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Privacy advocates concerned with iTunes’ DRM-free music

Even though Apple's iTunes tracks are now free of digital rights management (DRM) software, privacy advocates are voicing concern over personal information attached to the music files.

Music downloaded from iTunes is free of copy-restriction technology, thereby allowing users to play the tracks on other devices, and people may be more willing to share the purchased music with other users over peer-to-peer networks.

This theoretically could allow the music industry to track down copyright infringers because the tracks would contain unencrypted details – names and email addresses – of the buyers.

While Apple may not be violating any laws, users may have reason to worry, Andy Serwin, a San Diego-based lawyer specializing in privacy and the internet, told today.

"The more information you gather and the more times you do it, the more chances you have for it to get out," he said.

While some do not think a name and email address constitute too much information, there is no reason Apple should have done it, Fred von Lohmann, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in a blog post today.

"At a minimum, many would have appreciated it if Apple had notified them in some conspicuous way," Lohmann said. "Even after the recent media attention, it's safe to assume that the vast majority of iTunes customers still have no idea that their names and email addresses are embedded in these files."

Serwin said it is too early to tell if the new tactic will result in a backlash against Apple.

"I think ultimately it’s a consumer choice issue," he said. "Do people want to download music that’s tagged with their name on it? If they don’t, that may impact their [Apple] business model if other companies are not doing that."

Apple launched the new DRM-free tracks at the end of May by offering an upgrade to iTunes version 7.2. The decision to move to selling songs free of copy protection started in February, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrote an open letter to the major music companies, asking them to embrace this strategy.

"Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats," Jobs wrote. "In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat."

"Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it?" Jobs added. "The simplest answer is, 'because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy.'"

An Apple spokesman did not return a telephone call today seeking comment.


Click here to email reporter Dan Kaplan.

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