Don’t Like the U2 Album? Apple Is Providing a Way to Delete It from your iTunes Library

Apple has finally admitted that the U2 free album debacle was wrong. They have set up a web page where you can ask to have the album removed from your iTunes library.

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I’m glad Apple has realized that they made a mistake, and have decided to offer a way to get rid of it if you don’t want it.

I find it interesting that this issue is so polarizing. A lot of my fellow tech journalists see it as a non-issue, but I tend to think that the customer is always right. I’ve gotten enough emails from readers that show that the majority of people had no clue about this promotion until they saw the music in their iTunes libraries, or on their iOS devices. Tech journalists tend to forget that the vast majority of people don’t follow the news that we do. And, as I pointed out here, lots of people don’t get promotional emails from the iTunes Store, so weren’t alerted by Apple about this either.

Apple Treads Dangerous Path with Auto-Delivered Free Content Like the U2 Album

Readers of this blog are certainly aware that Apple, last week, gave 500 million people free copies of the latest U2 album (though only about 2 million people have downloaded it). Rather than send out redeem codes for the album, allowing customers to add it to their iTunes library if they so desired, Apple simply added it to everyone’s iTunes account. Depending on the settings you have in iTunes and on your iOS device, the album may have auto-downloaded, or may appear as a purchase in the cloud. While you can hide this U2 album, you cannot delete it; it is yours forever.

Apple’s assumption that 500 million people were actually interested in this album quickly proved erroneous. Many people were annoyed to discover this album on their devices, and others were worried that someone had hacked their iTunes Store accounts, purchasing this album without their awareness. Still others don’t even know who U2 is.

(Great joke seen on Twitter: Apple added a U2 maps app to my iPhone without asking me; all the streets have no names.)

Apple is treading a dangerous path with this sort of operation. The iTunes Store has long offered free content: there has been a free single of the week since the store opened; there are free TV episodes, just about every week; there are free apps, free books, and more. But iTunes Store customers were always free to choose whether or not they wanted to download this content. Never before has Apple pushed this content to customers.

Many people have written that the anger over this is misplaced (here’s one article by Peter Cohen on iMore); that Apple just wanted to give people a lagniappe, and that no one should be angry about free stuff. But this ignores the fact that a person’s iTunes library is a representation of their personality, of their musical tastes. Just like I wouldn’t be happy to find a Justin Bieber album in my iTunes library, I can understand that many people aren’t delighted that they now own a U2 record.

The biggest issue, in my opinion, is whether or not this is a one-off marketing event or whether Apple is testing the waters, planning to use this procedure in the future. Can you imagine if Apple pushed a new single to you every week, because either they are using it as a marketing tool (Apple reportedly paid U2 $100 million for this album) or because an artist has paid Apple to get them to push their content? This would eventually become quite confusing for iTunes Store customers; you would have to spend a lot of time hiding the content you no longer want to see in your iTunes library. And what if Apple started pushing apps to their customers, because they were paid to do so? This would be no different from the pre-bundled apps that Android users find filling up their smartphones.

Apple’s communication about this was clearly inefficient. Many people were worried that their iTunes Store accounts were hacked; Apple only sent out an email to customers about 48 hours after the album was released; This is enough time for people who don’t follow tech news to be worried about their bank accounts. And I think only those customers who have settings to receive email even got this message. (I have multiple iTunes Store accounts, and only got the email once. Only one of my accounts is set up to get Apple’s iTunes Store emails.)

If Apple were to start pushing free content regularly, they would be well-advised to make this an op-in option. But even then, people might simply forget they accepted this option, and be surprised when they see certain content in their iTunes libraries.

I think Apple made a mistake here. I understand why; they wanted this to be the largest album release in history, so it counts as though 500 million people actually own the album. But in their hubris, they annoyed a lot of customers. Given the recent security issues around iCloud accounts, Apple should avoid doing anything that makes people suspicious. Apple has always been a company one can trust, and this shouldn’t change just because of some misguided marketing choices.

What’s Up with the U2 Free Album Download Numbers?

u2-album-cover.jpgIt’s an interesting turn of events that a free album, given to all iTunes Store customers, has elicited such a wide variety of reactions. Some people are delighted that the album is free; others incensed that Apple is forcing specific music on them. I wrote an article for Macworld about how to hide the album – because you cannot delete it from your iTunes library – which has been extremely popular. Lots of people don’t like U2, and don’t want this album.

But I’m curious about the numbers that are being reported. Re/code claims that “iTunes users have downloaded more than 2 million copies” of the album. That’s 0.4% of the 500 million iTunes Store accounts. Is it possible that so few people have actually downloaded this free album?

This album can show up in your iTunes library, or on your iOS device, in several ways. If you have Settings > Music > Show All Music turned on on your iOS device, you’ll see all your purchases (except for those you’ve hidden, using the technique I explain in my Macworld article). And if you have Show iTunes in the Cloud purchases checked in iTunes’ Store preferences, the album will display in your iTunes library. Presumably, if you have automatic downloads turned on, you’ll also have downloaded it. (I can’t confirm this; I don’t have this feature turned on, and I’ve heard conflicting reports about whether the album downloads automatically.)

So the above suggests that people will see the album in their iTunes library, or on their iOS devices, but could only two million people have actually downloaded it? U2’s last album sold a bit more than a million copies – very low for this band – but I’d have expected more people to want to grab a freebie. Unless the fact that it’s free makes it seem less worth listening to…

What about you, dear reader? Did you download the album? Did it show up in your iTunes library automatically? And did it download automatically?

Two-Step Authentication Is Too Complicated for Many People

Apple’s recent nude selfie hack illustrated the need for two-step or two-factor authentication (TFA) as a way of hardening the protection for online accounts. You may be familiar with this from banks, some of which use systems where you generate a one-time authentication code that you enter together with your password. It ensures that access to your account requires both something you know (your password) and something you have (a device that generates a code; an app; a cellphone to receive a code by SMS).

Here’s how Apple explains the process:

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In practice, however, this is problematic. I use TFA on Dropbox; whenever I log into Dropbox on a new device, I immediately get a code sent to my iPhone. I enter that code, and I can access my files. But, the other day, I tried to turn on TFA for Google. I went to step 1, where I entered my user name and password, then step 2, where I gave them my cellphone number. Then I waited; and waited. I then clicked a link saying I hadn’t received the code, and I clicked a link to have it sent again. And again. Then the Google site recommended I have them send a voice mail instead of a text message. I waited. And I waited. I finally got a voice call with the code, but when I entered it, it had already expired. I never got any of the text messages, which I requested four times. Needless to say, the way Google works, I would be effectively locked out of my account with no way at all to get back in.

I’ve thought about activating TFA for my iCloud account, but have you ever looked at Apple’s FAQ for two-step verification for an Apple ID? I make my living writing about computers, and telling people how to use them, and I’m daunted by this page. I once started the process, but it was so scary – full of warnings that if I didn’t print out the Recovery Key, I might never be able to get access to my iCloud data. Needless to say, I gave up.

Two-factor authentication is a powerful tool; my bank uses this, and a banker told me that, since they introduced it, fraud has essentially disappeared. But the way it is implemented for online accounts is problematic, and dangerous. Accessing my data is far too important to trust to a system that can go wrong, as Google’s did, or that is too confusing, as Apple’s is. There has to be a better way.

TidBITS: Macworld Lays Off Staffers, Closes Print Edition

“My Twitter feed just exploded with the news that numerous long-time Macworld editors, including Dan Frakes, Roman Loyola, Philip Michaels, Dan Miller, and Dan Moren have been laid off. (There is no truth the rumor that Macworld parent IDG just had too many editors named “Dan” on the books.) In addition, Jason Snell has quit; he was a senior vice president and editorial director for IDG Consumer.

Specific details about what happened emerged quickly afterwards, with Macworld Editor Dan Miller confirming that the print edition of Macworld would be going away and the macworld.com Web site would continue with a reduced staff. Exactly who that will include remains to be seen, with Chris Breen being the only well-known Macworld contributor to say that he wasn’t laid off. Dan Miller later said that macworld.com would continue to hire freelancers.”

Quite a surprise. The day after they all did great reporting on Apple’s new product announcements.

As for me, it seems that, as Adam Engst says above, they will continue to hire freelancers; I’ll know more in a few days.

I’ll miss the magazine. Even though I read lots on the web, I’ve been reading Macworld for longer than I can remember.

TidBITS: Macworld Lays Off Staffers, Closes Print Edition.

Why ApplePay Isn’t a Big Deal in Europe

Aside from hardware in yesterday’s Apple announcement, the big new feature was ApplePay. Using NFC (near field communication), you can pay with your credit or debit card using your iPhone. The main advantages to this are security and quicker payments, but Europe uses chip-and-PIN cards, rather than swipe cards, so security is much better; levels of card fraud are substantially lower over here. Sure, it’ll be a bit quicker to pay with ApplePay, but contactless cards exist here, which smooth the process. (I have to admit, I have a contactless card, and have never used it; I think I’ve only seen one merchant who had a contactless terminal in the year and a half that I’ve lived in the UK.)

Yes, ApplePay is nifty technology, but many of its advantages won’t make a difference here. For example, one is always at risk, in the US, of having a card copied when giving it to someone to be swiped. Here in Europe, no one swipes your card; you insert it yourself into a card reader, then enter a PIN. If you’re at a restaurant, the waiter brings a portable reader to your table. So your card never leaves your sight.

There are some advantages to online purchases with ApplePay, but, again, most cards over here use some form of two-factor authentication when purchasing online.

ApplePay is a big deal for people in the US, which is decades behind Europe as far as card payments are concerned, but it may take a while for it to be used in Europe. There’s little incentive to banks or merchants here to adopt such a system. We’ll have to see how this pans out.

Update: Here’s a New York Times article, Apple Pay Tries to Solve a Problem That Really Isn’t a Problem, that says a lot of what I do above, and goes into a bit more detail about whether or not this is a problem even in the US.