Earlier today, I upgraded to iTunes8, which includes Genius, a new playlist service unveiled by Apple this week.
Genius works by scanning your songs and playlists to come up with new playlists based on an artist that you select. For example, I select Blue Rodeo’s So Far Away, and then Genius created a playlist that includes Corb Lund and Lyle Lovett – songs/artists that Genius determines are in the same genre.
It’s a beautiful tool. In the few hours that I’ve used it, Genius has brought to the surface music that I haven’t heard in months.
Genius is free but there is a price involved. If you read the terms of service, you’re giving Apple the right to periodically scan your music collection and playlists – an option that you can apparently turned off.
For many people, Apple snooping into your music collection isn’t a big deal. When I put something on Twitter about whether anyone was concerned about what Apple is doing with Genius, one response I got was: ”
“I don’t know why on earth I’d care. My playlist is shared over all kinds of public networks, and hardly proprietary info. *shrug*”
I suspect this is what the vast majority of people would say about giving up another chunk of your privacy so Apple can do some digital analysis of your data.
Apple says the data it collects is completely anonymous so, in theory, it has no knowledge of who you are and the music you have on iTunes.
The risk, however, is Apple could find itself in the middle of the music industry’s war against privacy. What if Genius becomes popular to the point where the RIAA realizes that Apple has enormous amounts of data about your music collection and, possibly, how much of it is legitimate versus downloaded for free from the Web?
Of course, this is likely an extreme possibility but it is still, nevertheless, a possibility.
Perhaps I’m being an alarmist or paranoid but the more access you give to your data and your online activity, the bigger the possibility it could come back to bite you in the ass.
Despite all the talk about privacy, too many people are willing surrender their privacy – many times without knowing it. This is particularly evident within an environment where free services are all around us.
Truth be told, there is no such thing as completely free. There is always a price to be paid – even for Genius.
More: If you had doubts about what Apple may be doing with Genius, check out this Wired story on how everything you do on an iPhone is being recorded as a screenshot.