Elliott C. Back: Internet & Technology

Last.FM, the RIAA, and TechCrunch

Posted in Computers & Technology,Copyright,Music,P2P by Elliott Back on May 24th, 2009.

TechCrunch refuses to let their claim that Last.FM gave CBS user data which was passed onto the RIAA lie. In a post called Deny This, Last FM, they claim that:

CBS requested user data from Last.fm, including user name and IP address. CBS wanted the data to comply with a RIAA request but told Last.fm the data was going to be used for “internal use only.” It was only after the data was sent to CBS that Last.fm discovered the real reason for the request. Last.fm staffers were outraged, say our sources, but the data had already been sent to the RIAA.

Reddit has noticed that TechCrunch is censoring comments critical of the post. Last.FM emphatically denies handing over the data:

Any suggestion that we were complicit in transferring user data to any third party is incorrect. […] It really seems like someone is trying to slander us here.

Here’s a more realistic, simpler explanation of what happened–one that wouldn’t require any special access to Last.FM’s private user data at all. The RIAA either asked CBS for the data, or got it themselves, from the public song timeline of Last.FM users. For example, at www.last.fm/user/elliottback/tracks you can download ~400 pages of songs I’ve listened to:


This gives them the following data: user, song, time. This is enough to tell that a user is listening to unreleased music, which is probably part of what the RIAA would use in trying to make a case against music pirates. For example–the Eminem Relapse album came out on May 15th, so theoretically anyone listening to it before then is a pirate.

Obama ’08 iPhone App is Awesome

Posted in Apple,iPhone,Politics,President by Elliott Back on October 2nd, 2008.

I am extremely impressed with Obama ’08: The Official iPhone Application. It’s slick, down-to-earth, full-featured, breathtakingly gorgeous, fast, and functional. Its blue theme coherently extends the Obama ’08 campaign branding to mobile devices. Check out these screens:



It’s interesting that the Obama campaign application shows your friends (classified by zip code) as a checklist to call off and recruit. Will it work to get more people out on voting day? Who can say. It’s certainly aggressive, and the only big turn-off of the application. In a way, it reminds me of the moronic Facebook applications “Vampires and Werewolves” or “Pirates vs Ninjas” which both try to coerce you into harassing your friends.


The local news is what I’m looking for, Obama news and updates for the US and NYC.


The issues pages are also nice; it would be better, perhaps if they included a summary of other candidates views, with rebuttals from the Obama camp, but you can’t wish for everything to be perfectly balanced–this is politics.

Gizmodo rants, “This is something like what politicking at the grassroots level will look like by the next election—local and immediate, but definitely national in scope. It makes you feel like a part of the campaign.” For me, this might be the first opportunity to follow Obama’s announcements without being harassed by email or sms-spammed.

Go download it now in the iTunes store, it’s free!

iPhone App Store Hacked: No DRM!

Posted in Apple,Cracking,Hacking,iPhone,iPod by Elliott Back on July 29th, 2008.

This is interesting, and at the same time scary. According to Engadget, Apple’s Fairplay (TM) DRM has been hacked for the new iPhone 3G App Store, and the applications themselves are appearing on torrent sites:

There’s also a more traditional crack which allows apps to be stripped of DRM and shared without using iTunes, although you’ll have to jailbreak your phone to do it. The first app to be widely pirated is Super Monkey Ball, which isn’t surprising, and it seems like several other apps have followed it out onto various torrent sites. In addition to the relatively simple jailbreak procedure, running cracked apps requires you to open up SSH access and do some mucking around, so unless your time is worth less than $10, it’s probably not worth it.


The latest apps appearing on a torrent search for iPhone include Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D, Super Monkey Ball, iBeer, and Enigmo, a total (so far) of $32.96 of potential revenue destroyed by hackers.

The original post at Haklabs, Super Monkey Ball iPhone – Cracked, explains the motivation for the hack:

After the WWDC ‘08 Keynote, everyone wanted this iPhone game, it received almost as much hype as the iPhone itself. Super Monkey Ball from SEGA definitely has some good qualities, however it does have some bad qualities as well. First off, this game costs $9.99 which might be a little steep for some.

1. Make sure you are on firmware 2.0
2. Download the Super Monkey Ball Cracked file and extract the .ipa file from the archive to your desktop.
3. Drag and drop the Monkey Ball.ipa file into the iTunes application folder and wait for it to install.

So because an irate iPhone user believes the Super Monkey Ball game costs too much at $9.99, he creates a hacked version and gives it away for free. I actually paid for Super Monkey Ball, because it’s one of the few applications worth my $9.99, and I advise you to as well. If there’s no financial market for creating great iPhone applications, the entire market will suffer, and we’ll have crappy apps to run on our $400 phones.

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