotton swabs she uses to clean his ears if we let him. He’s always trying to pick his ears and eat it, even though it’s a lot harder without digits to manipulate. Yeah, it’s gross, but if a dog is going to eat its own waste products I guess it’s better than most.

The working theory of the crime goes something like this: the dog ate it. He had motive, means and opportunity. I didn’t test the forensic evidence when I walked him last night because I didn’t have probable cause, but I suspect he’ll make an emission of guilt tonight.

Moving songs between iPods

I was given an 4th generation iPod as a gift and decided to give my girlfriend my 3rd generation iPod. One problem, I needed to get my music off my old iPod and onto the new one. I searched around a bit and didn’t come up with anything, so here’ what I came up with. I don’t know that this is the best method, but it worked for me.
One of the problems was that I had nearly 20 gigs of music on my 3G iPod, and did not have 20 gigs of free space on my PowerBook’s hard drive. What I came up with needed to go directly from iPod to iPod without storing anything on the comptuer. Also, my PowerBook has only one Firewire port so I used a PCMCIA Firewire card to allow me to plug both iPods into the computer at the same time.
First, I went into iTunes and turned off “Keep iTunes Music folder organized” and “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library.” in Preferences under Advanced. I also turned off “Sound Check” under Audio.
I had already used a tool like iPod Decloak to create a folder with aliases to all the 3G iPod’s music. These are the folders F00 through F49 that you may or may not have seen. I opened F00, used Cmd-A to select all, and dragged all the music to iTunes. I had to repeat that step 50 times to get iTunes to add all the music on my 3G iPod to my iTunes. Finder’s column view helped a lot.
At this point I thought that I could select all the music in iTunes and drag it to my 4G iPod, but iTunes didn’t want me to drag that many tracks at once. Instead, I changed the preference on my 4G iPod to “Automatically update all songs and playlists” and iTunes immediately began copying directly from the 3G iPod to the 4G iPod, as well as the music that had been in iTunes before I started this.
All that’s left is for me to reinitialize the 3G iPod (my girlfriend has better taste in music than me and any songs of mine that she likes I probably got from her) and remove the music I added to iTunes, probably using Advanced -> Consolidate Library.
There are some drawbacks to this method. I imagine there’s a better way to add all 50 music folders to iTunes at once, but iTunes didn’t want to import all the aliases. Also, I wound up with a lot of duplicate music on the 4G iPod because I had some music in iTunes and on the 3G iPod; show duplicate songs doesn’t work on iPods.

Ben Tesch PodCast interview

In the first PodCast I’m willing to listen to, First Crack interviews Ben Tesch, the captain at the helm of RIAA Radar and Mixmatcher. Why is the RIAA Radar important?
Ford is refusing to sell Crown Victoria Police Interceptors to police in Okaloosa County, Florida because the police are suing Ford over problems with the Crown Vic. Ford had to go to court to defend their right not to sell to someone who is filing a suit against them.
I won’t argue that Ford is in the right, but it’s completely understandable Ford doesn’t want to do business with someone who is suing them. Luckily, as music consumers we don’t need to go to court to affirm our right not to do business with an organization that is suing the public. While the RIAA hasn’t been terribly successful with their lawsuits, I’m not interested in sending my money into their corporate lawyers’ pockets. The RIAA Radar makes me an informed consumer.

On zipping MP3s

Quick note to the world: putting MP3s into a zip file is a waste of time. You only save a little space and take up a lot of time because MP3s are already compressed. So the next time you have to send a bunch of MP3s somewhere, your best bet is the tar format, which has no compression, or a zip file with compression turned off (look at the compression level settings in your favorite zip program).
Sorry, that’s just a pet peeve of mine.
[Update: WinZip and most other Windows archive programs support tar files, but since most people are probably using XP’s built-in zip support, I think the comments are right and uncompressed zips are probably the better way to go.]