Apple tweaks iTunes following privacy concerns

By John Borland

Story last modified Wed Jan 18 09:08:00 PST 2006

Following a wave of privacy concerns last week, Apple Computer has begun
prominently notifying customers about a new recommendation feature in its
iTunes software, as well as providing a simpler way to turn it off.

The new feature, a "MiniStore" pane in the software, provides music
recommendations to iTunes users based on the songs currently in the
software's active playlist. To do so, it sends information about those songs
back to Apple, even if the tracks weren't originally purchased from the
iTunes Music Store.

The information exchange also includes a string of data linked to an iTunes
customer's unique ID number, which is also used for other Apple accounts,
such as the .Mac service and the Apple Developer Connection, computer
experts found last week. An Apple representative said last week that the
company did not store or archive any of the information from this MiniStore
recommendation process.

Previously, that information exchange was not disclosed in any user
agreement or in the software itself. However, an update posted late Tuesday
now prominently adds a notification inside the iTunes software itself when
the MiniStore is turned on for the first time.

"As you select items in your library, information about that item is sent to
Apple, and the MiniStore will show you related songs or videos," the note
says. "Apple does not keep any information related to the contents of your
music library."

The change also adds a button to turn off the MiniStore, which does not
exchange any information while it is inactive. Previously, the feature could
be turned off by going to the menu of commands at the top of the software or
by selecting a keyboard command.

The change has satisfied some of the critics who had emerged, even among
committed Apple supporters, after the iTunes software release.

"I feel that Apple, in clearly telling users what the iTunes MiniStore does,
has met its obligations for informing users," said Kirk McElhearn, an author
of several Apple technical books, who helped identify the issue last week.
"The fact that they clearly state, in this 'warning', that they do not keep
any information about the contents of users' iTunes music libraries is
sufficient for me."

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