The news cycle spins fast and flimsy these days. Late Friday night, TechCrunch posted an unsourced rumour that CBS-owned Last.fm handed a "giant dump" of user data to the RIAA. The music org was said to have requested the data, which could be used to find users who are listening to as-yet-unreleased tracks, after U2's upcoming album was leaked two weeks before release.
But Last.fm came out fighting. After its New York-based CBS (NYSE: CBS) spokesperson told TechCrunch "To our knowledge, no data has been made available to RIAA", Richard Jones (pictured), one of the remaining three co-founders in London, wrote in the site's comments after midnight: "I'm rather pissed off this article was published, except to say that this is utter nonsense and totally untrue. As far as I can tell, the author of this article got a 'tip' from *one* person and decided to make a story out of it. TechCrunch is full of shit, film at 11."
Another rejection from systems architect Russ Garrett on Last's forum: "I'd like to issue a full and categorical denial of this. We've never had any request for such data by anyone, and if we did we wouldn't consent to it. Of course we work with the major labels and provide them with broad statistics, as we would with any other label, but we'd never personally identify our users to a third party - that goes against everything we stand for. As far as I'm concerned Techcrunch have made this whole story up."
If true, the instance would be a PR disaster for Last.fm and, despite the denials, the episode already appears to have hurt the site over the weekend. Another London developer, Jonty Wareing posted on TechCrunch: "What annoys me is that people are deleting accounts and losing their entire scrobbling history based on shoddy journalism. This hurts those people who have spent years carefully collecting their data far more than last.fm as a whole. We have now stopped the job that removes users marked for deletion, so if you did delete your account in haste and want your scrobbles back, please contact our support team." If true, staff would have revolted, too: posted: "You could also expect most of the Last.fm staff to walk out of the office door and never return."
Metrics gathered by Last.fm, whose AudioScrobbler lets people show online which songs they listen to, certainly have the potential to give the RIAA an insight in to pre-release listening habits. Simply visiting the site shows tracks from U2's upcoming No Line On The Horizon have been played 114,549 times by 8,353 people so far (though most of the plays are of the already-released debut single), that users Trellisaze and WarwickHa are listening right now and that a number of people "love" the new material But the data isn't necessarily accurate as users may tag their tracks with incorrect metadata, Big Champagne offers better statistics on downloads themselves and the RIIA has already stated it will move from suing individual law-breakers toward an ISP consensus instead.
By Robert Andrews