The hidden data is there so Apple will know if you've done something
illegal with the music it sold you.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983
T e c h n o f i l e
iTunes Store will tattle on you
June 10, 2007
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, The Post-Standard
Apple has begun selling music at the iTunes Store that is free from
all digital rights management (DRM). Right now there's only a limited
selection, but I expect Apple to have thousands of DRM-free selections
in a few months.
It's about time. Apple's DRM forces customers to play their purchased
tracks on an iPod or in the iTunes software itself. You can't play a
DRM-encoded song you bought from the iTunes Store on, say, a Sony
player, or on your Windows PC using WinAMP or any other non-iTunes
But there's a dark side to Apple's decision to lead the music industry
into a DRM-free world. Without informing customers who buy DRM-free
recordings, Apple embeds personal information into each DRM-free file
it sells. Each file contains the name and e-mail address of the person
who bought the recording from the iTunes Store.
This "meta data," the Geeky term for such hidden information, does not
show up in the iTunes software when you look at a list of recordings,
nor does it get in the way of playing the music. It remains in the
file when the file is copied.
Is this a big deal? It's not big. It's huge. Apple's not embedding
your personal information in each file so Apple will know what you
bought. Stores can easily keep track of all the items their customers
buy -- they do that kind of thing already, in fact, if customers use
credit cards. It's there so Apple will know what you've given away to
In other words, it's there so Apple will know if you've done something
illegal with the music it sold you.
If you take the time to read Apple's iTunes Store customer agreement
-- it's very long and full of scary phrases -- you'll see that Apple
doesn't want you to buy something and then give it away to someone who
didn't buy it. (It's OK to make copies for your personal use -- Apple
makes that clear -- but it's definitely not OK to upload a copy of a
file you bought to a file-sharing service.)
If what you do "INFRINGES ON THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS OF
OTHERS," Apple's agreement states, in capital letters, this "MAY
SUBJECT YOU TO CIVIL AND CRIMINAL PENALTIES, INCLUDING POSSIBLE
MONETARY DAMAGES, FOR COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT."
Your name and e-mail address are also there so Apple can help the FBI,
or the local police, or Interpol, or maybe even the Thought Police,
chase you down and sue you.
Am I making this up? Not according to Apple's customer agreement,
which is shown to all iTunes Store customers before their first
purchase and before they use every upgrade of the iTunes Store
software. I quote:
"You agree that Apple has the right, without liability to you, to
disclose any Registration Data and/or Account information to law
enforcement authorities, government officials, and/or a third party,
as Apple believes is reasonably necessary or appropriate to enforce
and/or verify compliance with any part of this Agreement (including
but not limited to Apple's right to cooperate with any legal process
relating to your use of the Service and/or Products, and/or a third
party claim that your use of the Service and/or Products is unlawful
and/or infringes such third party's rights)."
I find this chilling. I object to this not because Apple is stepping
on your rights -- c'mon, what right do you have to give someone else's
intellectual property away? -- but because Apple isn't being straight
with you. Notice that the statement above says Apple has the right to
disclose "account information." It doesn't say Apple will hide your
name and e-mail address in every piece of music you buy.
And there is more. As I was researching this column, I learned that
Apple has been embedding the buyer's name and e-mail address in ALL
iTunes Store music, not just in its new DRM-free recordings.
That means we've been snookered. We've been had, ever since the iTunes
Store opened in 2003.
Apple needs to apologize for not being up-front about personalizing
the music we buy, and it needs to explain, in letters JUST AS SCARY as
some of the text in its customer agreement, that it's able to track
you down if you do something you shouldn't do.
Anything less is unacceptable.