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Some Bloggers Jump The Gun By Labeling iTunes 6.0.2 “Spyware”

Published January 11th, 2006

screenshot of new iTunes ministore

Boing Boing: iTunes update spies on your listening and sends it to Apple?

[Update: 1/19/06 Yes, Boing Boing's first take on the new iTunes ministore was to accuse Apple of foisting spyware on its customers. I originally called the author of that story an idiot... actually, a "paranoid idiot." I now admit to doing a little gun-jumping myself. Just goes to show how sensitive consumers are to perceived privacy transgressions--even a company with as good a record as Apple--and also how sensitive some idiots like me are to perceived unfair criticisms of Apple. As it played out, it turns out that Apple wasn't as sensitive to the privacy issue as it could have been, but they quickly made a few changes to make amends. And all is now well again in the land of Pod. :-) Boing Boing has since published an update that almost completely clears Apple.

Here, then is the rest of what I wrote on 1/11 in reaction to Boing Boing's original article, minus the name calling.]

iTunes is a web-based application that knows what you’ve played because you clicked on a store link. Duh. It’s like Amazon knowing you like printers because you looked at a few, or, in its very lame way, like Walmart’s recent foray into “enhanced” shopping by offering people who looked at Rev. King’s speech video the clearly “related” Planet of the Apes series. :-) Writer like this are either idiots or they’re being paid by Microsoft to keep an eye out for potential targets of Apple FUD. Everyone who’s checked into this clearly indicates that no network traffic is going from your machine to Apple’s, other than when you browse the music store or have the ministore open, which, of course, is on Apple’s servers to begin with. If I’m missing something, please enlighten me!

Just as a reminder, here is the definition of “spyware”:

Any type of software that transmits
information [to an external server] without the user’s knowledge.

The phrase “without the user’s knowledge” is key here. It appears that there was much irresponsible “jumping the gun” by reporting iTunes as behaving in this very objectionable manner. Read on…

[Update, later on 1/11/06 ...] OK, so I’ve done my own research into this new iTunes feature now, and my early suspicions were right on target. As much as some people would like to believe it, Apple has not “pulled a fast one” or “become Big Brother” or “foisted this on me” or any of the other b***hit people have been writing on the Apple discussion groups and elsewhere on the web today. What is it that makes people so suspicious of Apple here? Could it be, Microsoft’s behavior? As I’ve argued before, Microsoft is NOT (or should not be considered) the norm for how a technology company behaves. Microsoft is a horrible aberration that, through its huge success, has set some very low, new standards.

Apple is a profit-making venture, after all, so it’s not surprising that they would be trying to make money here. But the amazing negative reaction I’ve read from some squeaky wheels today is enough to make me very suspicious about who’s starting the bitching… and why. All it takes is a few minutes with the iTunes ministore to (a) realize that it can easily be turned off and (b) could actually provide some benefits to using iTunes.

You don’t have to venture far to find friends of mine who know how much I loathe advertising. Beer commercials on stock cars and life insurance companies on hockey players’ uniforms and feminine deoderant pads on buses are truly invasive and disturbing. But an application that shows me other music by the artist I happen to be listening to is hardly Big Brother at work. It’s got the same potential as that freeware, PearLyrics, and many similar freeware that’s sprung up this year, which try to find artwork and lyrics for the music you’re listening to.

Geez… Also, people seemed to be sure that Apple was pulling a Microsoft by continuing to evesdrop on our musical taste even after we closed the ministore. But a quick perusal of the Apple website today would clear that up for anyone who might be worried. Rather than getting all emotional and nasty, try using your thinking cap next time, and you would have found–as I did after one search from the Apple support site–this technical note, which, among other things, says plainly:

iTunes sends data about the song selected in your library to the iTunes Music Store to provide relevant recommendations. When the MiniStore is hidden, this data is not sent to the iTunes Music Store.

Come on people… Until Apple starts behaving like Microsoft, let’s continue to give them the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t. And let’s try to remember that iTunes is free software that provides us with the best digital jukebox anywhere, and aside from the music store (which you can easily avoid) has no advertising at all. There are plenty of targets for legitimate complaints about spyware… and there are many Windows users who are just dying to discover some that run on a Macintosh. Well, let me tell you, iTunes ain’t spyware!

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