Amazon Music Adds Lossless Streaming Tier for $14.99/Month ($12.99 for Prime)

Amazon today introduced a new tier of Amazon Music, called Amazon Music HD, which offers lossless versions of audio files for streaming or downloading. This tier will cost $14.99/month, or $12.99/month for Amazon Prime members (via The Verge).


Amazon is offering a catalog of over 50 million songs in "High Definition," which are songs with CD-quality bit depth of 16 bits and a 44.1kHz sample rate. Then, there are "millions" of songs in Ultra HD, meaning they have 24-bit and sample rates that range from 44.1kHz up to 192kHz.

All of these songs will be delivered in a lossless FLAC file format. Amazon is hoping that being the first of the so-called big three streaming music services (Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Spotify) to offer lossless streaming will win some converts. Tidal has always offered lossless streaming as one of its main selling points, but its price is $19.99/month, which Amazon is now undercutting.
Amazon’s VP of Music, Steve Boom says that “It’s a pretty big deal that one of the big three global streaming services is doing this — we’re the first one.” Amazon Music isn’t often in the conversation about music streaming competition, which usually ends up following a Spotify vs. Apple Music narrative. But Amazon considers itself in their company, and with the new HD offering it’s looking to differentiate itself and perhaps raise its profile.
According to reports from earlier this year, Amazon Music had 32 million subscribers as of April 2019. That compares to the 60 million subscribers gained by Apple Music as of June 2019, and the 100 million Spotify Premium subscribers as of April 2019.


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Google and Amazon Put Brakes on Human Review of Voice Assistant Recordings

Following Apple's decision last week to suspend a Siri program that allows employees to listen to audio recordings for quality control purposes, Amazon and Google have both chosen to make their policies on human reviews of voice assistant audio more clear.


Late last month, Apple confirmed that a small number of anonymized Siri requests are analyzed for the purpose of improving Siri, after a Guardian report revealed that contractors regularly hear private conversations recorded by Apple's voice assistant.

To allay privacy concerns, Apple said it was temporarily stopping the program while it reviewed the process that's currently used. It also said it plans to release a software update that will let Siri users opt out.

On Friday, Google said it had also suspended its policy of reviewing Google Assistant audio. The company actually suspended the practice across the EU on July 10 when a German privacy regulator started investigating it following a Belgian media report, but this is the first time Google has confirmed the fact publicly.

According to Bloomberg, Amazon will let Alexa users opt out of human review of their voice recordings. The new policy took effect Friday, and adds an option in the settings menu of the Alexa mobile app for removing recordings from analysis by Amazon employees.

All of the tech companies employ staff to review a small subset of voice recordings while claiming to anonymize the source. For example, Google distorts the recording before it is listened to, so as to disguise the user's voice, while Apple strips them of identifiable information and assigns each one a random device identifier.

However, Bloomberg revealed that some of Amazon's audio reviewers had access to the home addresses of Amazon customers, before the company moved to restrict the level of access. Many members of the public were unaware the practice even existed until Bloomberg reported on it earlier this year.


Tags: Google, Amazon

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FTC Looking Into Impact of Apple’s Sales Agreement With Amazon on Independent Resellers

Last year, Apple began selling many of its products on Amazon, including the latest iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch models. As part of Apple's agreement with Amazon, unauthorized resellers who offered new or refurbished Apple products on Amazon had their listings removed after January 4, 2019.


Since then, independent sellers have been required to apply for Apple Authorized Reseller status and the Amazon Renewed program to continue to offer used or refurbished Apple products on Amazon, but this is not always feasible due to hefty requirements outlined by The Verge earlier this year:
The first is to purchase at least $2.5 million worth of refurbished inventory every 90 days from Apple itself or through a retailer with more than $5 billion in annual sales, like a wireless carrier or big-box retailers like Target or Walmart. The second is to reach out directly to Apple to become an authorized reseller. Apple has yet to make its reseller requirements known to the public, but to become an Apple-authorized provider of repairs requires a physical retail space for customers to enter.
Now, The Verge reports that the FTC has looked into the Apple-Amazon deal, although it has yet to formally raise any antitrust concerns.

Specifically, the report claims that FTC lawyers recently reached out to John Bumstead, a Minnesota man who sold refurbished MacBooks on Amazon until his listings were removed from the platform due to the new policy:
"They wanted to know how Amazon works, how eBay works. I went into describing how a listing works on Amazon. Amazon is interesting in that you don't necessarily create a listing. You just sort of tag on to an existing listing," Bumstead tells The Verge. "If that listing gets deleted, chances are you're not allowed to sell that product. That's how Amazon did this. They created a bunch of renewed listings from the people who were certified, and they let those people sell on those listings, and they abandoned everyone else."
Bumstead has been vocal since being squeezed out of Amazon, arguing that a significant number of lower-cost refurbished or used Apple products are no longer available through Amazon, reducing choice for consumers. Apple would likely argue that it is cutting down on the availability of counterfeit products to protect consumers, although it has not officially commented on the deal since it went into effect.

The Verge claims that "experts say the Apple-Amazon deal could easily be grounds for an antitrust complaint," citing Sally Hubbard, the director of enforcement strategy at the OpenMarkets Institute:
"You put a gate around the brand and say all the third-party sellers of whatever that brand is get a notice saying you can no longer sell this product on our platform unless you get authorization from the brand," Hubbard tells The Verge. "But of course the brand is not going to let you sell if you're under the [minimum advertised price]. Problem is that it's illegal under antitrust law."
Whether the FTC shares that view and/or takes action remains to be seen.

Tags: Amazon, FTC

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Amazon Prime Day Live Blog: Follow Along for the Best Deals

It's the middle of July, which means it's time for Amazon's annual Prime Day shopping event, offering Amazon Prime customers the chance to save money on a vast array of items across the retailer's online storefront.

Like we did last year, today we've launched a live blog that will track notable Prime Day discounts across Amazon, most of which will relate to Apple products and accessories. You can expect great discounts from companies like Anker, iOttie, and more.

Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Amazon. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running.

Prime Day 2019 kicked off earlier this morning at 12:00 a.m. PT, and it will continue through tomorrow, Tuesday July 16 at 11:59 p.m. PT. This makes Prime Day 2019 the longest event so far at a total of 48 hours.

In contrast to deals that last for a majority of the event, there will also be limited-time lightning deals that appear at different times throughout Monday and Tuesday, and only last for an hour or so. According to Amazon, new deals will launch as often as every five minutes throughout the event.

In this live blog, we'll be tracking lightning deals and longer-lasting discounts as products get marked down throughout Prime Day, as well as competitor sales since retailers like Best Buy, eBay and Target have all been known to launch anti-Prime Day deals. Be sure to bookmark this page and check back for new bargains as Amazon's mid-year shopping event continues into Tuesday night.
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Amazon Reportedly Developing Echo With Better Sound Quality to Rival Apple HomePod and Other Speakers

Amazon is developing a higher-quality version of its popular Echo smart speaker, according to a new report today by Bloomberg's Mark Gurman.

Prototypes of the cylindrical speaker are wider than the current Echo to squeeze in additional components including at least four tweeters, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss an internal matter.
The speaker is reportedly being developed to include improved audio to rival Apple's HomePod and other competing speakers on the market. According to Gurman, the Echo has lost some ground to more premium smart speakers that are marketed as offering superior sound.
The Echo, which went on sale in 2015, will grab 63% of the U.S. market this year, according to EMarketer. But it has lost some ground to the Sonos One, Apple Inc. HomePod and Google Home Max -- all of which claim to deliver superior audio. Google now has 31% of the market, while the rest have a combined 12%. The HomePod isn't selling as well as Apple expected, and the company recently dropped the price.
The development of a higher-quality Echo marks a new phase in Amazon's attempt to gain ground in the smart speaker segment. The company has previously introduced halfway-house solutions to improve the audio of the existing cylindrical Echo by offering a standalone subwoofer and connections to link the speakers to a hi-fi stereo system. The Echo range will also receive minor updates this fall, people familiar with the plans told Bloomberg.

Amazon also reportedly plans to launch a hi-fidelity version of its music streaming service by the end of the year.

In addition, Gurman's report includes details on Amazon's effort to ramp up work on its home robot, which has wheels and can be controlled by Alexa voice commands.

People familiar with the project have reportedly described prototypes that are about waist-high and navigate with the help of an array of computer-vision cameras, but it still isn't clear what purpose the robot would serve.

Amazon originally intended to reveal the robot, known internally as "Vesta," as early as this year, but the machine isn't quite ready for mass production, according to the report.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

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Amazon’s 48-Hour ‘Prime Day’ Event Takes Place July 15 and 16

For the last few years, Amazon has been hosting an epic Prime Day sale that offers up deals and discounts on a huge range of products.

This year, Prime Day is actually going to take place over two days, kicking off at midnight on July 15 and lasting through July 16. Last year's Prime Day ultimately lasted 36 hours, but 48 hours will be the longest Prime Day event to date.


Amazon has some Prime Day event previews on its website, and Prime Day itself will include discounts on everything from tech products to home products, clothing, toys, and more. Amazon is also highlighting products launching on Amazon on Prime Day, such as the Mophie Juice Pack Air.

When Prime Day kicks off, Amazon's website will be filled with lightning deals that kick off at different times over the course of the day, with the available products rotating over time. Lightning deals last for as long as stock lasts, and some of the better deals can go quick.

Last year, we did a live blog covering all of the best Apple-related deals available during Amazon's Prime Day, and we plan to do similar coverage this year so make sure to tune in to MacRumors on July 15 and 16 for help sorting through all of the sales.

Prime Day sales are designed for Amazon Prime members, and a Prime membership is required to get the deals. Prime Day discounts will be available to Amazon customers in the United States, UK, Italy, India, Germany, France, China, Canada, Australia, Belgium, UAE, Austria, Spain, Singapore, and the Netherlands.

Tag: Amazon

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Amazon Reveals ‘Echo Show 5’ With New Design and Alexa Commands for Deleting Voice Recordings

Amazon today announced the Echo Show 5, the latest Echo device with a 5.5-inch display, more compact design, and privacy-focused voice controls for Alexa. Echo Show 5 is priced at $89.99 and is set to launch on June 26, 2019.

Amazon's Echo Show devices have speakers and a touchscreen, aimed at letting customers watch the news via apps like NBC and Reuters, look at the weather, or make video calls. Echo Show 5 continues this idea, and Amazon even pointed out that you can use the device to listen to music via Apple Music, thanks to recent integration.


Like other Echo devices, Echo Show 5 can also act as a smart home hub so that you can say things like "Alexa, turn on the lights," or use on-screen display controls to adjust brightness levels. Smart camera feeds can be viewed on the display, as well as thermostat levels and more. Echo Show 5 also supports two-way talk functionality with Ring doorbell cameras.

If you use the Echo Show 5 as an alarm clock, the device's display will naturally brighten and show a sunrise animation before the alarm goes off. At that time, you can set a routine that displays the weather forecast for the day, the morning news, and more on the Echo Show 5 screen.
“Since we launched the first Echo Show device, customers have told us they love asking Alexa to show them things—whether it’s a recipe for banana bread, their shopping list, or music lyrics. With Echo Show 5, we’ve made it even easier and affordable for customers to add a smart display to every room of their house,” said Tom Taylor, Senior Vice President, Amazon Alexa.

“The compact form factor is perfect for a bedside table or desk, plus it has a camera shutter for added peace of mind, and new Alexa privacy features for even more control.”
When not in use, you can set personal photos to act as a home screen on the Echo Show 5, or connect to Facebook to play a slideshow of photos as a screensaver. Echo Show 5 can connect to family members who own an Echo Spot or Echo Show, have the Alexa mobile app, or use Skype. Within the same house, if you own multiple Alexa devices you can also use the drop-in feature to quickly speak to other Alexa speakers.

In terms of privacy, Amazon touched on a variety of security options in its announcement today. First, the company pointed out that Echo Show 5 includes a microphone/camera off button that electronically disconnects both the microphone and camera, along with a visual indicator that shows when audio or video is streaming to the cloud. The device also has a camera shutter so you can easily cover the camera.


Second, Amazon has introduced an easy way to delete your voice recordings on all of your Alexa devices: you can say, "Alexa, delete everything I said today." Afterwards, the company will delete the respective recordings. In the near future, you'll be able to delete your last request by saying, "Alexa, delete what I just said."

The Echo Show 5 is available to pre-order today in Charcoal and Sandstone for $89.99. The device will then launch in June in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. India will see a launch in July, and Mexico will come at a later date.

Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Amazon. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running.


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‘Alexa Guard’ Security Feature Rolls Out to Amazon Echo Devices in the US

Amazon announced this morning that Alexa Guard is now rolling out to all Echo device owners in the U.S.


The free feature update, which has been trialed by a select few over the last few months, turns Echo speakers into security devices when no-one's home by allowing them to listen for key sounds indicating danger or intrusion.

Users need to say "Alexa, I'm leaving" to set Alexa Guard to Away mode, after which the device will listen for sounds like breaking glass and the sound of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.

According to TechCrunch, Amazon has worked with licensed contractors to break hundreds of different glass windows with different instruments in order to create a wide range of different sounds for Alexa to listen for.

Upon detecting an ominous sound, Alexa sends the owner Smart Alerts via phone notifications. Users can also play the detected sound from the Alexa mobile app or Drop In on their Echo device remotely to find out what's happening.

Alexa can arm a Ring or ADT security system, with the user able to choose to forward Smart Alerts they receive to Ring or ADT. Users with Away Lighting can also use the alert to turn on lights so as to make it look like they're actually home.

For more details about Alexa Guard, check out Amazon's FAQ.


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Amazon Rumored to Launch High-Fidelity Music Streaming Platform By End of 2019

Amazon is reportedly readying a high-fidelity music streaming service that's set to launch by the end of the year. According to Music Business Worldwide, Amazon is in discussions with various large music rights-holders regarding the upcoming launch of the new streaming platform, which is likely to cost $15 per month.

"It's a better bit rate, better than CD quality," one source told MBW. "Amazon is working on it as we speak: they're currently scoping out how much catalog they can get from everyone and how they'll ingest it."
Probably the best known hi-def music streaming service currently is Tidal's HiFi plan, which costs $19.99 per month and offers CD-quality lossless streams at 44.1 kHz / 16 bit. Subscribers to the plan also benefit from Tidal's partnership with MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) to deliver guaranteed master-quality recordings directly from the master source, which is billed as "an audio experience that the artist intended."

The rationale behind this is that while HiFi audio is a superior sound, it's still limited to 44.1 kHz / 16 bit resolution, whereas MQA audio is the highest possible resolution (typically 96 kHz / 24 bit). MBW understands that Amazon has not partnered with MQA for its own HD tier, suggesting it will use a different audio technology. It's not clear though whether the hi-fi service will be a standalone platform or a new tier option to be offered as part of Amazon's Music Unlimited service.

Apple Music streams 256kbps AAC files across the board and doesn't offer users a higher sound quality price plan, while Spotify uses the Ogg Vorbis format and lets Premium subscribers choose the bitrate depending on how they're listening. On mobile you can elect to stream in Low (24 kbit/s), Normal (96 kbit/s), High (160 kbit/s) or Very High (320 kbit/s) quality, which is handy if you're worried about using up your cellular data, but none of these options could be called "hi-fidelity" streaming.

News of Amazon's plans for a hi-fi audio streaming service comes a week after Amazon launched a free, ad-supported music streaming service for owners of devices that support Alexa, but who are otherwise not Prime or Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers.

Tag: Amazon

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Employees Who Listen to Amazon Alexa Requests Have Access to Customers’ Home Addresses

Earlier this month, Bloomberg shared details on the thousands of employees that Amazon employs around the world to listen to voice recordings captured in the homes of Amazon Echo owners when the Alexa wake word is spoken, with the purpose of improving the service.

There was some concerning information in the report, including employee access to private recordings, recordings that are upsetting or potentially criminal, and an employee tendency to share private recordings in group work chat environments. As it turns out, there's something Alexa owners should be even more worried about -- some of these employees have access to the home addresses of Amazon customers.


In a new report on the team Amazon employs to listen to Amazon Echo recordings, Bloomberg says that employees have access to location data and can "easily find a customer's home address" by typing geographic coordinates into third-party mapping software. The new information was shared by five anonymous Amazon employees who spoke to Bloomberg.
Team members with access to Alexa users' geographic coordinates can easily type them into third-party mapping software and find home residences, according to the employees, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program.

While there's no indication Amazon employees with access to the data have attempted to track down individual users, two members of the Alexa team expressed concern to Bloomberg that Amazon was granting unnecessarily broad access to customer data that would make it easy to identify a device's owner.
Bloomberg saw a demonstration where an Amazon team member pasted a user's coordinates (stored on Amazon's servers as latitude and longitude) into Google Maps, finding the address for the user linked to the recording in less than a minute. It's not clear how many people are able to access that system, though two Amazon employees said that until recently, the "vast majority" of workers in the Alexa Data Services group could use the software.

Certain employees on the data team listening to recordings have access to home and work addresses for customers along with phone numbers and access to their contacts if the person has chosen to share contacts with Alexa, all for the purpose of improving requests.

That employees can access specific location data for an individual customer is concerning because after the original report, Amazon had this to say: "Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow."

In a new statement provided to Bloomberg, Amazon said something different, calling access to internal tools "highly controlled."
In a new statement responding to this story, Amazon said "access to internal tools is highly controlled, and is only granted to a limited number of employees who require these tools to train and improve the service by processing an extremely small sample of interactions. Our policies strictly prohibit employee access to or use of customer data for any other reason, and we have a zero tolerance policy for abuse of our systems. We regularly audit employee access to internal tools and limit access whenever and wherever possible."
Amazon, says Bloomberg, appears to be restricting the level of access that employees have to sensitive customer data, and after the original story, some of the workers who transcribe and annotate audio recordings no longer had access to software tools they had previously used.

Alexa users concerned with the data that's being collected and used by Amazon should make sure to enable all privacy features and uncheck the option for letting Amazon save Echo recordings.


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