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Gracenote knows what you listen to, but is anybody worried?

Barb Dybwad

Bob Sullivan’s MSNBC article is trying to pin some privacy issues on Apple’s iPod, and they’re not sticking. It talks about the Gracenote CDDB, the database that lives behind the scenes and gets queried every time you put a CD into your computer to fetch the metadata associated with the disc: artist, album names, track names, genre, et al. The issue is being framed as one of privacy, because Gracenote stores the queries sent to it and uses them to compile aggregate music listening preference data. However, even if this data were to be tied to individual IP addresses (which get discarded after use in determining geolocation-based “top 10” data), it would be impossible to pinpoint individual persons to target them based on it. Furthermore, framing this as an issue somehow created by the advent of the iPod is disingenuous, because Gracenote really has nothing to do with Apple’s famed portable audio device, nor any devices made by other makers — it comes into play any time you put a music CD into your desktop or laptop. Gracenote doesn’t know whether you’ve ripped the CD or not, as erroneously stated in the article.

MSNBC also wrongly invokes the leering specter of the RIAA, who could not extract any information about illegal music downloading from Gracenote if they tried — Gracenote doesn’t have any way of ascertaining the legality of an inserted disc. They even trot out the opinion of Washington Post reporter Robert O’Harrow to up the ante on the fear-mongering, despite the fact that he admits to not having studied the Gracenote CDDB. He says he “fears the chilling effect that could be produced if people know someone else knows their musical tastes.” I bet he only listens to Britney Spears with the car windows rolled wayyyyy up.

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