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Autocratic Governments Can Now 'Buy Their Own NSA'

Slashdot - Sun, 12/10/2017 - 01:34
Citizen Lab has been studying information controls since 2001, and this week their director -- a Toronto political science professor -- revealed how governments (including Ethiopia's) are using powerful commercial spyware. Slashdot reader mspohr shared their report: We monitored the command and control servers used in the campaign and in doing so discovered a public log file that the operators mistakenly left open... We were also able to identify the IP addresses of those who were targeted and successfully infected: a group that includes journalists, a lawyer, activists, and academics... Many of the countries in which the targets live -- the United States, Canada, and Germany, among others -- have strict wiretapping laws that make it illegal to eavesdrop without a warrant... Our team reverse-engineered the malware used in this instance, and over time this allowed us to positively identify the company whose spyware was being employed by Ethiopia: Cyberbit Solutions, a subsidiary of the Israel-based homeland security company Elbit Systems. Notably, Cyberbit is the fourth company we have identified, alongside Hacking Team, Finfisher, and NSO Group, whose products and services have been abused by autocratic regimes to target dissidents, journalists, and others... Remarkably, by analyzing the command and control servers of the cyber espionage campaign, we were also able to monitor Cyberbit employees as they traveled the world with infected laptops that checked in to those servers, apparently demonstrating Cyberbit's products to prospective clients. Those clients include the Royal Thai Army, Uzbekistan's National Security Service, Zambia's Financial Intelligence Centre, and the Philippine president's Malacañang Palace. Outlining the human rights abuses associated with those government entities would fill volumes.... Governments like Ethiopia no longer depend on their own in-country advanced computer science, engineering, and mathematical capacity in order to build a globe-spanning cyber espionage operation. They can simply buy it off the shelf from a company like Cyberbit. Thanks to companies like these, an autocrat whose country has poor national infrastructure but whose regime has billions of dollars, can order up their own NSA. To wit: Elbit Systems, the parent company of Cyberbit, says it has a backlog of orders valuing $7 billion. Reached for comment, Cyberbit said they were not responsible with what others do with their software, arguing that "governmental authorities and law enforcement agencies are responsible to ensure that they are legally authorized to use the products in their jurisdictions."

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China Has Launched the World's First All-Electric Cargo Ship

Slashdot - Sun, 12/10/2017 - 00:34
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."

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Emotion Recognition Systems Could Be Used In Job Interviews

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 23:34
dcblogs writes: Emotion recognition software identifies micro-expressions through video analysis. These are expressions that may be as fast as 1/25 of a second and invisible to the human eye, but a close analysis of video can detect them. These systems are being used in marketing research, but some employers may be interested in using them to assess job candidates. Vendors claim these systems can be used to develop a personality profile and discover a good cultural fit. The technology raises concerns, illustrated earlier this year who showed that face-reading technology could use photographs to determine sexual orientation with a high degree of accuracy. One company has already added face recognition into their iPad-based time clock, which the company's CEO thinks could be adapted to also detect an employee's mood when they're clocking out. Yet even he has his reservations. While he thinks it could provide more accurate feedback from employees, he also admits that "There's something very Big Brother about it."

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Google Glitch Took Thousands of Chromebooks Offline

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 22:34
Slashdot reader Bismillah was the first to notice stories about Chromebooks going offline. GeekWire reports: Tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of Google Chromebooks, widely prized by schools due to their low cost and ease of configuration, were reported to be offline for several hours on Tuesday. The apparent cause? A seemingly botched WiFi policy update pushed out by Google that caused many Chromebooks to forget their approved network connection, leaving students disconnected. Google eventually issued a new network policy without the glitch -- but not everyone was satisfied. The Director of Technology at one school district complains Google waited three and a half hours before publicly acknowledging the problem -- adding that "manually joining a WiFi network on 10,000+ Chromebooks is a nightmare."

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Updated Debian Linux 9.3 and 8.10 Released

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 21:34
An anonymous reader writes: The Debian project is pleased to announce the third update of its stable distribution Debian 9 (codename stretch). This point release mainly adds corrections for security issues, along with a few adjustments for serious problems. Security advisories have already been published separately and are referenced where available. The Debian project also announces the tenth update of its oldstable distribution Debian 8 (codename jessie). Please note that the point release does not constitute a new version of Debian 9 or 8 but only updates some of the packages included. There is no need to throw away old jessie or stretch DVD/CD media. After installation, packages can be upgraded to the current versions using an up-to-date Debian mirror. This stable update adds a few important corrections to packages. New installation images will be available soon at the mirrors. Those who frequently install updates from security.debian.org won't have to update many packages, and most such updates are included in the point release. One can use the apt command or apt-get command to apply updates. A step-by-step update guide is posted here.

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"The FCC Still Doesn't Know How the Internet Works"

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 20:34
An anonymous reader writes: The EFF describes the FCC's official plan to kill net neutrality as "riddled with technical errors and factual inaccuracies," including, for example, a false distinction between "Internet access service" and "a distinct transmission service" which the EFF calls "utterly ridiculous and completely ungrounded from reality." "Besides not understanding how Internet access works, the FCC also has a troublingly limited knowledge of how the Domain Name System (DNS) works -- even though hundreds of engineers tried to explain it to them this past summer... As the FCC would have it, an Internet user actively expects their ISP to provide DNS to them." And in addition, "Like DNS, it treats caching as if it were some specialized service rather than an implementation detail and general-purpose computing technique." "There are at least two possible explanations for all of these misunderstandings and technical errors. One is that, as we've suggested, the FCC doesn't understand how the Internet works. The second is that it doesn't care, because its real goal is simply to cobble together some technical justification for its plan to kill net neutrality. A linchpin of that plan is to reclassify broadband as an 'information service,' (rather than a 'telecommunications service,' or common carrier) and the FCC needs to offer some basis for it. So, we fear, it's making one up, and hoping no one will notice." "We noticed," their editorial ends, urging Americans "to tell your lawmakers: Don't let the FCC sell the Internet out."

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What Mistakes Can Stall An IT Career?

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 19:34
Quoting snydeq: "In the fast-paced world of technology, complacency can be a career killer," Paul Heltzel writes in an article on 20 ways to kill your IT career without knowing it. "So too can any number of hidden hazards that quietly put your career on shaky ground -- from not knowing your true worth to thinking you've finally made it. Learning new tech skills and networking are obvious ways to solidify your career. But what about accidental ways that could put your career in a slide? Hidden hazards -- silent career killers? Some tech pitfalls may not be obvious." CIO's reporter "talked to a number of IT pros, recruiters, and developers about how to build a bulletproof career and avoid lesser-known pitfalls," citing hazards like burning bridges and skipping social events. But it also warns of the dangers of staying in your comfort zone too long instead of asking for "stretch" assignments and accepting training opporunities. The original submission puts the same question to Slashdot readers. "What silent career killers have you witnessed (or fallen prey to) in your years in IT?"

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Reporter Regrets Letting Amazon's Delivery People Into His House

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 18:34
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."

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Patreon Hits Donors With New Fees, Angering Creators

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 17:34
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."

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People Keep Finding Hidden Cameras in Their Airbnbs

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 16:34
"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."

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Sexual Harassment In Tech Is As Old As the Computer Age

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 14:00
Tekla Perry writes: Historian Marie Hicks, speaking at the Computer History Museum talks about how women computer operators and programmers were driven out of the industry, gives examples of sexual harassment dating back to the days of the Colossus era, and previews her next research. "It's all a matter of power, Hicks pointed out -- and women have never had their share of it," reports IEEE Spectrum. "Women dominated computer programming in its early days because the field wasn't seen as a career, just a something someone could do without a lot of training and would do for only a short period of time. Computer jobs had no room for advancement, so having women 'retire' in their 20s was not seen as a bad thing. And since women, of course, could never supervise men, Hicks said, women who were good at computing ended up training the men who ended up as their managers. But when it became clear that computers -- and computer work -- were important, women were suddenly pushed out of the field." Hicks has also started looking at the bias baked into algorithms, specifically at when it first crossed from human to computer. The first example she turned up had "something to do with transgender people and the government's main pension computer." She says that when humans were in the loop, petitions to change gender on national insurance cards generally went through, but when the computer came in, the system was "specifically designed to no longer accommodate them, instead, to literally cause an error code to kick out of the processing chain any account of a 'known transsexual.'"

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Reading Information Aloud To Yourself Improves Memory

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 11:00
According to a study in the journal Memory, reading aloud works by creating a "production effect" which cements information in your memory. Meanwhile, hearing words said in your own voice personalizes the references and enhances recollection, according to psychology professor Colin MacLeod and researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Quartz reports: The findings are based on a study of 95 students (75 of whom returned for a second session) at the University of Waterloo. The students were tested on their ability to recall written information inputted in four different ways -- reading silently, hearing someone else read, listening to a recording of oneself reading, and reading aloud in real time. They were tested on recollection of short, four-to-six letter words on a list of 160 terms. The results show that reading information aloud to oneself led to the best recall. Oral production is effective because it has two distinctive components, a motor or speech act and a personal auditory input, the researchers explain. "[The] results suggest that production is memorable in part because it includes a distinctive, self-referential component. This may well underlie why rehearsal is so valuable in learning and remembering," the study concludes. "We do it ourselves, and we do it in our own voice. When it comes time to recover the information, we can use this distinctive component to help us to remember."

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Toyota's New Power Plant Will Create Clean Energy From Manure

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 08:00
schwit1 shares a report from Futurism: Japanese automobile giant Toyota is making some exciting moves in the realm of renewable, clean energy. The company is planning to build a power plant in California that turns the methane gas produced by cow manure into water, electricity, and hydrogen. The project, known as the Tri-Gen Project, was unveiled at this year's Los Angeles Auto Show. The plant, which will be located at the Port of Long Beach in California, will be "the world's first commercial-scale 100% renewable power and hydrogen generation plant," writes USA Today. Toyota is expecting the plant to come online in about 2020. The plant is expected to have the capability to provide enough energy to power 2,350 average homes and enough fuel to operate 1,500 hydrogen-powered vehicles daily. The company is estimating the plant to be able to produce 2.35 MW of electricity and 1.2 tons of hydrogen each day. The facility will also be equipped with one of the largest hydrogen fueling stations in the world. Toyota's North America group vice president for strategic planning, Doug Murtha, says that the company "understand[s] the tremendous potential to reduce emissions and improve society."

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People Who Can't Remember Their Bitcoin Passwords Are Really Freaking Out Now

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 04:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Slate: Bitcoin has had quite a week. On Thursday, the cryptocurrency surged past $19,000 a coin before dropping down to $15,600 by Friday midday. The price of a single Bitcoin was below $1,000 in January. Any investors who bought Bitcoins back in 2013, when the price was less than $100, probably feel pretty smart right now. But not all early cryptocurrency enthusiasts are counting their coins. Instead they might be racking their brains trying to remember their passwords, without which those few Bitcoins they bought as an experiment a few years ago could be locked away forever. That's because Bitcoin's decentralization relies on cryptography, where each transaction is signed with an identifier assigned to the person paying and the person receiving Bitcoin. "I've tried to ignore the news about Bitcoin completely," joked Alexander Halavais, a professor of social technology at Arizona State University, who said he bought $70 of Bitcoin about seven years as a demonstration for a graduate class he was teaching at the time but has since forgotten his password. "I really don't want to know what it's worth now," he told me. "This is possibly $400K and I'm freaking the fuck out. I'm a college student so this would change my life lmao," wrote one Reddit user last week. The user claimed to have bought 40 bitcoins in 2013 but can't remember the password now. "A few years ago, I bought about 20 euros worth of bitcoin, while it was at around 300eur/btc.," lamented another Reddit user earlier this week. "Haven't looked at it since, and recently someone mentioned the price had hit 10.000usd. So, I decided to take a look at my wallet, but found that it wasn't my usual password. I have tried every combination of the password variations I usually use, but none of them worked."

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Insurers Are Rewarding Tesla Owners For Using Autopilot

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 02:25
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.

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Zero-Day iOS HomeKit Vulnerability Allowed Remote Access To Smart Accessories Including Locks

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 01:45
Apple has issued a fix to a vulnerability that allowed unauthorized control of accessories, including smart locks and garage door openers. "Our understanding is Apple has rolled out a server-side fix that now prevents unauthorized access from occurring while limiting some functionality, and an update to iOS 11.2 coming next week will restore that full functionality," reports 9to5Mac. From the report: The vulnerability, which we won't describe in detail and was difficult to reproduce, allowed unauthorized control of HomeKit-connected accessories including smart lights, thermostats, and plugs. The most serious ramification of this vulnerability prior to the fix is unauthorized remote control of smart locks and connected garage door openers, the former of which was demonstrated to 9to5Mac. The issue was not with smart home products individually but instead with the HomeKit framework itself that connects products from various companies. The vulnerability required at least one iPhone or iPad on iOS 11.2, the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system, connected to the HomeKit user's iCloud account; earlier versions of iOS were not affected.

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'Process Doppelganging' Attack Bypasses Most Security Products, Works On All Windows Versions

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 01:03
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bleeping Computer: Yesterday, at the Black Hat Europe 2017 security conference in London, two security researchers from cyber-security firm enSilo have described a new code injection technique called "Process Doppelganging." This new attack works on all Windows versions and researchers say it bypasses most of today's major security products. Process Doppelganging is somewhat similar to another technique called "Process Hollowing," but with a twist, as it utilizes the Windows mechanism of NTFS Transactions. "The goal of the technique is to allow a malware to run arbitrary code (including code that is known to be malicious) in the context of a legitimate process on the target machine," Tal Liberman & Eugene Kogan, the two enSilo researchers who discovered the attack told Bleeping Computer. "Very similar to process hollowing but with a novel twist. The challenge is doing it without using suspicious process and memory operations such as SuspendProcess, NtUnmapViewOfSection. In order to achieve this goal we leverage NTFS transactions. We overwrite a legitimate file in the context of a transaction. We then create a section from the modified file (in the context of the transaction) and create a process out of it. It appears that scanning the file while it's in transaction is not possible by the vendors we checked so far (some even hang) and since we rollback the transaction, our activity leaves no trace behind." The good news is that "there are a lot of technical challenges" in making Process Doppelganging work, and attackers need to know "a lot of undocumented details on process creation." The bad news is that the attack "cannot be patched since it exploits fundamental features and the core design of the process loading mechanism in Windows." More research on the attack will be published on the Black Hat website in the following days.

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Google Puts Android Accessibility Crackdown On Hold

Slashdot - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 00:20
Last month, Google issued a warning to Android app developers that they will no longer be able to access Android accessibility service functions in their apps, unless they can demonstrate that those functions are specifically used to help users with "disabilities." Since a lot of password managers use the Accessibility API, as well as poplar apps like Tasker automation and Greenify battery saver, there was a large amount of backlash from developers and users alike. According to SlashGear, Google is putting the Android accessibility crackdown on hold. From the report: Google has now sent another email that basically says "we'll think about it." It is evaluating "responsible and innovative use" of those services on a case to case basis. It is also requiring developers to explicitly inform users why they are asking for accessibility permissions rather than just informing them. This, of course, puts a heavier burden on Google, as it has to be more involved in the screening of apps rather than just rely on good ol' machine learning and automation. Developers and users probably won't mind, if it means still having access to those features that make Android a platform above all the rest.

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Elon Musk Says Tesla Is Building Dedicated Chips For Autopilot

Slashdot - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 23:40
Elon Musk says Tesla is developing its own chip to run the Autopilot system in future vehicles from the firm. The news was revealed at a Tesla party that took place at the intelligence conference NIPS. Attendees at the party told The Register that Musk said, "I wanted to make it clear that Tesla is serious about AI, both on the software and hardware fronts. We are developing custom AI hardware chips." From the report: Musk offered no details of his company's plans, but did tell the party that "Jim is developing specialized AI hardware that we think will be the best in the world." "Jim" is Jim Keller, a well-known chip engineer who was lead architect on a range of silicon at AMD and Apple and joined Tesla in 2016. Keller later joined Musk on a panel discussing AI at the Tesla Party alongside Andrej Karpathy, Tesla's Director of AI and chaired by Shivon Zilis, a partner and founding member at Bloomberg Beta, a VC firm. Musk is well known for his optimism about driverless cars and pessimism about whether AI can operate safely. At the party he voiced a belief that "about half of new cars built ten years from now will be autonomous." He added his opinion that artificial general intelligence (AGI) will arrive in about seven or eight years.

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Apple Is Reportedly Buying Shazam For Nearly Half a Billion Dollars

Slashdot - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 23:21
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.

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