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Are Streaming Services Faking Their Numbers?

External hard drive users and portable MP3 jockeys are abandoning their storage devices in record numbers in favor of online streaming services. While these sites offer various options and features, the market for online music streaming might not be exactly what it seems.

According to recent reports, published in an expose by Norwegian newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv, or DN, the popular online service Tidal has falsified their numbers for artists like Beyonce and Kanye West – and they have the raw hard drive data to prove it.

A Surprise Investigation

The investigation was kicked off in 2017 when DN obtained a hard drive from one of Tidal's internal systems. By combing logs dated all the way back to 2016, data forensics experts noticed something awry. Specifically, it appears that specific music datasets, related to at least Kanye West and Beyonce, were modified to show more plays – or online streams – than they really had.

Per a statement by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) Center for Cyber and Information Security: "We have through advanced statistical analysis determined that there has in fact been a manipulation of the data at particular times. The manipulation appears targeted towards a very specific set of track IDs, related to two distinct albums."

One might initially jump to the conclusion that it was hackers or overly excited fans that are responsible for the falsified figures, but investigators clarified the statement by saying: "The manipulation likely originates from within the streaming service itself."

With that, there's only one conclusion: the raw datasets were manipulated to increase payouts for the owners and executives of Tidal.

Two Sides to Every Story

Representatives with Tidal strongly refute the claim. They quickly enlisted the help of an independent, third-party cyber-security firm to conduct their own investigation.

Apart from labeling the investigation a "ridiculous story" and a "smear campaign," Richard Sanders, CEO with Tidal, said, in part: "We reject and deny the claims that have been made by Dagens Næringsliv. Although we do not typically comment on stories we believe to be false, we feel it is important to make sure that our artists, employees, and subscribers know that we are not taking the security and integrity of our data lightly, and we will not back down from our commitment to them."

He continued his statement by commenting on the new, independent investigation by saying: "We are proud of the hard work, devotion to our artist driven mission, and tremendous accomplishments of our over one hundred employees in Norway and fifty more in the United States. We look forward to sharing with them, and all of our partners, the results of the review once completed."''

The Future of Tidal

As an outsider, it's impossible to say whether or not Tidal falsified any information. It's also unclear how DN obtained the hard drive in the first place. While the original investigators and reporters are adamant that the evidence exists, Tidal has yet to release findings of their follow-up investigation. An event like this – if true – might spell the end for Tidal, but the overall impact on the streaming market will be minimal.


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