The U2 Album Freakout

September 17th, 2014

Just so nobody’s confused about this. U2 is just a rock and roll band. While the rock culture has had a huge impact on the lives of many of you, at the core, it’s just some singers and musicians making music. Yes, as with some other bands, they do engage in some worthy charitable activities. They don’t just take the millions they earn from recordings and concerts and live large.

Understand that I’m not an avid fan. I like some of their songs, and I really found the intro track from “Songs of Innocence,” “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” to be quite a catchy tune. It doesn’t break any musical ground, and the production values, though pop slick, are strictly conventional, but it’s eminently listenable. So I fully expect that the album, their first in five years, would have been a huge hit even if it wasn’t part of a reported $100 million marketing campaign for the band and, of course, Apple.

The gimmick, however, was to make it free for all 500 million iTunes users. Free! That means you won’t be charged a penny for it, and, in fact, you don’t even have to bother downloading the album if you don’t like U2 or rock music. Get the picture?

Predictably some Apple customers, and the media, complained that Apple was somehow infringing on their personal accounts by entering a link to a product they didn’t want or request. I suppose there’s inherent logic in such concerns, particularly in light of the security issues over  the theft of explicit photos from celebrities because their iCloud accounts were hacked.

So there were probably fears Apple had somehow invaded their personal accounts to offer the album. It was regarded as not just an invasion of privacy, but malware in the strictest form of the term. While I don’t know the mechanism involved, I suspect it was done in a way that didn’t actually tap anyone’s personal account information. It was all just a backend update of some sort that made it all happen.

You see, Apple makes a big deal of being concerned about your security. This came to the fore in light of that iCloud issue — which was a matter of stealing usernames and passwords, not the result of a security leak — and the forthcoming launch of Apple Pay. Can you trust Apple to protect your personal information?

Tim Cook’s argument, when he’s asked, is to emphasize what Apple does to ensure your security and to explain that the company earns money from selling products and services. They don’t track your personal information and sell it to advertisers as Google does. To Google, to repeat the cliche, you are the product. That’s a huge distinction. Indeed, Google hasn’t fared too well selling hardware. Sales of Google Glass, in endless beta, are extremely low. A few million people have bought Google’s $35 Chromecast, but the real money comes their way from targeted ads.

The problem here is one of perceptions. Apple has the perfect right to give things away, even though U2 is earning millions from the transaction. OS X and iOS are free, and your new Mac, iPhone or iPad comes with iLife and iWork at no extra cost. So there’s nothing wrong with providing a rock and roll album as part of the bundle. After all, do you feel put upon when you find that you already own a copy of iLife and iWork as the result of getting new Apple gear? With the 16GB iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, in fact, they will both be optional downloads; they will be preloaded on higher capacity models. Is that also an infringement on your rights?

In response to the concerns, Apple has provided a tool to help you remove the U2 album from your Purchased list. You will have until October 13 to download the album direct from iTunes if you still want a free copy. Otherwise you’ll have to pay for it if you change your mind later.

The sole problem may be in the way Apple handled this gift. During that awkwardly scripted back-and-forth between U2 frontman Bono and Tim Cook, it was “revealed” that Apple had the power to give all iTunes users the album in a mere five seconds. Well, perhaps it took a little longer to accomplish, but maybe the powers that be didn’t think it through. Perhaps it would have served everyone better to simply send an email out to iTunes customers, or put up a huge banner on iTunes so you’d have to option to download the album if you wanted to.

Indeed, a little common sense and a less pie-in-the-sky approach might have avoided the negative backlash. Or perhaps not, since Apple’s critics would still find something wrong to complain about. In any case, it’s all over now. Download it or not, remove it or not. It’s all up to you, and nobody is infringing on your personal space or your financial data.

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One Response to “The U2 Album Freakout”

  1. Jase says:

    You have to be pretty consumed with Apple hate to complain about a free gift of a brand new album from one of the biggest rock bands of the past 30 years. I appreciate it and I don’t even own any rock albums.

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