Samsung and Jay-Z Accused of Using New Album to Mine Customer Data

A special promotion that gave Samsung phone owners early access to 'Magna Carta Holy Grail' is raising eyebrows

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Back in June, Samsung announced that Jay-Z fans would be able to download the rapper’s upcoming Magna Carta Holy Grail a few days before the album’s official July 9 release date. Samsung bought a million downloads of the album, for $5 each, to be given away on July 4 through a mobile application, JAY Z Magna Carta, available exclusively on certain Samsung models.

It was a wily business move: a wildly successful promotion that generated substantial buzz. Jay-Z and Samsung’s “Magna Carta” app (which appears to have been developed by Samsung as a joint promotion) has been downloaded by more than half a million people since it launched on June 24.

However, it now seems that Samsung was interested in bit more than a well-publicized association with a world-famous musical artist.

In order to access Magna Carta Holy Grail, users must download the JAY Z Magna Carta – available on certain Samsung devices. However, before users could access the album, they first had to give away a substantial amount of personal information. While internet users are used to giving up data like name, age and current location, this app also sought access to the phone’s status and identity, users’ storage, system tools, location — and even asked for the right to post on the user’s Facebook or Twitter account.

The more information users requested about the album, the more info they’d be asked to give up. For example, if you wanted the lyrics to a song, the app posts on your behalf to Twitter or Facebook, alerting your friends and followers. The result has seen Twitter flooded with spam-like tweets, “I just unlocked a new lyric ‘Crown’ in the JAY Z Magna Carta app. See them first. #MagnaCarta.”  (Don’t want to alienate your Twitter followers? Don’t worry, Rap Genius already has all the lyrics up and decoded.)

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While it’s understandable that Jay-Z and Samsung would want fans to share the album over their social networks, the features makes sharing far from organic and is raising many eyebrows. The New York Times‘ Jon Pareles asked  the question on many fans’ minds: “Does Jay-Z really need to log my calls?”  Gawker wondered, “Why does Jay-Z need your GPS location? Is he going to cruise by on a platinum-coated jet ski, personally chucking out copies of the album to people who downloaded the app?”

The request is even drawing suspicious within the hip-hop community, Run the Jewels emcee Killer Mike (a.k.a. Michael Render), who told XXL back in 2011 that Jay-Z was his “favorite rapper” refused to download the new album, tweeting:

While it’s certainly not unusual for companies to want information on their users (after all, even Google maps requires access to your location for GPS purposes), recent events — from the National Security Agency’s PRISM surveillance scandal to the ongoing saga of NSA leaker Edward Snowden — have made online privacy a hot topic. And the potential fallout from Samsung’s data-mining might be added to Jay Z’s list of 99 problems.

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