iTunes Privacy: Playing “Know Your Rights”? May I Recommend “Chimes of Freedom”?

Controversy about privacy swirled briefly around Apple’s latest iTunes update (version 6.0.2), which turns on a new feature that transmits listening habits back to Apple. By default, the update switches on the MiniStore, which recommends songs to buy from the iTunes Music Store based on the songs you select in your iTunes library. From Boing-Boing:

An Apple “spokesman” (reliable word has it that it was Steve Jobs himself) told MacWorld that Apple discards the personal information that the iTunes MiniStore transmits to Apple while you use iTunes… The problem is that Apple doesn’t inform you when you update your iTunes that you’re also turning on a system that transmits your private information…

It should be pointed out that other players (notably Windows Media Player) also transmit listening habits. The iTunes feature is easy to turn off without hurting your ability to still use the Internet for other reasons, such as buying from the music store and retrieving track titles and artist info (choose Hide MiniStore from the Edit menu — for more info, see Apple’s technical note: How to show or hide the MiniStore in iTunes). You can turn off similar reporting options in Windows Media Player, but you rob yourself of legitimate features, such as retrieving track information.

Kirk McElhearn in Kirkville points out in The iTunes MiniStore Debacle: What Apple Did Wrong that Apple provides the information to Omniture, the “leading provider” of web analytics:

While Apple claims to not “collect” any information, what does Omniture do with this information, and why is some information sent to metrics.apple.com? … It would not have taken much to correctly present this feature and reassure users as to the type of information that it transmits to Apple and other companies. In the meantime, until Apple is totally clear about what this feature does and what information it harvests, one can only assume that it is indeed collecting information, or that, at a minimum, the potential to do so exists.

I’m not so concerned about the privacy issue in this instance, because you can turn off the feature without any penalty in performance or functionality. Many people even like the idea of iTunes recommending new music as they play their own music. A larger issue is iTunes use of digital rights management (DRM) to control where songs purchased online play — on iPods only.

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