Tidal, Jay-Z’s oft-beleaguered music-streaming service, has been accused of tampering with its streaming data to score higher numbers and payouts for Beyoncé and Kanye West’s most recent albums.
In an extensive report, Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv said it has investigated Tidal’s internal data from a hard drive it obtained that contains “billions of rows” of song titles, user IDs, and country codes, and found that – as translated by Music Business Worldwide – “Beyoncé’s and Kanye West’s listener numbers on Tidal have been manipulated to the tune of several hundred million false plays,” a practice that has “generated massive royalty payouts at the expense of other artists.” The newspaper’s investigation kicked off in 2016, when Tidal claimed that West’s album The Life of Pablo had been streamed 250 million times in its first 10 days, and that Beyoncé’s album Lemonade garnered 306 million streams in its first 15 days. At the time, Tidal reported 3 million subscribers, meaning that every subscriber would have been playing the albums nearly a dozen times a day.
Dagens Næringsliv took its findings to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, which assembled data security and cybercrime experts to put together a 78-page report concluding that Tidal seems to have intentionally manipulated its data for the two albums, as evidenced by the “large presence of similar duplicate records” for a large percentage of its user base.
Tidal disputes the accusations. “This is a smear campaign from a publication that once referred to our employee as an ‘Israeli Intelligence officer’ and our owner as a ‘crack dealer,’” a Tidal spokesperson tells Rolling Stone, referring to a January 2017 report in which Dagens Næringsliv described Jay-Z and Roc Nation executive Lior Tibon with the aforementioned details. “We expect nothing less from them than this ridiculous story, lies and falsehoods. The information was stolen and manipulated and we will fight these claims vigorously.”
In that January 2017 report, Dagens Næringsliv also questioned Tidal’s claim of reaching 3 million subscribers; around the same time, Midia Research analyst Mark Mulligan also said Tidal’s active subscriber count, based on its revenue, could not be higher than 1 million. The music-streaming company, which currently operates in 52 countries, has not released an updated subscriber count since last year.