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Pandora let world see our bathroom singalongs, say users

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Music services that divulge your guiltiest music pleasures to the world may be breaking US state law. Michigan’s Video Rental Privacy Act has been cited in a new class action lawsuit against Pandora, claiming $5,000 damages per person. The lawsuit says that by making playlists and histories public and searchable by Google, privacy was violated.

The lawsuit claims that Pandora promised that playlists and other information would only be available to other users who knew a particular user’s email address, but then went back on this assurance. It also says integration with Facebook in April last year, which displayed the data to users' ‘friends’, was also a fundamental privacy breach.

It couldn’t be more topical.

Last week Spotify made its users' private listening data public, at the same time as making Facebook membership mandatory for new signups. The Pandora suit was filed on 20 September, a week before the great Facebook music launch. And while class actions lawsuits are more common than tornadoes in Kansas, this one might have legs.

While there’s much about music that’s social, there’s much that isn’t. The mandatory publication of private experiences is going to upset two groups of people. There’s the social media enthusiasts, for one. What we display on social networks is an artifice – there’s nothing genuine or authentic about it. But this painstakingly elaborated “public face” can be undone when private info we would rather not disclose slips out. What could be more distressing to a prog rock bore than having his cheesy disco playlists published?

And then there’s the rest of us, who don't care much for this real-time monitoring in the first place. This weird obsession with watching what everyone else is the theme of James Harkin’s Cyburbia – a crap name for a good book – which describes how it leads to a very small world, in which conformism and timidity are the norm.

You can read the lawsuit here [PDF]. ®

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