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At Last, a Leak

In what has basically become a bizarre, corporate-sized version of, “He said, he said”, Erick Schonfeld of has opened a big yucky can of worms. His February 20, 2009, report that CBS subsidiary divulged privatized, detailed user preference information has been incendiary, to say the least. The commentary on his post, “Did Just Hand Over User Listening Data to the RIAA?” (Recording Industry Association of America) will have anyone who reads it waiting for Big Brother to show up at the door at any minute. According to the comments on the post, several people were planning to, or did, cancel their memberships.

Apparently what this all boils down to are rampant rumors that, a wildly popular radio site owned by CBS, passed its private user preference data to its parent-company CBS, who then passed it on to the Recording Industry Association of America, ostensibly to allow them to investigate who may have leaked U2’s upcoming album on the site. Schonfeld’s colleague and personal champion Michael Arrington, also of, followed up on the post with his own on May 22, entitled, “Deny This,”, perhaps in the interest of their own publication’s reputation. Arrington claims his co-worker made attempts to get a rejoinder from CBS and CBS had the only response, “To our knowledge, no data has been made avail to the RIAA.”

After Schonfeld opened his Pandora’s box, the comments were definitely more forthcoming, both from and CBS. However, CBS was quit to refute any claims that the aforementioned rebuttal came from them. In fact, after Schonfeld’s story was posted, two different representatives from CBS refuted the claims that the comments were theirs. One of them claimed to be the Vice-President of Communications. Hhhhm…sounds like someone is trying to cover their tracks. It may be too late.

Apparently, this matter is not going to go away quickly. The founder of, Richard Jones, is beginning to let the curse words fly. Public loss of control does not bode well for those trying to cling to their reputation. According to Arrington, Jones emphatically claims he issued repeated outright denials to what Schonfeld was reporting, right up until the story was published. Now has begun their own brand of character assassination, by referring to as a “tabloid” trying to appear as a “legitimate news outlet”.

Arrington is clearly on the side of his colleague at He admits according to his mysterious sources, CBS, not its subsidiary, leaked the personal data to the RIAA. Note that neither Arrington or Schonfeld will reveal their sources except to say they are both very close to–information journalists know could be as reliable as the crazy guy that waits by the dumpster at the back door of the building. Maybe he just happens to hang out at the dumpster over by CBS and the RIAA offices and heard someone on their smoke break.

Arrington gives the reader the sense he is leaning over a table in a dimly-lit corner of a little bistro hidden in the South Bronx, whispering juicy gossip. He has his own pretty fantastical theory, somewhat convoluted. He claims he has an email from the Whistle-Blower at CBS, who is now terminated, that supposedly explains how the United Kingdom branch of was outraged when they learned they had been duped into giving up their listener’s personal preferences information to CBS, who then supposedly passed it on to the RIAA, who could then use that information to possibly prosecute people who may have had pirated media. Whether the tactics used to obtain and use all this information is legal is up to debate at this point. The email goes on to say the writer believes the company should more accurately and clearly inform its users in the United Kingdom about their rights and privacy policies. As pointed out by the writer of the email, it is a third-party entity that uses statistics and analytics to understand consumer habits and desires so as to transpose the information back to the parent companies for marketing. The enigmatic author of the email divulges the PRO membership packages offered by are not profitable. Then the writer goes on to encourage the recipient to keep an eye out for a job opening for them. At the least, this person does not appear to have much foresight, or a sense of self-preservation.

Arrington asserts it could be a record labels behind it all. Record companies would certainly have a large stake in having first-hand knowledge of what consumers wanted to hear. Ultimately, Arrington accuses CBS of unmitigated lying. He throws is pretty frank with his accusations, some of which could possibly lead to charges of breaking both federal and international laws. He continues his flagrancy by finally, offering legal help to the CBS employee who supposedly wrote the email, based on Arrington’s apparent vague knowledge of “Whistle-Blower” laws. Before he goes to sticking his neck out for a guy he doesn’t even to know, he may want to grip his purse strings a little tighter and check out some equally important “trade secret” laws.

The discerning reader and techie should figure out fairly quickly that while there is, no doubt, some righteous indignation on the part of Schonfeld, and Arrington, and anyone else who values freedom and privacy. However, responsible journalism obligates reporters to cover their facts, and be able to present substantial proof, especially when accusing people of breaking international law. While everything may be on the up-and-up, and this whole thing a big misunderstanding, responsible journalists do not let the excitement of going for the throat get in the way of responsible, forthright journalism. When grown men resort to what essentially amounts to a journalistic pissing contest, it is clearly time for this matter to be taken more seriously than mere mud-slinging in the public’s backyard. If Mr. Arrington and Mr. Schonfeld truly believe a crime of international magnitude has been committed, a crime that could affect the future of the very freedoms we hold dear as private citizens, are they not obligated to do more than write a little story with some anonymous source?

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