Friends of mine recently gushed about their adoration of www.pandora.com, a new internet radio station that intelligently adapts what it plays based on what you tell it you like.
Based on their swooning endorsement and on the greatness of the idea of intelligently adapting internet radio, I went to the Pandora site to try it out.
Upon arrival, you get the very distinct impression that you are at a site run by computer geeks who simply love you and love music. Both the site’s tone and the nerdy, non-commercial-sounding name of its parent organization — the Music Genome Project — make Pandora seem for all the world like it’s an open-source, not-for profit labor of such love. (This strategic mis-impression is crucially replicated on Wikipedia, by the way.)
But guess what? This bubble quickly pops, if you know your stuff: In reality, Pandora is quite the opposite of what it presents itself to be. In reality, it is nothing more than a gigantic marketing Trojan Horse that uses the above impression plus an utterly shameless lie to insert itself onto your computer, and thereby into your life and your marketing profile.
Here’s the Big Lie:
Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit! This is simply utterly, utterly knowingly and calculatingly false. Wrong. As big a lie as there is anywhere.
Pandora’s actual purpose — the one that’s certainly both the real core of the business plan and the topic of every board meeting — is to be found, with a bit of digging and a knowledge of what big business marketing is and how it works, buried in the pandora.com fine print:
- If you come to Pandora directly from a partner site, we may share your information back with the partner that sent you to Pandora. If that’s the case, we’ll tell you onscreen that we’re going to do so. Other than that one case, we won’t share any information that identifies you as an individual with any other third party. Not ever.
- If you decide to publicly post your personal information in our community sections, we can’t be responsible for what happens to that information. Post wisely.
- We track the music played on Pandora so we can make sure artists get paid. We report on listening in aggregate, but we never report on what you individually are listening to.
- To target advertising we may pass along your age, gender, where you live, or the kind of music you like to our advertising service provider, but we never send any information that identifies you as an individual.
In other words, truth be told, what pandora.com REALLY is is three things:
1. A website that trades you song recommendations in exchange for your name, address, and email address (and, hence, the ability, via other marketing databases, to know all about you and your demographic characteristics) and a huge amount of unique, detailed, and extremely commercially valuable data about the inter-relationship of tastes and personal traits among people who share your particular demography and social statuses.
2. A website that attempts to deny that it has any “backside” interest in the rich marketing data it gathers about your “demographic” with your active but (unless you read and contemplate the true — and unexplained-by-Pandora — meaning of the “privacy statement” where they admit the truth) uninformed cooperation.
3. A business that undoubtedly makes heaps of cash selling its oh-so-cleverly “harvested” and essentially stolen demographic and psychographic data to other corporations, which are themselves seeking to hone their own marketing campaigns by better “targeting” you for future manipulations and frauds.
[Note: The assurances about “individually identifiable information” arereally beside the point. Corporate capitalists are interested in teaching themselves to better manipulate groups like yours, not in stealing your identity.]
Behind its closed doors, Pandora, in other words, does indeed have a single mission and nothing else — to dishonestly exploit your passion for music and your use of the internet for its own investors’ personal gain.
If the FTC hadn’t been kept in a coma for the last 30 years, the blatant gulf between Pandora’s “about”-page “single mission — and nothing else” promise and its actual design and operation would be quickly and harshly punished. At a minimum, Pandora’s investors would have to tell you what kind of box you are about to open…
Meanwhile, I urge everybody to avoid this scam. If you have a Pandora account, close it and send them a message of protest. Until somebody with principles offers a not-for-profit version of this thing, keep finding your own new songs. Above all, don’t give our overclass a free gift of more ammunition for running its decrepit dictatorship over what products we make and use. The Earth is, as they say, “in the balance.”