Can a gift be a data breach? Lots of Apple product users think so, as evidenced by the strong reaction against the company for their unsolicited syncing of U2’s latest album songs of innocence to 500 million iCloud accounts. Although part of the negative reaction stems from differences of musical taste, what Apple shared with customers seems less important than the fact that they put content on user accounts at all.

u2-apple-eventWith a proverbial expectant smile, Apple gifted the album’s 11 songs to unsuspecting users. A promotional move, this was timed with the launch of the iPhone6 and Apple iWatch. And much like teenagers who find that their parents spent the day reorganizing their bedrooms, some customers found the move invasive rather than generous.

Sarah Wanenchack has done some great work on this blog with regards to device ownership—or more precisely, our increasing lack of ownership over the devices that we buy. That Apple can, without user permission, add content to our devices, highlights this lack of ownership. Music is personal. Devices are personal. And they should be. We bought them with our own money. And yet, these devices remain accessible to the company from which they came; they remain alterable; they remain—despite a monetary transaction that generally implies buyer ownership—nonetheless shared. And this, for some people, is offensive.  

It is also a breach of privacy. Users produce data, but they also consume data. I’m sure for most people, and certainly for the decision makers at Apple, giving people music seems far less insidious than selling people’s information. But Just as opt-out models of user-data sharing, mining, and sales expose customers’ productive labor and personal information to unexpected parties in unexpected ways, opt-out models of data-gifting infiltrate customers’ private consumptive spaces.

Admittedly, the exposure in this case is mainly just inconvenient. At worst, those who aren’t fans of U2’s music made an appalled face as they found their playlist infiltrated by an unappealing sound.

But if we push this, and think about what Apple did with this gift, the act itself becomes worrisome, if not surprising. If they can put this content into one’s collection, they can put other content in too. Putting content in means entering, uninvited, into a presumably private realm. The space, in short, was never yours.

I leave you now with 2 gifts of my own:

1.) Link to remove U2 album (if you are so inclined):

2.) Some of my favorite public Twitter responses




Follow Jenny Davis on Twitter @Jenny_L_Davis

Headline pic: Source