Monday, January 16, 2006

Steven Jobs, WTF?

My latest newsletter from The Electronic Freedom Foundation ("This newsletter is printed on 100% recycled electrons. " Chuckles.) contains two interesting items. The first involves the normally customer-conscious Apple getting one badly wrong:
This week at MacWorld, Apple unveiled version 6.0.2 of iTunes, which it simply claimed "includes stability and performance improvements over iTunes 6.0.1." Among these so- called improvements is the Apple iTunes MiniStore—a localized "recommendation" engine that would look at what you listen to and then suggest additional songs and artists you might like. The MiniStore arrives turned on by default without asking a user's permission first.

However, as news reports have revealed this week, it appears that the MiniStore also automatically transmits your listening information over the Internet back to the Apple Mothership.
What Apple does with this information is unknown, although Apple has represented that it is not collecting data on its users—yet. Nor has Apple disclosed the steps it takes to prevent disclosure or leakage of the information to third parties.

Ironically, this news comes on the heels of the recent Sony BMG DRM fiasco, a part of which included an undisclosed "phone home" feature of its own. While the Apple MiniStore isn't a rootkit DRM, it is part of a dangerous trend EFF has been witnessing in the digital music space market. When companies like Apple and Sony BMG start adjusting or installing software to micro-monitor our personal and private actions, even under the rubric of convenience, it is just one short stop down the road toward attempting to condition and control our behavior. All it takes is an enforcement protocol to turn recommendations into restrictions overnight.

If companies like Apple are truly about user empowerment, they must watch this trend closely and remain on the right side of it. Allowing users to upload information voluntarily and expressly with adequate privacy protections is pro-user; surreptitiously siphoning it into a remote database without any privacy guarantees is not. It's time for Apple to pick a side of the line and walk it.

Note: You can turn off the Apple MiniStore by hitting Shift- Command-M, or choose Edit: Hide MiniStore. EFF recommends that iTunes users do so until Apple at least comes clean about its MiniStore data practices.
(Emphasis mine.) As the article notes, they should know better. A recomendation engine is a sweet idea, but this seems overly intrustive, especially considering the opacity involved with the process. I'm less concerned than EFF about the 1984ish aspects of this, (nerd joke alert) but simple concern for unwanted, unneeded and unacknowledged collection of
private information is raised.

In contrast, we get news of record companies learning to roll with distribution models which taken advantage of technological innovation, rather than attempting to stifle it:
There's a new trend underway among indie labels, dubbed "digital vinyl": offering free MP3 downloads for customers who buy albums on vinyl. First Merge Records offered free downloads to those who bought vinyl releases by Clientele and Robert Pollard. Now Saddle Creek Records has announced that it will do the same thing for its customers who prefer vinyl, starting with What the Toll Tells, the new record by Two Gallants due in February.

For a variety of reasons, vinyl has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity among music fans. Unfortunately, music fans who own turntables and iPods find themselves in a bit of a quandry.

Who cares, you say? How many people could that be, you say? Well, smart independent labels aren't asking those questions. Instead, they are trying to make their customers happy, even the vinyl-loving, iPod-equipped ones.

Quite a stark contrast to the likes of EMI and Sony BMG, whose copy-protected CDs are stopping music fans from getting their CDs into their iPods.
Now I'm not a vinylphile myself, but this is an obvious example of responding to customer desires rather than attempting to dictate adherence to an outdated distribution model.


Sebby said...

That is a whole lot of writing just to include yourself in the Google listings for "vinylphile"...

reader_iam said...

Boy, that was stupid of Apple.