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From free gift to marketing fiasco

How did Songs of Innocence become history's most deleted album?

It's not a headline that either U2 or Apple would want, but with the insertion of Songs Of Innocence into the music collections of iTunes users around the world, what was touted as the largest album release in history has fast turned into a marketing fiasco.

Apple ipod

Has Apple invaded its customers' privacy?

U2 now have what is probably the most deleted album in history.

So what went wrong? Why would people be so willing to delete something they got for free? What was it that U2 and Apple's marketers messed up so badly? And is there something to the outrage that many people have been expressing across social media?

The best explanation is that what they did was a violation of privacy.

Privacy is typically seen as something about someone taking your personal information and sharing it without your consent. On this occasion, however, it is about one person putting their information into one's personal space.

Think of this analogy: We've all felt annoyed when we have to hear someone else on a phone when on the train or elsewhere in public. The reason is that our personal space is being invaded by someone else's actions. Sure, they're not harming us, but they're insulting us, forcing their private conversation into our personal space. Waking to find Songs Of Innocence inserted into your computer like a piece of malware is equally an invasion of privacy; a sign of someone else not caring what you want.

Given that this has occurred at a time when people are very sensitive about digital intrusions into personal spaces, it adds insult to injury. Following Edward Snowden's leaks, we found out that national security agencies have been accessing Apple users' personal information. Two weeks ago, hackers reportedly exploited weaknesses in the iCloud to leak nude celebrity photos. Is it any wonder that people already sensitive about privacy feel angry?

So, why would U2 and Apple do this? It's a marketing move gone wrong. Firstly, it's almost a decade too late and too arrogant by half Radiohead's In Rainbows did a similar thing in 2007, showing how digital delivery can change access to music. But the difference is that now many people are worried and resentful of intrusions into their digital space. Further, when Radiohead did it, they let people decide whether they wanted it - in some tiny way, it was about empowering the individual. U2 and Apple did it backwards - they forced their music into people's digital space and totally overlooked that people might not want their album.

So we've seen why people are angry, and that it was a bad move on U2 and Apple's behalf. So there is an important question of whether people should be "outraged"? That is: sure we might be justified in being annoyed about this, but is there any cause to be really angry?

Mostly, I think not - in terms of actual impact on people's lives, this is tiny. In short, there is no real "injury" to be had.

But if you consider the notion of privacy as being about protecting us from other people's information, then there are two sorts of insult here. The insult from U2 is their sheer arrogance - assuming that about 500 million people would want a copy of their album, free or not, is highly presumptuous.

The insult from Apple is that they can treat "our" music collections as they will. It's like a feudal lord reminding their serfs that they are on his land, and because it is his land he can do whatever he wants.

In this way, it's an expression not just of Apple's arrogance, but a reminder of their power over us.

Many in the public see things like music collections as an expression of their personality, a personal space in which to develop and maintain their own personal histories. Apple has been a chief architect selling this techno-utopia.

But they've now shown their hand that access to the digital Garden of Eden is only because the Apple allows it.

This then speaks to a deeper fear that Apple can eject us from this garden should they desire it.

And having been promised heaven, is it any wonder that people feel not just insulted, but angry?

Dr Adam Henschke is an ethicist and research fellow at the National Security College. This article first appeared in the Canberra Times. Read the original article here.



 

Updated:  22 September 2014/ Responsible Officer:  Head of College, National Security College/ Page Contact:  Web administrator, National Security College