Concerns Emerge Over iTunes User Data

The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 5, 2007; 7:40 AM

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Apple Inc.'s recent rollout of songs without copy protection software at its iTunes Store has given consumers new flexibility, but questions have emerged over the company's inclusion of personal data in purchased music tracks.

Are the songs that are being billed as free of so-called digital rights management technology really "DRM-free" or are there still strings attached?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a consumer watchdog group, said the embedded user information in the purchased track raises privacy issues.

Apple declined to comment.

The trendsetting Cupertino-based company has always embedded user information _ a user name and e-mail _ into its copy-protected tracks. But until the market-leading iTunes Store began offering DRM-free music last week, no one raised much of a ruckus.

DRM technology puts a sort of software lock on digital songs or movies, dictating where and how the content can be played and distributed. With DRM-free content, some songs purchased from iTunes now work directly on portable players other than Apple's iPod, including Microsoft Corp.'s Zune.

Though piracy of digital music over the Internet remains unabated even with the growth of legitimate online retailers like iTunes, Apple's debut of DRM-free songs could tempt some of its users to share their purchased tracks with others online.

Technology blogs Ars Technica and The Unofficial Apple Weblog were among the first to reveal that personal data remained in the unrestricted iTunes tracks. Their reports last week prompted speculation that the data could be used to trace copies uploaded to online file-sharing networks back to the people who originally purchased the tracks, opening those users to music industry copyright lawsuits.

The Recording Industry Association of America, whose piracy lawsuits have ensnared organized outfits as well as individual grandmothers and youths, declined to comment. EMI Group PLC, the major record label behind Apple's inaugural batch of DRM-free songs, also declined to comment.

"DRM prevented us from playing the music we have purchased on all of our devices. We asked that this be removed and we got what we were looking for," said Erica Sadun, a prolific technology blogger on and author who conducted her own tests of Apple's embedded identification tags.

"But I'm on the fence in terms of the privacy issues," she said in an interview. "Consumers should always know what they're getting into."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which also analyzed the DRM-free song files on iTunes, said it did not want to jump to any conclusions on Apple's reasons for embedding the personal data.

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