stalin similar artists.png has a similar artist feature. When you are looking at the page for an artist they will show you artists that are similar based upon the wisdom of the crowds. can tell you for instance, that people who listen to Emerson, Lake and Palmer also listen to Yes.

If you go the Hillary Rodham Clinton page at and take a look at her 'similar artists' you'll find a motley crew that includes Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. Perhaps not the types of world leaders that Hillary would want to be associated with.

It is even worse if you go to Joseph Stalin's page, where you'll find similar artists such as Michael Savage, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. Now this was clearly engineered as a prank. Someone (or a group of someones), must have created a playlist with Hillary, Adolf, Coulter, Limbaugh and Stalin and just played them over and over again, feeding their play data into the audioscrobbler until noticed the correlation and declared that they were similar artists. This is one of the first instances of I've seen where a music recommender has been noticeably manipulated to produce a dishonest recommendation. It certainly demonstrates how these types of systems can be vulnerable to attack.

Luckily, there are some smart people working to protect us from this hacking. Bamshad Mobasher has some good papers on the topic that are worth reading.

As more people seek out long tail content, recommenders will become increasingly important, which means that the folks who are spamming and splogging and seo-ing, will be trying to hack our recommenders to get their remedies for hair loss treatment at the top of the list. (Thanks Elias)


Hi Paul, interesting find. I've been thinking a lot about the human component of music recommender systems this year, and I would contend that this type of recommendation actually has some validity. Obviously, at least one person somewhere associates Hillary with Stalin and Hitler on some level. While it's risky to take this train of thought to the next level (i.e. lots of people make that association), often it's true to a certain degree.

However, as you said, the problem becomes more of a problem (and less of a commentary on the human condition) when recommendations are manipulated for profit. Though I remain anxious to see if these types of hacks create actual problems for listeners, or are simply a tiny annoyance (or maybe even a tiny piece of humor) to be clicked through to get to the "real" recommendation.

Martin McCrory
Graduate Student, Indiana University

Posted by Martin McCrory on April 29, 2008 at 07:36 PM EDT #

We have some pretty good ways of stopping this sort of abuse for legitimate artists, but we don't really consider "artists" who have never performed any sort of music at the top of our priorities ;).

Posted by Russ Garrett on April 29, 2008 at 09:08 PM EDT #

I am happy to see that you had to look for a non-artist entry to get a really bad case.. ;-)

Posted by Norman Casagrande on April 30, 2008 at 07:03 PM EDT #

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