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Brainiac

My data is worth...$8?

And other recent highlights from the Ideas blog

Much of the digital economy is based on a simple trade: We fork over information about our private lives, and companies give us free services like search or a social network. It’s a so-so deal, and when you consider Mark Zuckerberg’s billions, it’s hard not to feel like Silicon Valley is getting the better end of things.

But now, a new startup promises to level the playing field—kind of. An article last week in the MIT Technology Review reports on Datacoup, a New York City-based company offering individuals $8 a month for a combination of their social media data and a feed of transactions from their debit and credit cards. Datacoup strips that information of identifying characteristics, bundles it with other people’s information, and sells it to companies who’ll mine it for marketing insights.

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The offer sounds strange at first, but why not? We’ve already given away a lot of our privacy, so we might as well get paid for it. On the other hand, a straight-up cash-for-data swap feels vulgar, and somehow related to more obvious no-no’s like prostitution and organ trafficking. There’s also something slightly insulting about the price: a month of your life for less than a six-pack of beer?

AFP/Getty Images

Composer Mamoru Samuragochi.

Great musical frauds of history

This month the music world learned, to its shock, that for the last 17 years, famed Japanese composer Mamoru Samuragochi has in fact been using the services of a ghostwriter, employing a Tokyo music teacher named Takashi Niigaki to compose the classical pieces that made him famous in Japan.

Hoaxes and fakery aren’t rare in visual art, but they don’t happen much in music. A few years ago Boston-area composer (and occasional Ideas contributor) Matthew Guerrieri took up the issue on his blog, cataloging some notable musical hoaxes from the past. A common deception is for musicians to claim they’ve rediscovered forgotten pieces from earlier composers, when in fact the music is really something they’ve written themselves. Examples include violinist Fritz Kreisler, who presented his own compositions as lost works from “minor masters” of the 17th and 18th centuries. Similarly, in Paris in 1951, a performance was billed as a lost coronation Mass by the Baroque composer Etienne Moulinié. As it turned out, the piece was really written by Father Emile Martin, director of the choir that performed the “rediscovered” Mass.

AFP/Getty Images

Takashi Niigaki, ghost writer of deaf composer Mamoru Samuragochi.

Guerrieri offered an amusing theory about the comparative rarity of musical hoaxes: Music, he says, “is already pretty close to a hoax itself.” All meaning in music requires listeners to make a leap from the sound of the notes to the significance we assign to them—they’re already willingly being fooled, he suggests, so there’s not much fun in tricking them a second time.

Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at kshartnett18@gmail.com.
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