Is iTunes 6.0.2 Spyware? What it Does and How to Stop It
In simple terms, with the Mini Store enabled (which it is by default in the latest iTunes install) sends the artist and album name along to one of Apple's servers whenever you either select or play a song, whether it be from your music library, inserted media such as a CD or DVD, or even through a network shared library from another iTunes user. The servers perform a search and then send back related music choices from the iTunes Music Store (ITMS). This may seem innocent enough at first glance and is essential in the functionality of such a 'feature', but it is also worth taking into consideration that this is mostly the exact same type of behavior of many many other spyware applications, except they often track your web usage instead of your music playback.
Not convinced that this is being tracked you say? This this is all a simple upsell tactic that Apple is using to promote ITMS? In doing some lengthy (and very geeky) packet capturing and analysis there is a ping of sorts during this process, which happens every time the content in the Mini Store window is updated, that is sent to a server called metrics.apple.com. Coincidence? I would have to say no in this situation. Whether intentional or not, your music playback is being logged and tracked even if it is in a roundabout way, and it's being done, for the most part, without the end user's knowledge.
The good news in this situation, if you can call it that, is to disable the Mini Store, which can be accomplished by clicking the small triangular icon in the bottom right portion of the main iTunes interface, which hides the Mini Store. Once the Mini Store is no longer showing iTunes no longer sends out your information to their servers and your privacy is once again safe.
Is this a deliberate poke by Apple at your rights to privacy? I would have to say no. This functionality is required to use this upselling Mini Store feature. It seems to be merely an unintentional side effect of the new default interface layout for iTunes. Is it a cause for concern? I'll leave that up to you to decide for yourself. Personally I don't want to be upsold for every single song I play in iTunes, and I don't want to have my playing habits collected by anyone for any reasons. It would have been nice had Apple given users a simple choice before enabling this feature, along with an appropriate small piece of text stating that it will send information back to the mothership.
Thanks to boing-boing for the originating post that alerted me to this behaviour, as well as a few users who posted some initial packet analysis results.
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