TechCrunch, Last.fm, and CBS At It (Again)

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Back in February, TechCrunch published an article titled Did Last.fm Just Hand Over User Listening Data to the RIAA? That story was the subject of short, but intense debate.  Last.fm vehemently denied the accusation that they’d given up user information to the Recording Industry Association of America.  The core of the debate, however, seemed to center around the inability of CBS and Last.fm to get their stories straight and in synch.

Friday evening, TechCrunch published a follow up titled Deny This, Last.fm in which Michael Arrington claims that another source inside Last.fm has confirmed the handoff of user information from Last.fm to CBS and subsequently to RIAA.  For what the data would be used for is anyone’s guess, but the story has a few holes on both sides of the fence.

last-fm-logoTechCrunch chose to publish the story on a Friday, late in the afternoon, before a long, holiday weekend.  Then, on Saturday, posted a second piece to lambast the official response from Last.fm, written by one of their lead developers, Russ Garrett.  The official, hurried, response was not very carefully worded, but given the circumstances, this could be understandable.

The issue is about user privacy, which is a hot-button issue amongst those of us who spend the bulk of our lives online.  This is compounded by the even hotter-button issue of RIAA and how they treat user privacy and the civil litigation system like their own exclusive playground.  With these two issues at hand and the potential to do serious damage to a fledgling company’s reputation, I think a little more tact with the timing of their post would have been in order.

As someone who publishes online myself, I understand the compelling need to “get the scoop” or put the information out there as quickly as possible.  Sometimes, however, this needs to be tempered by some consideration for the situation at hand.  It’s not likely anything would have been lost had TechCrunch waited until Tuesday morning to publish their story.

Another issue is with the source of the story itself: an unnamed employee of Last.fm.  While anonymous sources aren’t unheard of in the journalistic enterprise, they are also too easily fabricated–either by the journalist or the source.  Any reader should be heavy with the salt if the only source for a story is anonymous.  In my mind, this is another reason TechCrunch should have waited to publish.

In the end, the story will play out and probably be very similar to the February brouhaha.  This time, however, it will be exacerbated by the story’s dissemination (largely one-sided) over the long weekend.

As the story plays out, it should be interesting to note two things: how CBS responds to the issue and, more importantly, how the user information that could have (illegally) been transferred to RIAA would be useful to them.  Given that what is purported to have been passed along is actually publically-available on Last.fm already.


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