Unnecessary FUD

Posted on Thursday 12 January 2006

Apparently, the people over at BoingBoing are jumping the gun on the spyware/adware accusations against Apple’s new iTunes 6.02. While I haven’t had a chance to play with iTunes 6.02 all that much, I have taken a look to see what this idiotic screaming was all about.

He is accusing Apple of installing spyware because iTunes will report back information about what music you are currently browsing to make recommendations to you on other music you may like to purchase, based on what you are browsing/playing. This claim is pretty ridiculous.

First of all, it only sends back the name and artist of the song your are browsing, at least as far as I can tell via a packet sniffer. The other people who have looked at this issue report the same findings.

Second, it only does it when you have the mini-store in iTunes open.

Third, it is very easy to disable the feature…just close the mini-store pane. No data is sent if the mini-store panel is closed or disabled.

Spyware and adware a quite a bit different from this. The definitions below are from a thread on this very topic over at Macslash.org.

Spyware: Software which, when installed by a user insufficiently enlightened to avoid it, enables third parties to silently snoop the user’s hard drive or monitor their network transactions.

Adware: Software which is free to download and use but includes pop-up banner ads somewhere.

iTunes is not spyware. iTunes doesn’t hide what it is doing, and doesn’t do it when you tell it not to. Obviously, the mini-store needs to know what you are browsing in order to make recommendations about what else you might like to listen to. There is nothing underhanded about this… it is just what is necessary to make the recommendations. Common sense should tell you that if the store doesn’t know what you are listening to it can’t possibly make a reasonable attempt at recommending something else you might like.. Spyware doesn’t behave this way—it tries to do things without having the user be aware of any of it, and doesn’t give the user any control over what it is doing. One other thing that clearly differentiates iTunes from “spyware” is that the only behavior that iTunes sometimes is monitoring is your use of iTunes. It does not report any information that isn’t directly related to your use of itself.

iTunes really isn’t adware, as the recommendations, while they can technically be considered “ads” are really just recommendations of music based on what you are listening to. Unlike true adware, this feature is user controlled–you can turn it on and off and not lose any other functionality of iTunes.

Should Apple have made the fact that they may send information out when you have the mini-store panel open clearer. Yes, that probably would have been wise. Apple should have also clearly stated that the information is not collected or stored by them. Apple should have also more clearly explained when iTunes will and will not be sending information about the songs you are browsing.

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