Last.fm founder Richard Jones responded forcefully today (Feb. 23) to accusations that the company had given user data to the RIAA in order to track illegal downloads of U2's upcoming album, "No Line On the Horizon." Jones’ refutation follows a similar denial made by the RIAA on Saturday.
The controversy started with the leak of U2's "No Line On The Horizon" last week. The album appeared on file-sharing sites after Universal Music's Australian arm accidentally began selling downloads two weeks early. But on Friday, the technology blog Techcrunch sparked privacy concerns when they posted a rumor claiming that Last.fm, the CBS-owned music streaming and social networking site that allows registered user to keep track over their digital listening habits by "scrobbling" tracks played on computers, MP3s players and other streaming sites, had shared private user data with the RIAA that could identify individuals who had listened to the unreleased U2 tracks.
"I denied it vehemently [in] the Techcrunch article, as did several other Last.fm staffers," Jones wrote today in a post on the company's blog. "We denied it in the Last.fm forums, on twitter, via email. Basically we denied it to anyone that would listen, and now we're denying it on our blog."
Another staffer, Russ Garret, issued "a full and categorical denial" on Last.fm's forum. "We'd never personally identify our users to a third party - that goes against everything we stand for.
The RIAA's denial came on Saturday via ArsTechnica.com. "[We're] not sure where that rumor came from," RIAA spokesperson Cara Duckworth told the site. "It's not true."
Although Techcrunch writer Erick Schonfeld has updated the original post with Last.fm's extensive denials, he has resisted calls to retract the post altogether. In an update he writes, "Despite my attempts to corroborate [the rumor], I still don't have enough information to determine whether it is absolutely true. But I still don't have enough information to determine that it is absolutely false either. What I do have are a lot of unanswered questions about how exactly Last.fm shares user data with the record industry."
"We never share personally identifiable data such as email and IP addresses," Last.fm founder Jones said in his post today. "The only type of data we make available to labels and artists, other than what you see on the site, is aggregate data of listeners and number of plays."