By Natalie Kim – Edited by Mary Grinman
On June 24, Samsung launched a mobile app for the Galaxy S III, S 4, and Note 2 that allowed users to download Jay-Z’s new album, “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” five days before the album was released to the rest of the world. As Pitchfork explains, Samsung “bought” one million copies of the album through a brand partnership with Jay-Z, paying five million dollars for the early distribution rights. Before users could obtain Jay-Z’s music, however, they were required to grant the app certain permissions that Appleinsider calls “unnecessarily invasive.” These permissions included the ability to modify or delete content stored on the phone, to access to the phone’s “precise GPS location,” and to read the phone’s status and identity.
The requirements were met with a substantial amount of backlash in social media outlets and elsewhere, most notably from rapper Killer Mike, who posted a screenshot of the app’s permission page along with the tweet, “I read this and……..‘Naw I’m cool.’” Politico notes that Jay-Z reacted to the controversy with a frank “sux must do better.” ArsTechnica reports that privacy advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate potential FTC Act violations from Samsung with its overbroad data collection. Complaint, In the Matter of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. (F.T.C. July 12, 2013) Complaint hosted by Electronic Privacy Information Center, epic.org.
Ars Technica provides an overview of the controversy and critiques the app as “a play for user data and social media attention.” Jon Pareles of the New York Times notes the irony of the controversy, given Jay-Z’s previous “indigna[tion] about phone surveillance.” Pitchfork notes Jay-Z’s disappointment upon finding out that the one million “sales” to Samsung will not count towards the Billboard 200 chart. Disregarding the privacy concerns, Joshua Steimle of Forbes discusses the app’s many other technical failures.
The recent controversies surrounding Edward Snowden and the PRISM surveillance system have made Americans more aware of privacy concerns. Speculations about Samsung’s strategy vary, with some suggesting that Samsung took the phrase “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” to heart, while others, such as Forbes, charge Samsung with simply botching the app’s release.
Collecting data from mobile apps beyond what seems necessary for the applications’ operations poses privacy concerns. App developers have access to a vast trove of consumer data. The developers may choose to sell this data to third parties, who then use it, for example, in behavioral advertising. It is debatable whether consumers are afforded real notice-and-consent during this data exchange, since they typically have a low awareness of downstream uses and of the complex privacy notices accompanying the applications.