What did it take for Apple to go from cool to creepy? A single U2 album

Tim Cook & U2

Tim Cook & U2

With additional commentary by Mich Atagana

Along with pretty much all my colleagues in the tech press — and thousands of hardcore Apple fans around the world — my Wednesday was dominated by the Cupertino giant’s latest launch. As I noted at the time, it appeared to have played it safe. The products it launched at the event were pretty much all examples of Apple doing what it does best: watching the market and putting its own unique design spin on existing product spaces.

There were, in other words, no obvious gaffes. That would only happen the next day, when people started taking a look at their iTunes library and noticing something that wasn’t there before: U2’s latest album Songs of Innocence. There’s nothing you can do about it either. You can’t delete files from your iTunes library, only hide them.

And that, dear reader, is the moment Apple crossed the line from cool to creepy.

Before we continue I should, at this point, explain that by creepy I don’t mean it as a synonym for “scary”. Someone being able to remotely access all your passwords and drain your accounts of all their money is scary. Apple forcibly giving you a U2 album, especially in the light of its previous actions, isn’t the work of a scary company, it’s the work of a creepy company: at once repulsive and attractive.

From taking on Big Blue to becoming Big Brother

Sure, you might be thinking right now, Apple gave you the album without your direct consent, but every ecosystem has its snags and if the odd album by a bunch of middle-aged rockers is all you have to deal with then you could do a lot worse.

There’s a couple of problems with that line of reasoning though. First off, it’s like telling someone that they shouldn’t be perturbed by the unwanted gifts from the stalker in their block of flats because everything else about the place is so nice. No. Just no.

Second, let’s try and remember which company we’re talking about here. Even though it’s the biggest company on the planet, Apple still markets its products as the natural choice for the individual who wants to separate themselves from the herd. The typical Apple user, it’s always told us, is creative and innovative and capable of amazing things.

It’s always been an ethos that you “opt in” to. Buying an Apple product, its marketing has always told us is a chance to break free from the shackles of whatever you’ve been forced to use up until that point.

By forcing stuff on us we don’t necessarily want (if you’re about to scroll down to the comments section and talk about the bloatware that comes standard on most Android devices, I’d like to remind you that you can also root most Android devices), the company which once proudly fought off Big Blue, suddenly starts to look a lot more like Big Brother.

This time it’s personal

Of course, you might also argue Apple does this kind of stuff all the time, like when it refuses to make iOS updates available for iPhones more than a couple of generations old. It’s one of the things that helps it sell more iPhones and keep the majority of its user base running the latest version of iOS.

The thing is, those are just phones. They’re physical shells for all the software that holds everything we put into the phones. And that’s what makes the appearance of Songs of Innocence in your iTunes library so insidiously creepy.

No matter what service we use, we cultivate these libraries in much the same way as we once cultivated record or CD collections.

They are an expression of ourselves and they also tell the world something about who we are. We need to be able to manage them the way we want to. By forcing an album on its iTunes customers, Apple is effectively saying that it has an inalienable right to put its mark on who you are.

I’m sorry, but that’s just plain wrong.


Crossing the boundary of customer reward and invasion of privacy

by Mich Atagana

Yes it is, and Apple actually isn’t alone in the is kind of behaviour. Last year Samsung paid around US$5-million to gift one million Galaxy S III, Galaxy S4 or Galaxy Note II users Jay-Z’s new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail three days before its official release date. One could argue that this is how these two tech giants have chosen to reward its fans for loyal service and hopefully gain some new ones.

Access to your iTunes account isn’t the same as access to your phone for a software update. Before every purchase or app download, Apple has always given the user the choice to permit this action, but not now. Now it’s chosen to invade users’ privacy and put something there that wasn’t there before. Of course for U2 fans (which I am), this is possibly the best thing since sliced bread. I am however, quite curious as to how much Apple paid for this very extravagant marketing ploy?

Commenting on the new album and release U2 frontman Bono said:

“In the next 24 hours, over a half a billion people are going to have Songs of Innocence… should they choose to check it out. That is so exciting.”

Did Apple really give users a choice here? Yes it can sit in you iTunes library undownloaded for the rest of time, the point is it is in your personal iTunes library. It is not just living on iTunes, it has come into you space. The difference, and this is a major difference, between the Samsung Jay-Z deal and Apple’s U2 shenanigans was that users had the choice to download an app that allowed you to get the album, it did not just magic itself into your space without your permission.

Music is a deeply personal choice and the music people choose to add to their library is an extension of who they are and their aspirations. The music industry, just like the apps space, is incredibly cluttered with many artists competing for users attention in the noise. Apple and U2 didn’t give users the choice of earning a place in the converted library of an individual’s musical journey. It abused its privilege of access to the user’s space through technology.

To date U2 has sold an estimated 150-million albums. Its last album, No Line on the Horizon, sold 5-million copies. Thanks to Apple, the band now has access to more than 800-million users at once. Talk about a creepy publicity stunt.

Have you downloaded the album yet, will you?

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