iTunes and your personal information: Disturbing trends

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iTunes, Music, Technology
January 11th, 2006 • 6:34 pm

First, there was the fact that, all of a sudden, Apple decided to remove the option to prevent iTunes from retrieving track information from GraceNote’s CDDB database.

And now, in iTunes 6.0.2, we have a “MiniStore” pane at the bottom of the window that is visible by default when you first launch the software and that causes iTunes to automatically connect to the iTunes Music Store with information about the track you’ve just selected, in order to display related information that might entice you to make additional purchases.

This is highly problematic. It’s not a bad idea per se. But it’s very definitely an invasion of privacy: the feature essential tells Apple’s iTunes Music Store what music I am listening to. The data transmitted might not contain any personal information about me, but what music I am listening to is personal information, and no software title should be allowed to share this information without my prior consent.

Sure, iTunes displays the EULA when you first launch the new version and asks you to agree with it, but Apple knows very well that no one reads this stuff, and that the wording of it is mostly impenetrable. Plus, based on what other people are saying, the EULA for the new version makes no mention of this new feature.

Like I said, I don’t have any problems with the feature per se. But I have a major problem with the fact that it is enabled by default. At the very least, Apple should display a dialog box the first time you launch iTunes 6.0.2 that tells you about this new feature and asks you if it’s OK to turn it on by default.

Fortunately, you can turn the feature off by hiding the “MiniStore” pane. But it’s not an obvious step: in plain English, “hiding” is not equivalent to “turning off,” I am afraid. There is nothing in the iTunes interface that indicates that iTunes will no longer send this information to the iTunes Music Store if you hide the MiniStore.

I have Little Snitch installed on my machine, so I am somewhat protected against such unwanted behaviours. But there is simply no way that Apple can expect the average Mac user to be aware of such issues and to have this kind of protection.

Turning this feature on by default in iTunes 6.0.2 without telling the user and asking explicitly for his/her permission is purely and simply wrong. Giving us products that assume that we have an Internet connection is already bad enough. Giving us products that assume that we have a broadband connection is even worse. But giving us products that take advantage of our Internet connection to send out personal information without our explicit consent is worse than worse.

It is extremely disturbing, and people like Cory Doctorow and Marc Garrett are perfectly right to be sounding the alarm. Nobody can seriously argue that there is nothing wrong with this.

One Response to “iTunes and your personal information: Disturbing trends”

  1. Paul Ingraham says:

    I agree, and I was certainly alarmed and outraged by the ministore pane… and breathed a huge sigh of relief when I figured out how to make it go away. Its unannounced appearance and apparent function was so offensive that I really had no reason to believe that there would be any limit to how offensive it was. It seemed absurd that I might be stuck with it after upgrading, but then again its mere existence and its manner of appearance was also absurd! Fortunately, I soon found the “hide” switch… but where will this trend stop?

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