Sharing is Caring: What is Google’s Position on Data Sharing with Artists?

While it remains to be seen exactly what the contours of a deal might be, Zoë Keating‘s advocacy of data sharing with artists by online music retailers is getting some traction.  Beats is making positive noises in that direction and I would expect others to follow shortly.  This is something of a privacy law challenge, but it could be something as simple as a “sign up here” button for the artist’s email list next to the “buy here” buttons to buy the artist’s downloads or CDs.

I’m willing to be educated otherwise, but it seems that an email opt in would be unlikely to present a greater privacy issue at all for the retailer.  This is because the fan would be in control of the opt-in decision, and any privacy rules applicable to the email list would live at the artist site and would (or should) already be in place regarding the existing artist email list.

However–this is a good moment to bring up a subject we have banged the drum about at MTP for years now:  Nondisplay uses of music.  Meaning uses that are made by a Big Data company like Google of information about music use, consumption, sales, distribution (or whatever) that are (1) not reported to the artist, (2) are covered in the cracks of the Big Data user privacy policy, and (3) that are sold, resold, and sliced and diced by the Big Data company like there is no tomorrow, now and forever amen.  And of course–none of the revenue derived from nondisplay uses goes to anyone other than the Big Data company–in this case, Google.

It is very, very unlikely that a Big Data company like Google is interested in a music platform just because they really want to be in the music business and make their cut of subscription, download or webcasting revenue.  No, the real cash cow for Big Data is Big Data.  That’s not a tautology–it was confirmed as recently as last week by the Financial Times (with the hysterically funny title, “Google Looks to Beat Music Rivals“):

Google is in talks with big music labels to launch a streaming service to compete with companies such as Spotify and Deezer, as it looks to expand into one of the fastest growing areas of the music market.

The discussions reflect the technology company’s ambition to extend its influence into new business areas and diversify away from advertising, which accounts for 95 per cent of its revenues.  [Good thinkin’, Dob….]

[But, wait, not so fast…there’s more….] Advertising executives also speculated that by scrutinising consumers’ listening habits, Google could build a valuable database for advertisers.

“It will be another piece of the puzzle for understanding consumers,” said Christophe Cauvy, European head of digital at advertising agency JWT. “This will be very interesting for brands where purchases are emotionally or status driven.”

So…think about that.  Where’s the real value going to lie…so to speak…for Google?  Making a tiny vig off of music, or collecting a bunch of information about fans that can be used in other Google products?  Hmmm?  As Ben Sisario identified it in the New York Times, which of the Two Googles are we talking to?  Aaron or Roy?

The Financial Times is even fuzzy on this issue as their article starts like they think that Google intends to get further into the music business because they want to make money off of streaming.  Given what we know about artist royalties from streaming, that seems highly unlikely.

What seems more likely is that Google Play gets consumers to put a Google entertainment center in their home and then Google monitors them all the live long day to serve advertising to the fans.  Maybe not while the fans are listening to a no-advertising subscription service, but when the fan leaves that environment and uses Google for something else.

Of course, Google will add this information from non-display uses to the data that it has already collected from serving ads to pirate sites offering the identical music, movies and books.

Do you think for one second that Google (or any other Big Data company) would share that information with the artists whose music gave it value?  Much less share it for free?

Hello, Roy.  I thought that was you.

2 thoughts on “Sharing is Caring: What is Google’s Position on Data Sharing with Artists?

  1. Actually, yes I can. I’m not convinced Google wouldn’t offer a backdoor analytics system for artists the same way they do for people who us Google AdWords or Blogger.

    As far as them offering it for free, historical precedent tells us that they would (as they do for the above mentioned services). True that one has to pay to use AdWords, but you don’t have to pay an additional fee for the analytics and Blogger is completely free. But even if they don’t, why is that such a terrible thing. As long as Google makes the service affordable, I don’t see why artists wouldn’t take advantage of this invaluable tool.

    Without saying so, your article seems to take the tone that Google shouldn’t be allowed to profit off their data. I understand your point about the ads on pirate sites, but that seems to be totally besides the issue. Really, what does that have to do with Google offering a legitimate service?

    Take care.


  2. I think I didn’t make the point about the nondisplay uses clearly enough. When Google contract with artists for a music license–and just go with me on this–they do not want to pay more than the “going rate” for music paid by others–emphasis on the “more than”. That is, they do not want to pay more than the rate paid by others who do not scrape data in the background. The issue of scraping user data is typically not mentioned in a Google music license, but you wouldn’t know that of course because the licenses are subject to non-industry standard confidentiality requirements (like everything associated with Google, it seems).

    The “backdoor analytics system” you refer to is likely available now through Google Analytics, a system where the users data is the product–also not “free”. The kind of data sharing I am talking about is not of the nature of “how many visitors did I get today from Peoria and how many from Minsk and how many from Rio.” There is some urban legend on the Internet that this kind of information is valuable to artists in some way–like touring. I’ve never seen a tour routed that way and it would be prohibitively expensive.

    The data that is the most important to an artist is the data that Google claims (which many of us don’t much believe) that they don’t have absent a billing relationship–the actual identity of the fan. I’m not suggesting that a retailer or service hand over that information without the fan’s consent, but what I am suggesting is that retailers or services allow the artist to offer the fan a direct opportunity to sign up for the artist’s email list–without the retailer or service getting in the middle.

    For example, if you are listening to the ad supported Pandora service, you can be offered a “click here to buy” button that takes you to iTunes and to Amazon. Pandora makes a referral fee from the retailers for that service. Nobody asks the artist if they are cool with excluding their local indie record store from those buttons. Maybe the artist doesn’t care, or maybe there is no comparable local store. But maybe the artist does care and maybe there is such a store the artist would like to support. Why not ask them?

    But more importantly, why not offer the fan an opportunity to “click here to sign up” for the artist’s email list? An opt in button that wouldn’t (as far as I can tell) violate any privacy policy of the service, is voluntary, and offers the artist a really valuable piece of data–the identity of a fan who has self selected and holds out the potential for further commerce or just involvement. The artist’s email privacy policy would apply, because the service is not involved.

    Let me repeat that–the service is not involved. The service has already gotten the benefit of a valuable commodity–the artist’s recordings–that the artist invested in and promoted. The service gets that valuable commodity at a risibly low royalty, and is using that valuable commodity as a loss leader for something else.

    Why shouldn’t the artist be able to use their music as a loss leader for something else–a direct fan relationship that is not shared with some largely fungible middleman who will likely abuse the fan if allowed to by a deluge of spam. The reason the fan came to sign up has little or nothing to do with the fungible service and everything to do with the artist’s efforts (or the efforts of their label).

    So you make an assumption which I disagree with–it’s not Google’s data. At least not at the point a fan signs up or buys a track. So no, no one should be able to profit from something that’s not theirs.

    The issue of nondisplay uses has to do with Google offering a “legitimate” service because they intend to take fan data and use it outside of the service, while paying a price for content that is developed for retailers who do not use that data to sell Android phones, Glass or driverless cars. Free riding, in other words.

    If Google intends to make nondisplay uses (like using the millions of illegally scanned books to train their translation algorithm, for example), particularly while earning free rider rents, then they need to disclose those uses and pay for them. Up front, preferably.

    Like say a bounty of $100 per user would be a nice round number.

    And when it comes to a retailer that also runs an ad network that supports piracy, that network knows very well the value of this data. They know because they have profited from it for years.


Comments are closed.