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Spotify offers Car Thing refunds as it faces lawsuit

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Spotify Car-Thing-Unboxing

Spotify is facing continued backlash over its decision to discontinue support for Car Thing, its in-car streaming device, announced earlier in May. The device will no longer work starting on Dec. 9, 2024, the company said. On TikTok, Gen Z users are posting videos to express their discontent with Spotify’s move and its recommended actions — like switching to Android Auto or CarPlay. Often, they didn’t have access to built-in infotainment systems in their car in the first place, making them a target market for a dedicated player like Car Thing, the users note.

The streaming service’s in-car gadget hadn’t been out on the market long enough to make it obsolete. It launched in February 2022 and was discontinued later that same year but with promises to keep it operational for those who already bought units. Ahead of its launch, Spotify CEO Danie Ek had suggested there was consumer demand for such a product, telling investors on an earning call that more than 2 million users had signed up on the Car Thing waitlist in anticipation of its release.

Spotify Car-Thing-Unboxing

Though Spotify never shared official numbers, it’s likely that Car Thing underperformed or was just not worth continued investment in today’s tighter economic market. The latter saw Spotify laying off around 1,500 staffers late last year, for example, after cuts earlier in the year that had affected hundreds.

Car Thing users, however, don’t care about the company’s financial concerns; they just want their gadget to work, or at least be refunded for its $90 price tag.

That’s led to some trying to directly complain to Spotify via DMs on X with @SpotifyCares or through various Spotify emails shared on Reddit. By doing so, some users reported that Spotify offered them several months of a Premium subscription to make up for their loss, while others claimed they asked customer service and were told no one was being reimbursed.

Spotify tells TechCrunch that it has more recently instituted a refund process for Car Thing, provided the user has proof of purchase.

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The ability to reach customer support was officially communicated to Car Thing users in a second email that went out on Friday of last week after the backlash over Car Thing’s discontinuation had grown. In it, Spotify directs users to the correct customer support link to reach out to the company. The email does not promise any refunds, however, but says users can reach out with questions.

While a refund may satisfy some portion of the user base that’s upset over Car Thing, many are still pleading with the company via TikTok videos and in the comments on Spotify’s TikTok posts to please not brick their device. (In fact, complaints about the Car Thing are so now common on Spotify’s videos that the algorithmically recommended search TikTok suggests on some videos is “what is the spotify car thing.”)

“SPOTIFY PLEASE SPARE ME 😭😭😭 I LOVE MY CAR THING,” wrote Carla, a TikTok user who goes by the handle @carlititica on the service.

“Sad,” wrote another user, @nikkilovestech. “It’s like they want people to use their phone which is distracting,” she wrote in the description of her video demoing a Car Thing mounted to her dash. In her video, she also commented on the e-waste that comes from discontinuing a product that still works “perfectly fine.”

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Spotify’s headaches around Car Thing’s discontinuation are not over yet, despite the newly introduced — if not widely broadcast — refund process. The company is also facing a class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which claims Spotify misled consumers by selling them a soon-to-be obsolete product and then not offering refunds, reports Billboard. The suit was filed on May 28.

Spotify cannot comment on the lawsuit, but a spokesperson shared the following statement about Car Thing:

“The goal of our Car Thing exploration in the U.S. was to learn more about how people listen in the car. In July 2022, we announced we’d stop further production and now it’s time to say goodbye to the devices entirely. Users will have until December 9, 2024 until all Car Thing devices will be deactivated. To learn more about all of the ways you can continue to listen to Spotify in the car, check out For The Record, and Car Thing users can reach out to Customer Support with any questions: https://support.spotify.com/us/contact-spotify-support/”

Though the troubles around Car Thing won’t affect all of Spotify’s user base, the news comes at a time when users are already upset that they’re being asked to pay more for things they consider core to a music service, like access to lyrics, a feature Spotify recently paywalled. In addition to complaints over Car Thing, users are threatening to quit Spotify over the paid access to lyrics.

In addition, Spotify upped its subscription rates last year, and another increase is on its way in 2024, Bloomberg reported. Read more

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Artificial Intelligence

Musk lumps OpenAI and Apple together

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Elon Musk

Elon Musk is threatening to ban iPhones from all his companies over the newly announced OpenAI integrations Apple announced at WWDC 2024 on Monday. In a series of posts on X, the Tesla, SpaceX and xAI exec wrote that “if Apple integrates OpenAI at the OS level,” Apple devices would be banned from his businesses and visitors would have to check their Apple devices at the door where they’ll be “stored in a Faraday cage.”

His posts seem to misunderstand the relationship Apple announced with OpenAI, or at least attempt to leave room for doubt about user privacy. While Apple and OpenAI both said that users are asked before “any questions are sent to ChatGPT,” along with any documents or photos, Musk’s responses indicate he believes OpenAI is deeply integrated into Apple’s operating system itself and therefore able to hoover up any personal and private data.

In iOS 18, Apple said people will be able to ask Siri questions, and if the assistant thinks ChatGPT can help, it will ask permission to share the question and present the answer directly. This allows users to get an answer from ChatGPT without having to open the ChatGPT iOS app. Photos, PDFs or other documents you want to send to ChatGPT get the same treatment.

Musk, however, would prefer that OpenAI’s capabilities remain bound to a dedicated app — not a Siri integration.

Responding to VC and CTO Sam Pullara at Sutter Hill Ventures who wrote that the user is approving a specific request on a per-request basis — OpenAI does not have access to the device — Musk wrote, “Then leave it as an app. This is bullshit.”

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Pullara had said that the way ChatGPT was integrated was essentially the same way the ChatGPT app works today. The on-device AI models are either Apple’s own or those using Apple’s Private Cloud.

Meanwhile, replying to a post on X from YouTuber Marques Brownlee that further explained Apple Intelligence, Musk responded, “Apple using the words ‘protect your privacy’ while handing your data over to a third-party AI that they don’t understand and can’t themselves create is *not* protecting privacy at all!”

He even replied to a post by Apple CEO Tim Cook, wherein he threatened to ban Apple devices from the premises of his companies if he didn’t “stop this creepy spyware.”

“It’s patently absurd that Apple isn’t smart enough to make their own AI, yet is somehow capable of ensuring that OpenAI will protect your security & privacy!” Musk exclaimed in one of many posts about the new integrations. “Apple has no clue what’s actually going on once they hand your data over to OpenAI. They’re selling you down the river,” he said. While it’s true that Apple may not know the inner workings of OpenAI, it’s not technically Apple handing over the data — the user is making that choice, from the sound of things.

Apple also announced another integration that would allow users to have access to ChatGPT system-wide within Writing Tools via a “compose” feature. For instance, you could ask ChatGPT to write a bedtime story for your child in a document, Apple suggested. You could also ask ChatGPT to generate images in a number of styles to complement your writing. Through these features, users will essentially be accessing ChatGPT for free without the friction of having to create an account. That’s great news for OpenAI, which will soon have a massive influx of requests from Apple users.

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Apple users may not understand the nuances of the privacy issues here, of course — which is what Musk is counting on by making these complaints. If users could set their own preferred AI bot as the go-to for Siri requests or writing help, like Anthropic’s Claude or — say, xAI’s Grok — it’s doubtful that Musk would be yelling this loudly about the dangers of such an integration. (In fact, Apple just hinted that Google Gemini could be integrated in the future, in a post-keynote session.)

In its announcement, Apple says that users’ requests and information are not logged, but ChatGPT subscribers can connect their account and then access their paid features directly within Apple’s AI experiences.

“Of course, you’re in control over when ChatGPT is used and will be asked before any of your information is shared. ChatGPT integration will be coming to iOS 18 iPadOS 18 and macOS Sequoia later this year,” said Apple SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi. The features will only be available on iPhone Pro 15 models and devices that use M1 or newer chips.

OpenAI reiterated something similar in its blog post, noting that “requests are not stored by OpenAI, and users’ IP addresses are obscured. Users can also choose to connect their ChatGPT account, which means their data preferences will apply under ChatGPT’s policies.” The latter refers to the optional (as in opt-in) ability to connect the feature with their paid subscription.

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Artificial Intelligence

In the future Apple will work with Google’s Gemini

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Apple will work with Google's Gemini

Following a keynote presentation at WWDC 2024 that both introduced Apple Intelligence and confirmed a partnership that brings ChatGPT access to Siri through a deal with OpenAI, SVP Craig Federighi confirmed plans to work with additional third-party models. The first example given by the executive was one of the companies with which Apple was exploring a partnership.

“We’re looking forward to doing integrations with other models, including Google Gemini, for instance, in the future,” Federighi said during a post-keynote conversation. He quickly added that the company had “nothing to announce right now, but that’s our general direction.”

OpenAI’s ChatGPT will be the first third-party model to receive integration at some point later this year. Apple says users will be able to access the system without having to sign up for an account or pay for premium services. As for that platform’s integration with the revamped iOS 18 version of Siri, Federighi confirmed that the voice assistant will alert a user before sending them off to its own in-house models.

“Now you can do it right through Siri, without going through another tool,” the Apple executive said. “Siri, it’s significant to understand, will ask you before you go to ChatGPT. Then you can have that conversation with ChatGPT. Then, if there’s any helpful data referenced in your question that you might want to supply to ChatGPT, we’re going to ask, ‘Do you want to send this photo?’ From a privacy point of view, you’re always in control and have total transparency.”

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Artificial Intelligence

Hugging Face detects unauthorized access

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Hugging Face

Late Friday afternoon, a time window companies usually reserve for unflattering disclosures, AI startup Hugging Face said that its security team earlier this week detected “unauthorized access” to Spaces, Hugging Face’s platform for creating, sharing and hosting AI models and resources.

In a blog post, Hugging Face said that the intrusion related to Spaces secrets, or the private pieces of information that act as keys to unlock protected resources like accounts, tools and dev environments, and that it has “suspicions” some secrets could’ve been accessed by a third party without authorization.

As a precaution, Hugging Face has revoked a number of tokens in those secrets. (Tokens are used to verify identities.) Hugging Face says that users whose tokens have been revoked have already received an email notice and is recommending that all users “refresh any key or token” and consider switching to fine-grained access tokens, which Hugging Face claims are more secure.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many users or apps were impacted by the potential breach.

“We are working with outside cyber security forensic specialists, to investigate the issue as well as review our security policies and procedures. We have also reported this incident to law enforcement agencies and Data [sic] protection authorities,” Hugging Face wrote in the post. “We deeply regret the disruption this incident may have caused and understand the inconvenience it may have posed to you. We pledge to use this as an opportunity to strengthen the security of our entire infrastructure.”

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“We’ve been seeing the number of cyberattacks increase significantly in the past few months, probably because our usage has been growing significantly and AI is becoming more mainstream. It’s technically difficult to know how many spaces secrets have been compromised.”

The possible hack of Spaces comes as Hugging Face, which is among the largest platforms for collaborative AI and data science projects with over one million models, data sets and AI-powered apps, faces increasing scrutiny over its security practices.

In April, researchers at cloud security firm Wiz found a vulnerability — since fixed — that would allow attackers to execute arbitrary code during a Hugging Face-hosted app’s build time that’d let them examine network connections from their machines. Earlier in the year, security firm JFrog uncovered evidence that code uploaded to Hugging Face covertly installed backdoors and other types of malware on end-user machines. And security startup HiddenLayer identified ways Hugging Face’s ostensibly safer serialization format, Safetensors, could be abused to create sabotaged AI models.

Hugging Face recently said that it would partner with Wiz to use the company’s vulnerability scanning and cloud environment configuration tools “with the goal of improving security across our platform and the AI/ML ecosystem at large.” Read more

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