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Norwegian crime agency investigating Tidal data fiddling allegations

By | Published on Tuesday 15 January 2019


In a streaming market dominated by Spotify, Apple and some super buzzy emerging market players, at least Tidal has its dodgy data scandal to keep it in the headlines.

And helping with that process this week is the Norwegian Authority For Investigation Of Economic And Environmental Crime, which has now confirmed it is investigating allegations that the Jay-Z owned streaming service fiddled the figures relating to Beyonce and Kanye West streams.

This, of course, all relates to the exposé about Tidal stats published by Norwegian business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv last May. Jay-Z’s streaming business is of particular interest to journalists in Norway because the rapper got into the digital music game by acquiring the Nordic company WiMP and its Tidal brand back in 2015.

The core allegation in the DN report was that Tidal skewed the streaming stats around the release of Kanye West’s ‘Life Of Pablo’ and Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’, both albums over which the streaming firm enjoyed exclusives. The newspaper said that it investigated after chatter to the effect that the official number of plays for both albums in the weeks following release seemed very high given the size of Tidal’s global userbase.

It then got its hands on some internal data from the streaming firm and got in touch with a bunch of Tidal subscribers which the system said had been heavily playing the Beyonce or West releases. DN alleges that some of those subscribers then denied playing either album as often as the official figures suggested. The journalists also got some academics to scrutinise the data it had acquired and they concluded it had been tampered with.

Tidal, for its part, strongly denies the allegations, has been pretty scathing of the journalists and the newspaper making them, and reckons the bigger story is the theft of its data.

Any fiddling of streaming figures that may or may not have occurred at Tidal is important, because such data manipulation wouldn’t just give Beyonce or West the ego and marketing boost of high play counts, even if that was the aim of any such activity.

Because the deals between the music industry and the streaming services are, at their heart, revenue share based on consumption share, if the plays are artificially increased for one artist, not only will they earn higher royalties, other artists could receive lower payments as a result.

That is why collecting societies representing music publishers and songwriters in the Nordic region, and organisations speaking for the artist community, both sought answers in the wake of the DN report last year. It was Norwegian collecting society Tono that urged the country’s economic crime agency, aka Okokrim, to investigate.

The agency has now confirmed that it is indeed investigating. In a statement yesterday Okokrim said it had “launched an investigation into the allegations that streaming numbers for some tracks have been manipulated”.

Although it then added it wouldn’t divulge any information about that work “in the interest of the investigation and the parties involved”, Okokrim’s Chief Public Prosecutor Elisabeth Harbo-Lervik did reaffirm its main focus. She is quoted by Bloomberg as saying: “It has been made known through media coverage that the reports relate to Tidal’s streaming service and a suspicion that someone has manipulated the number of plays of some songs”.

Tidal continues to deny all the dodgy data allegations and said in a statement yesterday that the company “is not a suspect in the underlying investigation” and that “we are communicating with Okokrim”. Again focusing on how DN got its hands on the firm’s internal data, the company added that it was aware at least one person had been questioned on suspicion of involvement in the data theft.

The company also continues to be critical of the newspaper, stating: “From the very beginning, DN has quoted documents that they have not shared with us in spite of repeated requests”. Not only that, the firm added, “DN has repeatedly made claims based on information we believe may be falsified”.

So there you go. But hey, look at the bright side, at least people are talking about Tidal for a change. Deezer needs to get itself some scandal to likewise stay in the spotlight.