How private is your music collection? No, wait, let me write that another way. How private do you want to keep your music collection?
Apple just released a new version of iTunes that includes the Apple Genius feature. What does it do?
Genius makes playlists from songs in your library that go great together.
The Genius sidebar recommends music from the iTunes Store that you don’t already have.
Sounds great. What does it cost me? Just my musical privacy.
Genius is able to make playlists and give you great recommendations by periodically sending information about your iTunes library to Apple. This information will only be sent to Apple if you choose to turn on Genius.
The information sent to Apple includes details about the media in your iTunes library such as track names, play counts, and ratings. This information will be stored with an anonymous Genius ID and not linked to your iTunes Account. When using the iTunes Store or Genius sidebar, Apple will also use your purchase history to give you better recommendations.
Is this really a big deal? Amazon already uses information like this to suggest “if you liked this book, you might like these other items that other people that also liked this book bought” and so on. Sure enough, here’s the final bit of the disclaimer:
The information about your library will be anonymously combined with information provided by other Genius users. Apple will use this combined knowledge to improve Genius playlists and recommendations for everyone.
So if I think that John Hiatt and William Topley go together, Apple will combine my thoughts with those of all of their other geniuses and use that information to sell my preferences to other people, and try to sell their preferences to me. I will admit that I have received some great tips from friends and co-workers over the years after they see me listening to a particular artist or group. I’ve gone from the Hooters to Gin Blossoms. From Jeremy Fisher to Jason Mraz. Molly Hatchet to the Outlaws. And as I mentioned above, I know Amazon already uses a very similar strategy… in fact, they might have been the one to pioneer the technique.
To be clear, the Apple Genius feature is “opt in” while Amazon’s is not (or at least doesn’t appear to be). So why am I worried about Apple and not so much about Amazon? Perhaps it’s because Amazon only knows about things that I have actually purchased from them, while Apple wants to know every single song that is in my library. And not just the titles, but how frequently (and recently) I have played them. And what playlists I’ve created out of my own music library.
I think for now, I’ll leave the genius on the shelf and continue building my own playlists.
What about you? If you have an iPod and use iTunes, did you get the update yet? Did you sign up to be a genius?