Apple Archive

iTunes 'Mini-Store' Shares Your Music Data with Apple

- 2006.01.20

Many of you have probably noticed the recent update to iTunes 6.0.2 in their Software Update system preference. You may have also noticed that it contained no information but the mention that it contained fairly routine bug fixes and "stability improvements".

After some started installing it, they noticed that it contained a bit more than just bug fixes. iTunes 6.0.2 includes one new feature, the "mini-store". The mini-store offers recommendations based on the music that you listen to and gives you the option to purchase it through the iTunes Music Store.

This works in a somewhat similar way to Audioscrobbler (a.k.a. Last.fm), a plugin for iTunes and other media players that allows you to create an archive of your listening habits as well as receive personalized recommendations through the Last.fm website.

This wouldn't be a problem, but some people discovered (using LittleSnitch) that each time you click on a song with the mini-store open, data about that song and your AppleID are transmitted not to Apple, but to a third-party marketing company. Apple has since put a notice on their website saying that they don't keep any of the information sent through the mini-store, but if you'd like to disable it, that will prevent data from being sent.

It would be interesting to know what the information is actually used for by the marketing firm, especially the AppleID (which seems to be irrelevant to the music recommendation process).

The problem isn't that data is being sent - it's fairly obvious that in order to give you recommendations, Apple - or anyone else - would have to know what music you're listening to. And the only way to do that, apart from guessing(which would make the service more of a nuisance than anything else) - is to have iTunes tell them.

I use Last.fm and have no problem giving up the privacy of what I listen to on iTunes in order to gain some recommendations about bands and artists that I might not have heard of before. It's a great way to discover new music, but that's implied when you download the plugin.

When you download iTunes, you're expecting a media player and a music store - that's about it. The issue is that Apple didn't tell users that it would be collecting information in this way.

Microsoft has done this before with its Windows Media Player. When Windows XP was released, there was some talk about data being sent through Windows Media Player about every CD that you listened to on your computer. The concern has pretty much dropped off, and most people seem to have no problem using Windows Media Player.

However, Mac users tend to expect Apple to be a little bit more "in touch" with its customers and understand that people generally like to know if the software they're using is going to "phone home" with any of their private data - and, if so, how they can turn it off.

This seems to be a lesson to companies that despite what they might think, people do indeed want to know exactly what the software they're using might be doing without their consent.

Apple's obviously realized its mistake, which seems like it could have easily been just an oversight into how customers would react.

In the latest installers for iTunes 6.0.2, they have a message that asks you if you'd like to turn the mini-store on, after explaining what data will be sent. This is how it should have been approached in the beginning. LEM

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