More on iTunes and your personal information

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iTunes, Music, Technology
January 12th, 2006 • 9:59 am

Macworld columnist and Mac OS X Hints webmaster Rob Griffiths wrote a column yesterday about the privacy issues surrounding the introduction of the “MiniStore” pane in the recently released iTunes 6.0.2.

Interestingly, the column starts with a short “update” dated 1/11/06 in which a Macworld editor writes:

(Update, 1/11/06, 10:30 ET: After this story was posted, an Apple official told Macworld that the iTunes MiniStore feature does not collect any information from users. This story has been updated to make that clear, while still covering larger privacy and transparency concerns. —Ed.)

Yesterday evening, the wording of that update was different. It was written by Rob Griffiths himself in the first person. Rob said that an Apple source that he had every reason to trust had told him that no person information was collected by Apple.

The new wording avoids mentioning personal relationships of trust between Macworld columnists and Apple employees. But it still doesn’t address the fundamental issue here, which is not whether Apple does indeed collect personal information or not. The fundamental issue is that iTunes 6.0.2 includes a new feature (the MiniStore) that could potentially be used to collect personal information, and that this feature is turned on by default in iTunes 6.0.2 without the user’s explicit consent.

Like Rob Griffiths, I generally respect and admire Apple as a company for what they have done for personal computing. But that does not and will never mean that I would blindly trust them never to do anything illegal or dishonest with the information that they might be able to collect from me. They are, after all, a large corporation, made up of thousands of employees. There is no reason why Apple should be treated any differently from other large corporations when it comes to issues of privacy and personal information.

There are also other reasons to be suspicious here. For one thing, the version numbering (6.0.2) falsely suggests that this is a very minor update with no new features. The MiniStore is a new feature. The software version should probably be 6.1. The fact that Apple used the version numbering to suggest that this was a minor update with no new features is suspicious. Then there is the fact that, as Rob Griffiths notes, the Read Me notes for iTunes 6.0.2 simply state: “iTunes 6.0.2 includes stability and performance improvements over iTunes 6.0.1.

These notes make no mention of any new features. The MiniStore is neither a “stability improvement” nor a “performance improvement.” It’s a new feature. There aren’t two ways about it. Why doesn’t the Read Me file mention this? It makes you wonder…

This whole thing does not smell good at all. It stinks. It’s a major screw-up on Apple’s part—regardless of whether the new feature actually does collect any personal information or not. The potential is there, and one would expect Apple, as a software company, to be fully aware of this potential and to make every effort to avoid privacy issues, by leaving such features off by default and requiring the user’s explicit consent before turning them on. Then—and only then—it might be possible to establish some kind of trustful relationship between the user and the corporation.

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