Privacy group calls for FTC investigation of Jay-Z app

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<i>This post has been updated, as indicated below</i>

Now he’s got 100 problems. Rapper Jay-Z was widely praised for his business savvy after he announced a plan to give away 1 million copies of his new album to Samsung Galaxy smartphone users through a special app.

But that app has generated a slew of complaints from users, and even a fellow rapper, worried about data it collects.

Now the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, an advocacy group, is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.


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“Samsung failed to disclose material information about the privacy practices of the App, collected data unnecessary to the functioning of the Magna Carta App, deprived users of meaningful choice regarding the collection of their data, interfered with device functionality, and failed to implement reasonable data minimization procedures,” the group said in the complaint.

UPDATE: Samsung said the complaint with the FTC is baseless and that the “Magna Carta” app’s permissions are in-line with those on other apps.

“Any information obtained through the application download process was purely for customer verification purposes, app functionality purposes, and for marketing communications, but only if the customer requests to receive those marketing communications,” Samsung said in a statement. “Samsung is in no way inappropriately using or selling any information obtained from users through the download process.”

The app, which was installed by 1.2 million people, let Galaxy users download the album, dubbed “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” on July 4, three days before its general release date.

But the app required a number of permissions users had to approve before they downloaded the music and other features, including lyric sheets.


The app accessed substantial information, including data about users’ location, telephone numbers dialed, networks and other applications on the phone, according to the EPIC filing.

Users had to first sign in through Facebook or Twitter and enter their age before they could access the app’s features. The app also required permission to post to social media sites on users’ behalf and required status updates to access lyrics.

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These requirements were unnecessary for the app’s purpose and the app collected an overly broad set of data, EPIC argued.

EPIC asked that the commission investigate the company and prevent it from causing similar privacy issues with future apps. They requested that the commission restrict Samsung’s “data collection to the user data necessary to run the app” and “delete the user data that was improperly obtained” from users.

It’s unlikely the FTC will be interested in the EPIC complaint, said Jeremiah Reynolds, a lawyer at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, who specializes in intellectual property law. He noted that the app’s data collection was legal as long as the data gathering was done with the user’s permission.


“People may believe it’s intrusive, but as long is it’s correctly described and as long as the people give consent, I don’t see what the issue is,” he said.

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This is not the first setback for Jay-Z related to the Samsung deal, in which the company reportedly paid $5 for each copy of the album, which has received mixed reviews.

The album failed to download right away for some app users. And the trade publication Billboard recently said it would not count the sales to Samsung in its album sales chart.

Jay-Z, not considered a prolific Twitter user, last week took questions from fans in a Q&A-style chat. Among those who tweeted to Jay-Z was Politico media reporter Dylan Beyers, who asked for his response to the privacy issues.

Jay-Z’s response: “sux must do better.”

[For the Record: An earlier version of this post said the app was downloaded by more than half a million people. A Samsung spokeswoman clarified that it was actually downloaded by 1.2 million.]



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