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Gracenote to sell data to marketers

The online music database provider says it will begin tracking the songs played on millions of PCs and sell the data to marketers.

Online music database provider Gracenote on Tuesday said it will begin tracking the songs played on millions of PCs and sell the data to marketers.

The service will monitor the listening habits of people using media players that tap into its database of album titles and songs, known as CDDB. Berkeley, Calif.-based Gracenote said it plans to sell subscriptions to record labels, management companies and marketers interested in evaluating the popularity of an album geographically or of competitors' releases. A price has not been determined for the service.

"Any technology that consumers use to play music and that can track consumers use of music plans at some point to sell the data back to the music industry," said Billy Pidgeon, analyst at Jupiter Media Metrix.

The Gracenote software is licensed to about 4,000 media player companies, which have an audience of about 27 million consumers per month. As people connect to a CDDB player, information on what they're listening to and their geographical location is compiled by Gracenote's service.

The service can chart the most-popular albums online. For example, the most-played albums via the Net for the week of May 27 included Limp Bizkit's "Chocolate Starfish and The Hot Dog Flavored Water," Dido's "No Angel" and Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP."

Such a tracking service could raise concerns about privacy. RealNetworks, which offers one of the Internet's most popular music players and licenses Gracenote's database, ran into legal trouble in 1999 after news surfaced that the company had assigned globally unique identification numbers to its popular music listening software. The IDs could have been used to track people without their knowledge.

At the time, the company had said it wasn't associating the ID with any individual's personal information or unique listening habits.

Berkeley, Calif.-based Gracenote emphasizes that it compiles its data in aggregate, omitting any personal information. When consumers sign on to a CDDB-enabled service, they are asked for ZIP code information but do not have to give it. This information is used to determine the geographical popularity of albums.

"We aggregate the number of plays that are basically geographically distributed. No personal information associated with the data," said Hugo Cole, general manager of Gracenote Data Services.

The move comes as Gracenote fights a legal battle against software maker Roxio. In May, Gracenote filed a lawsuit against Roxio, charging that the company had infringed on its patent. The suit inflamed the open-source community, which said Gracenote is trying to profit from a database that was largely compiled by Internet users.

"There's an issue with this because Gracenote is making money on a database that users have contributed to. And users have received no compensation for their contribution," said Pidgeon.