1984 Redux

It seems I may have struck a nerve with my talks about AAC and it seems that everyone sees it as a question of theft vs. paying for content. To me, the issue is not about theft. For starters, I do not use file sharing networks. Yes, I did check Napster when it was around but ultimately, I abandoned the Peer to Peer networks, largely because the quality of the files that could be found on those services was lackluster at best. I do, however, have an extensive MP3 collection. All of it is tagged with proper ID3 tags that include more information than what you could find on a regular P2P network (they even include cover art). I have, in the past, considered moving to Ogg Vorbis but decided that my current investment in MP3 (I burned my whole CD collection to MP3 a long time ago and still retain the CDs as proof that I actually do own the rights to that music (they are, however, in a closet, gathering dust)) was working fine and have not moved on.

AAC seems like an interesting format. Thanks to the many people who have pointed me to Audiocoding, which provides a free GNU-licensed AAC codec. I would like to rescind my statement about it being a closed format.

However, still missing from the discussion is more openness on the part of Apple when it comes to explaining what they are doing with their DRM system when it comes to music. For example, why is it not made clearer on their site about the music store that you are only allowed to use a song on up to three different computers? What happens when I change computer? What if I want to use it on more than three computers? Of course, they recommend backups because if I don’t have them, I’ll have to buy the music again (couldn’t they keep track of what I purchased on the server and give me access to it? They already have my credit card info and my account info if I bought something there, right? And what if it just won’t play? How many Apple users actually know how to do this? I am a fairly geeky guy and that would be no problem for me but I somehow doubt that people who are buying macs for their ease of use would find this acceptable.

What I would like to see is a little openness from Apple. If you’re going to lock down my tracks, fine… as long as you tell me! Why is Apple locking up files on my computers without asking me first?

The next question surrounds the computer authorization scheme. Do I really want Apple to know what’s on my computer? After all, what information is given to them when I authorize a computer? We already know what information they gather when you create a user ID and their privacy policy states that Apple may occasionally share your personal contact information with carefully selected technology companies. So, after I register a computer, not only do they know who I am, but they also know about my computer (where is the privacy policy for what information they gather about my computer?) The track registration scheme that Apple is putting in place seems suspiciously similar to Microsoft Passport.

The difference, many will say, is that Apple is not Microsoft. Well, considering how carefully, they protect their trade secrets, I am worried about what they could do with information about me. Call me paranoid if you want but it seems to me that Apple is becoming a parody of itself. In 1984, with their famous mac ad, they showed themselves as fighting big brother. Wouldn’t it be ironic if they were to become what they were fighting?

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