Jay-Z App Debacle Highlights Mobile Privacy Concerns


Samsung and Jay-Z joined forces to break ground on the mobile music front. What they probably didn’t expect was to stir up a Big Brother controversy.

Last week Samsung Galaxy owners were invited to download the Magna Carta app in order to unlock one of a million free early releases of the rap mogul’s new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail. With plenty of money behind the campaign, including a three-minute commercial during game five of the NBA finals, the app got plenty of attention. Marketing and music industry leaders wondered whether the app would pave the way for mobile-friendly music releases in the future. The buzz was big, and plenty of fans downloaded the app, but not all reviews were positive. On July 1, fellow rapper Killer Mike initiated a tidal wave of privacy concerns the below tweet.

As you can see in the screenshot, the app reserves the right to access device storage, user location and to prevent the user’s phone from sleeping. Compared to other music apps, this privacy policy is pretty standard. But with that well publicized tweet (not to mention heightened privacy concerns brought on by PRISM), many fans opted not to download the app, and plenty of Jay-Z Big Brother jokes were made across social networks.

Even before NSA tracking issues were brought to light, mobile app users were protective of their personal data. According to the 2013 Mobile Entertainment Forum Privacy Report, just over a third of consumers are comfortable sharing personal data with an app. Another 70% believe it’s important to know when an app is gathering and sharing personal information. In the report, MEF Global Chair Andrew Bud notes that “Consumers demand transparency when apps are sharing their data…the app community needs to do a better job of explaining to consumers why it is in their interests to do so.” Perhaps Jay-Z and Samsung would have had better luck with a clear explanation of why this access was required.

In reality, there are plenty of users out there who breeze through privacy policies without actually reading them. But there was another step in the app’s installation that tripped up even this negligent set: forced social sign in. The app requires users to sign in with either a Facebook or Twitter account. As disgruntled fan Alan Smithee aptly notes in the comment section of a Billboard report, “The forced Twitter or Facebook registration equates to turning every fan into an ad unit. It takes the ‘social’ out of social media. Forcing fandom rather than letting it build naturally is a sure path to failure.”

So, what have we learned? As a concept, combining the power of a popular device and a superstar musician is brilliant. Apps present an unprecedented opportunity to collect valuable user data. But with blatant disregard for fans’ privacy and and social preferences, concept means nothing. Ars Technica said it best in a recent article headline: Samsung and Jay-Z give the Internest a master’s class in how not to make an app: We install the most needlessly invasive Android app ever.