New iTunes related-music “feature”

Boing Boing reports that Apple’s iTunes 6.0.2 has a new “feature” where clicking on a song in your playlist pops up related albums on sale at the iTunes Music Store in a little window at the bottom. Apple does it by sending the song, artist, album, genre and ID to Apple (presumably — the IP addresses are in the 69.144.123.xx range, which is Akamai).

GET /WebObjects/MZSearch.woa/wa/ministoreMatch?an=Music+From+The+Motion+Picture&gn=soundtrack&kind=song&pn=Austin+Powers+-+The+Spy+Who+Shagged+Me HTTP/1.1

This is rightly being decried as spyware (really, how could it not be?) though at least iTunes will stop announcing what you’re listening to if you close the mini-store window (using the new “box with up-arrow” button in the lower-right corner).

My PhD thesis was all about designing software that provides information based on what you’re doing and I have a soft spot for applications like this, but I see three fundamental problems in what Apple has done here. First and most importantly, the mini-store is for their benefit rather than mine — they’re taking advantage of the impulse buyer in all of us, hoping we’ll make purchases we wouldn’t make if we had time to think about it. Second, their application requires that personal (if not personally identifiable) information be sent over the net rather than processed locally, with no idea how long the info is kept or how it might be used. Music collections are personal things, and even if I liked the mini-store application I’d think twice about clicking on a lewd song for fear of how that info might be used or eventually tied back to me. Finally and most obviously wrong, they’re snooping without asking, which is just plain rude and makes me distrust the company and the software.

Update 1/12/05:As Charles points out in the comments, MacOSXHints reports that Apple has told them that absolutely no information is (currently) being collected from the MiniStore. I’m glad to hear it (and would have been a little surprised if it was otherwise), but it doesn’t change my not liking such data going beyond the bounds of my own domain. If the Mini-store was actually useful to me I might be willing to make that sacrifice, but as it is it’s just annoying.