When everyone has a public MySpace profile, tweets what they had for lunch, and puts their drunken escapades in a Facebook album, no one really has a whole lot of privacy when it comes to the Internet. Nevertheless, we trust that the sites we use on a daily basis will respect the information we give them, as per their privacy policies. For example, Google scrubs user search data after nine months; Yahoo bests even Google by anonymizing search requests after just ninety days.

However, sometimes this trust isn’t respected. Beyond the typical bank breaches that release our credit card and social security numbers “" which are typically the fault of malicious individuals “" companies sometimes just show a flagrant disregard of their users’ respect. For example, take Last.fm and their parent company CBS.

lastfmwidgetUsers of Last.fm scrobble every song they play, essentially allowing their play counts to be displayed on their site profile, and keeping a complete track history on Last.fm’s servers. The site can then determine which users like which songs together and can provide suggestions. The site also can make widgets that display your recently played and favorite artists and tracks.

While certainly nifty, this puts quite a data set in the hands of Last.fm. While the site promises never to release individual, personally identifiable data, the site does release aggregate information to other parties to determine royalty payments and the like. This much makes sense. In trade for free social recommendations and data tools, the labels know how much airtime their songs are getting and how to compensate the artists fairly.

However, allegations have surfaced that Last.fm released information identifying users listening to a leaked U2 album. Last.fm denied this, stating that “no data had been made available to the [Recording Industry Association of America].” Later, in a blog post, Last.fm founders issued a truly categorical denial of information release in a blog post. While the story was alarming, it mostly died down because the information was gathered from anonymous users.

The fire has picked back up again though in the last week; TechCrunch, who originally broke the first story, received more tips stating that while Last.fm did not release the information to the RIAA, CBS requested it “for internal use,” then turned around and released it to the RIAA without Last.fm’s consent.

As of right now, the only hard evidence of anything actually happening is a redacted email sent to TechCrunch, which, while very likely real, is not nearly as damning as in internal email from Last.fm or CBS would be. Last.fm has denied the issue all along, and CBS finally responsed yesterday. The whole story is just sort of hanging in limbo.

Essentially, the take-away message from this whole ordeal is that you have to be careful what sort of information you put on the Internet. It can be used against you in a court of law. Whether or not Last.fm released the information, it is still easily relatable to your user profile via web access, and depending on how much personal information you share there, possibly relatable back to the physical you. This also raises questions about how much you own your information. Sure you give it to Last.fm to compile and display, but most users would still claim rights over its use “" like by opting not to releaase to the RIAA. The possibilities suggested in this situation show that this might not always be the case.

About The Author

Michael Kaufmann, lover of all things science and gadget, is a contributing editor at Blast. He can be reached at [email protected].

6 Responses

  1. HMA

    Okay, let’s ass-u-me you don’t believe any of the 3 denials from CBS, Last.fm, or the RIAA (all 3 of which have denied any such nonsense transpired).


    Arrington himself says:

    “I’m not really sure what data was passed to CBS, or even if it was definitely handed off to a label or the RIAA.”

    “There is a story here. Perhaps the story is that a CBS employee wanted to do a hit job on Last.fm, and miscommunication between the companies led Last.fmers to think there was truth to it after the original post.”

    The person who fabricated this whole thing admitted himself that he doesn’t really know anything, or even if there’s a story. He posted one as fact, but doesn’t actually know.

    So you’ve got all 3 involved parties denying any such transfer occured, and the source of the allegations saying he himself has no clue. That leaves… ? Think long and hard about that.

  2. Smith

    Agreed with the above comment- Michael you should take into account Last.fm’s, CBS’s, and the RIAA’s denails, plus Arrington’s lack of proper evidence before posting titles like “Did Last.fm just throw you under the bus?”

  3. Babs

    Agree. It’s like looking at a copy of the Daily Mail, where the headline has nothing to do with the main copy, it’s just a blatant attempt to get readers. I think you can do better than that. The main thrust of your article is ‘careful what you put on the net’. You tried to be fair towards Last.fm but your gut feeling is you’re against them, which shows in your bias.

    If you’d given yourself enough time to write this properly, rewrote it and edited it, it might have been good. As it is, it’s just a muddled beginning.


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