MySpace - who's space is it, really?

Words by: IV
Posted: 20/11/07 11:57

Whatever else is wrong with MySpace, the one thing most users agree is it is a useful tool for musicians - especially new or independent artists - to network and share their music. Pop stars like Lily Allen and Jack Penate famously got their first big break through MySpace. Sure, their "DIY" pages were probably carefully hand-designed by major label marketing boffins, but the point is the medium, if not always the message, was authentically grassroots.

Electronic music doesn't attract as many mainstream column inches but for that very reason MySpace is arguably even more important. Google your favourite DJ and chances are you'll get to their MySpace before you get to their official website - if they even have one. Many DJs and producers to use MySpace exclusively. Why not? It's free, it offers instant access to your friends and fans, you can share your music securely... what's not to like?

For starters, the news that some 8000 bands have just been targeted by hackers [Read more here]. Hacking is hardly a new phenomenon on MySpace, but this sort of full scale assault is pretty worrying. Especially for artists who relies on MySpace for marketing. While it looks like rock bands took the hit this time, what's to stop hackers coming after electronic artists? If anything, the potential for harm is even greater. The average indie band won't have their life's work on a hard drive - the average producer might. A hacker with access to a DJ's laptop could wipe out not just Saturday night's set but all their studio work too.

More alarming is MySpace's behaviour. In the wake of this latest hack they simply deleted thousands of affected pages leaving bands without their primary form of communication. It's been reported MySpace has refused to restore the pages from back-ups, or even give the users access to their lost contact data. And guess what: they can. Don't forget who owns MySpace: Rupert Murdoch. A man whose raison d'etre is seemingly to own the world's communication channels and toy with them at his pleasure. When Murdoch bought MySpace in 2005 the BBC noted "most importantly, Myspace has detailed logs of its users' preferences, online behaviour and personal information."

Sounds ominous, but does one more spookily powerful media conglomerate knowing your "personal interests, gender, age, education and occupation" [Read more here] make any difference? Maybe not directly, but compiling users' personal data affords MySpace all sorts of other opportunities. Specifically, it dramatically increases the likelihood they will start charging for services. With the information at their disposal they could easily target artists whose primary or only online presence is their MySpace page and charge them any fee they wish. Don't believe it? Read the small print: MySpace "may modify [the user agreement] from time to time and... you agree to be bound to any changes to this Agreement" [Read more here] including but not limited to fees, of course. Say you're a DJ who relies on MySpace - if they suddenly decide to charge you 500 euros a month for that page you have no option. It's a set up for legal blackmail: pay the price or lose your network.
hould MySpace scruple at exploiting the full extent of their terms and conditions they can still affect artists by the advertising they choose. Users have no control over the ads on their pages which sets the stage for everything from inappropriate advertising to flat-out credibility damage. Banner ads are no respecter of persons: Tiesto's MySpace invites you to type in your name and find your secret admirer. Luciano's offers you a chance to "win an iPod" if you can pick Angelina Jolie's lips out of a line up. It may seem like harmless static but the point is MySpace can put literally anything they want on an artist's page so the opportunities for abuse are virtually limitless.

In the short term, MySpace isn't going anywhere. It is still easy and useful (despite the risks). But as the mass band page hack shows it is getting increasingly vulnerable with age - and not just to malicious geeks writing viruses but to the whims of its ultra-powerful owners. It's no longer so much "MySpace" as "TheirSpace" and artists should treat it accordingly. With caution.


Roberto Capuano
Politics Of Dancing
Ralph Lawson