New Concerns About iTunes User Data


Apple recently announced that it would be reducing the restrictive digital rights management (DRM) encoded in songs purchased via the iTunes service. However, Apple has not changed its practice of encoding each purchased track with personal data about the purchaser. The result is that each file purchased can identify the original purchaser of the track or album. This practice was less of an issue with the DRM encoded tracks because the files could not be easily shared. DRM is not a license for piracy, of course, but fewer restrictions lead to a greater likelihood that files will become more fluid.


Some suggest that the embedded data assists Apple in tracking users who illegally share their files. Others maintain that the data is intended to be a record of sale for the consumer. The evidence suggests that the reality is closer to the former than the latter.


From Apple’s point of view, there is virtually no reason to install personal data on user purchasers. Apple certainly maintains its own internal records of sales and the consumer is not entitled to any additional benefit by having their information encoded than not. More curiously, Apple and the Recording Industry Association of America both declined comment on the issue when asked to provide some background on the arrangement.


Bottom Line: Given no actual need to encode files with data, one cannot help but suspect that the practice is to track files outside of the instant transactions between the consumer and iTunes. Whether Apple and the RIAA have immediate plans to prosecute wrongdoers or simply want to “keep their options open” remains to be seen.

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