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January 13, 2006

Apple Thinks Music Marketing

Apple has a new feature in the latest version of its iTunes software, the MiniStore.  What it does is suggest a range of songs a listener might want to buy based on the song being played.  This behavior occurs whether the song was purchased from Apple or not.  The way it works is by transmitting some information over the Internet to Apple to get the recommendations.

While this may all sound fine, the license agreement doesn't mention this at all, although a description of the service at the Apple web site does not really hide what's going on.  Real Networks got hammered for this kind of stuff in the late 90's with lawsuits and removed the unique identifier from their player.  Of course, times have changed.  In the late 80's Lotus was also criticized for creating a CD's worth of home addresses for sale to marketers.  That product never made it to market.  Now, cell phone call records are available without the apparent cooperation of phone companies or courts in exchange for Yankee dollars.

Various analyses of the behavior range from a complete invasion of privacy to so what, consumers love this stuff.  Privacy proponents get antsy as the song listening habits can be linked with account numbers to create a database of listening habits.  Apple says it discards the information once the recommendations are made.

An article in the Chicago Tribune seems to suggest that this is the convenience that everyone has been waiting for.  That is, assuming there is credit in the statements of Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group.  He's quoted as saying "Surveys that deal with Generation X and younger indicate these audiences love this stuff. They are not concerned at all with the privacy aspects of this stuff.  They just don't have the same sensibilities. As long as nobody uses that information against them, they don't have any problem as long as it makes the experience better." 

Enhancing shopping or consumer experience has always been a buzzword type statement justifying collecting and analyzing consumer data.  The logic is that consumers like this customization.  In reality, marketers are trying to expand sales by identifying likely targets.  Then there are the larger questions about what happens to this mountain of data later.

Apple, for its part, allows users to turn this feature off.  There are buttons and preference settings that turn the MiniStore off.  In this state, nothing gets sent and no recommendations are returned.  So, the bottom line is, if offended, turn the feature off.  The web site tells you how to do it.  No word, by the way, on whether the National Security Agency or the FBI would want any of this information under the Patriot Act if you think of the data as a music library record.

Links to stories in Ars Technica, CNET, and the Chicago Tribune all have somewhat different takes on this. 

While we're on the subject of future trends, there is a great article in Wired on how a futuristic view of appliances working on the net which are designed to enhance our living styles will most likely fail as consumer choices.  Check it out here.

January 13, 2006 | Permalink

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