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Update: Techcrunch/RIAA/last.fm User Data Debacle

22 Feb

So today Erick Schonfeld at Techcrunch posted an update to his last.fm story from Friday.  36 hours or so after posting the original, with more than 300 comments posted on the blog and a number of categorical denials from last.fm staffers.  Still no official statement from CBS/last.fm though.

Erick tries to clarify a couple of points.  On the timing he says he said he posted the story late on friday because he had been waiting for a statement from CBS/last.fm (when it arrived it was a one liner saying they weren’t aware of any data being handed over).  Later, he says this:

From the very beginning, I’ve presented this story for what it is: a rumor. Despite my attempts to corroborate it and the subsequent detail I’ve been able to gather, I still don’t have enough information to determine whether it is absolutely true.

This is from Erick’s original story: “And Last.fm, which is owned by CBS, actually handed the data over to the RIAA. ”

That doesn’t read like a rumor to me, although Erick does refer to it as such a couple of times elsewhere in the story.  Regardless, is that what Techcrunch has become?  A Rumor mill? 

As I said in my previous post, I don’t know whether this story is true or not, but I do know that Techcrunch published the story late in the day on Friday, failed to cite sources or corroborate, and failed to give the accused party a voice or right to reply.  How many accounts have been cancelled in the 36 hours since that story ran?

Failing to identify who at last.fm/CBS gave that one line statement and rushing to publish the story without all the facts amounts to little more than tabloid rumor-mongering.  Which org (parent or child) was it that gave the original one line statement btw?  I could have sworn that in the first version of the story I read it said CBS, but now it says last.fm.

I would have expected/hoped for more from Techcrunch.  I’m also very surprised that 48 hours in there’s still no official statement from CBS or last.fm: I would have expected a statement first thing saturday morning.

Update:  Erick posted another update, here.  No more info as to sources (that I’ve been able to find), and last.fm posted a pretty angry denial on their blog.  This one looks to be fizzling out somewhat.  Wonder what impact it’s had on their numbers?  Also curious about last.fm’s statement that they’d stopped processing the cancel job so folks who deleted as  a kneejerk reaction could change their minds.  Could see how that would make folks somewhat paranoid.  Incidentally, Erick’s post now has almost 600 comments, the most that I can remember seeing on techcrunch.  Wonder what their traffic numbers for that post are like?

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Techcrunch Story: Did Last.fm Just Hand Over User Listening Data To the RIAA?

21 Feb

Yesterday evening, Erick Schonfeld at Techcrunch ran this story about UK based (and CBS owned) music service, last.fm.

In a nutshell, it cites one unnamed CBS source as saying that last.fm handed over user data to the RIAA (the story implies that it relates to the unreleased U2 album that’s been doing the rounds on file sharing services). If true this story would be massively damaging to last.fm: the service doesn’t work without the scrobbler (little app that uploads a record of what music you’ve played to the site), and if users are worried that their personal info (IP, email etc) is at risk they just won’t use it.   Everywhere I look I see people saying they’re going to ditch it.

A number of last.fm staffers have flat out denied the claim, although there’s been no word from the CBS mothership just yet.  I don’t know whether it’s true or not (though I would be very, very surprised if it were: last.fm spent years building that trust with their users, would be astonishingly reckless to throw that away like this), what I am surprised about is the silence from Techcrunch. They published the story late in the day yesterday, then a few hours later (after the unofficial denials had come in from the last.fm staffers) updated the post with this:

Update: Some more denials from Last.FMers, including one of the co-founders, Richard Jones, in comments, who says this story is “utter nonsense and totally untrue,” and another one from Russ Garrett, a systems architect.

Not ‘we’re looking into this further’ or ‘looks like we made a mistake’, just ‘some people at last.fm are saying it’s not true’.

It really is surprising to me that an industry leading blog would publish such a serious allegation on the basis of one unidentified source, and not do any followup investigation in the light of the denials above.  By ignoring the response and simply posting that addendum, Techcrunch’s credibility, in my eyes, is seriously damaged.  Publishing a story like that without input from the company involved (or identifying a second source to back up the claims) is at best shoddy journalism, at worst a hatchet job.  Schonfeld says he ‘contacted both CBS and the RIAA’, but went ahead and published the story regardless without comment from either.

Not impressed.   And especially not impressed with Techcrunch’s silence.  If the story is true, stand behind it and back it up.  If it’s not, issue an apology and retraction.

For the record, I’ve been a user for years, and will continue to be.  FWIW I don’t really like U2 much.