iTunes Store, in trying to help, may say too much

A feature of the iTunes Store to avoid duplicate gifts may have privacy risks, says an MIT researcher

Apple's iTunes Store that can reveal what content another person has downloaded, which could be a privacy concern for users of the service, says a research scientist at MIT.

Techworld: How to get free iTunes music

The iTunes Store allows people to gift content such as music to another user. A person can compile a list of up to 100 songs to gift to someone else, and the iTunes Store checks to see if the recipient already owns the content, wrote Andrew McAfee , principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Business at MIT's Sloan School of Management.

"This is done with good intentions -- to keep users from gifting music that the recipient already has -- but the implementation of this feature opens up privacy concerns: if the check reveals duplicates, iTunes tells the gifter about one of them," McAfee wrote.

The person who is gifting the content only needs to know the recipient's e-mail address, which McAfee argues isn't usually difficult to guess, and have a copy of the iTunes application. Apple also doesn't require givers to sign into their account or present credit card information. The recipients have no idea that their purchases are being scanned by someone else.

"This strikes me as problematic," McAfee wrote. "Of course, this is nowhere near as big a deal as privacy holes in online health or financial information would be, so we should keep this issue in perspective. But it is an issue, I think."

For music playlists, users are allowed to send up to 100 tracks, so scanning a person's library would take a while, but McAfee writes that the process could likely be automated.

McAfee wrote that the way the iTunes Store gifting procedure works could be violation of the U.S. Video Privacy and Protection Act, which bans disclosure of customer rental records without consent of the consumer. Other U.S. states have stricter laws covering the same area, he wrote.

The Video Privacy and Protection Act was the basis for a class-action lawsuit filed in April 2008 against the video store Blockbuster, which signed up for Facebook's doomed Beacon ad service. Facebook canceled Beacon due to privacy concerns. The service would report back what a user did on participating Web sites back to Facebook.

The class-action suit was later dropped, according to records for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

McAfee contrasted Apple's approach with that of Amazon's digital book marketplace for its Kindle e-book reader.

"As a comparison, I tried to send my Mom an Amazon Kindle book I knew she already had," he wrote. "Amazon let the purchase go through and told me nothing about her Kindle inventory. She received a message from the company that I'd sent her an e-book she already owned, and giving her a credit for its price. To put it mildly, this seems like a better approach to me."

Apple officials in London did not have an immediate comment.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags privacyinternetAppleInternet-based applications and services

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Cate Bacon

Aruba Instant On AP11D

The strength of the Aruba Instant On AP11D is that the design and feature set support the modern, flexible, and mobile way of working.

Dr Prabigya Shiwakoti

Aruba Instant On AP11D

Aruba backs the AP11D up with a two-year warranty and 24/7 phone support.

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?