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Call me when the NSA starts demanding information on everyone who downloaded Samsung’s app to promote Jay-Z’s new Magna Carta Holy Grail album.
The app might have been many things — intrusive, ill-conceived and ultimately an abject public relations failure — but I’m not sure it constitutes an invasion of privacy. I’m even more certain it isn’t worthy of a Federal Trade Commission investigation, something for which privacy watchdog EPIC is now asking. And I’m entirely certain that Jay-Z shouldn’t be taking the heat for Samsung’s stupidity.
As a lesson in how not to build an app for marketing purposes, the Magna Carta app should become part of the canon. But as an example of unethical privacy practices, it probably can go away. Or at least fade into the background, a small piece in a mosaic of apps collecting all sorts of user data in exchange for their use.
Regarding the EPIC complaint, which I assume the FTC will dismiss without much thought, the Magna Carta app was pretty clear in stating the permissions required for download. If anyone wanted to unlock the lyrics so they could pose as hip-hop millionaires a few hours before their friends, they had to sign in with Facebook or Twitter and allow the app to annoy their friends and followers. This, too, was clear.
If you didn’t like the rules, you didn’t have to download the app. It really was that simple. Ask Killer Mike.
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Yes, the app wanted a lot of permissions — and while some were necessary for the app to work, others seemed designed solely to provide Samsung with market intelligence. But here’s the thing: Anyone running, say, the Samsung ChatON app preinstalled on Galaxy phones was already giving the company everything it wanted from Magna Carta users, and more.
Play Angry Birds? Use Evernote? Actually, have you downloaded any app? Many require largely the same permissions as Magna Carta (Evernote, for usability reasons, requires even more). Read their privacy policies and you’ll see that those companies, like Samsung, analyze user data for all sorts of purposes. It’s not inherently right or wrong, but just part of the exchange in a world of free mobile apps.
And with all due respect to Politco’s Dylan Byers, Jay-Z tweeting “sux must do better” doesn’t constitute an admission of anything. Tar and feather me if I’m wrong, but I’d guess Jay-Z had as much personal involvement planning the development or marketing of that app as most people have managing their 401k plans. He’d actually have good reason to want all that data — unlike Samsung which was getting data on consumers whose business and data it already has, Jay-Z would receive data about fans loyal enough to download the app just for early access — but the app looks like an all-Samsung creation.
What was Jay-Z’s interest in the whole arrangement? I’ll quote a Jay-Z song, quoting Ray Liotta in Goodfellas: “F*** you, pay me.”
I understand that people are on edge about privacy — now more than ever — and are looking for bogeymen around every corner, but if we rage at every dumb app that arguably requires too many permissions, we end up being the society that cried wolf. When it comes to consumers privacy, to bastardize Jay-Z this time, we’ve got 99 problems — like what happened with Path and some of the issues around using data gleaned from activity on sites like WebMD — but Magna Carta Holy Grail ain’t one.