Reacting to the Apple-U2 spam campaign

I have to admit it: My reaction to the iOS spam by Apple and U2 has been out of proportion. Not that Apple shouldn’t be despised for effectively deciding that it gets to pick what goes into people’s song lists and dumping a U2 album into every iPod, iPhone, and iPad that it could get its slimy hands on; but my reaction is beyond despising and borders on sheer rage. I’m not alone in this. Others have posted tweets saying they feel “violated” by Apple’s action, along with the many who are simply angry.

Objectively, polluting my music collection is less bad than starting an illegal war, tear-gassing peaceful protesters, or even crossing a double yellow line to pass me on a major city street. (The last happened to me last night.) So why do I feel the urge to burn every Apple device in my house and deposit the ashes at the nearest Apple store? (Don’t worry, I won’t. Too many toxic fumes, if nothing else.)

One answer is that music is highly personal to me. I listen to music and don’t want to be subjected to it when I can’t or don’t want to listen. I make music. I listen to music. At a job which I had around 1980, the management decided software engineers would be more docile, or something, if music was constantly pumped into our area. I cut the wire to the ceiling speaker. The people who said they were “violated” discovered the spam when it started playing in the middle of their shuffle. This didn’t happen to me, but the possibility is all too vivid. Mozart — John Williams — S. J. Tucker — and then Apple’s spam band subjecting me to its noise. Apple is treating my iPod not as my property, but as its property, to place content on as it wishes. And by claiming that right, it’s implicitly claiming the right to remove or modify content.

Another is that I can’t fully delete it. The best answer I’ve seen is to go into my iPod’s settings and turn off “Show all music.” I don’t know what else is being hidden from me by doing that. I’m trading one form of Apple control over my music for another. (Some sites claim this is related to your iCloud settings. I don’t have an iCloud account, but Apple spammed me anyway. I was logged in to the store with an Apple ID. Not having an Apple ID may make you safe, but I can’t guarantee it.)

Another is that neither Apple nor U2 has been even slightly apologetic, and their pet media outlets are calling the spam a “giveaway.” I wonder how Apple or U2 would feel if someone broke into their servers and “gave” them “free” modified pages on their site. But U2 has the mindset of any spammer; its lead singer has said that their driving objective is “to get our music to as many people as possible.” Whether they want it or not.

The part which just bewilders me is that Apple supposedly paid U2 $100 million — not the other way around — for the privilege of distributing their spam. I thought it was the purveyors of sleaze who normally paid the people who dumped their promotions onto unwilling targets.

I realize that my reaction is fueled by factors beyond the strictly rational ones. Still, U2 has turned itself overnight from a name I usually thought of as a spy plane from the sixties if at all to one that I loathe, and Apple has thoroughly lost my trust. “Songs of Innocence”? Ha.

Update: I’ve continued to tweak this post a bit, and just now (Sunday morning) realized what it is that hits me so deeply. It’s that the spam campaign epitomizes the idea that we are supposed to be passive recipients of “professionals'” music products. Apple built a music “social networking” system, whose name I can’t even remember now, on this premise; there were separate categories for music makers and music consumers. Everywhere we go, even in outdoor gas stations, we are subjected to a constant stream of music whether we want it or not. If we object, we’re told, “Wassa matter, doncha like music?” No, I love music. I do not accept that it’s something to be imposed on me as a passive recipient. By spamming my iPod, Apple is saying that I am just the target for its choice of musicians. I am not. I refuse to be.

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