Apple can be evil, too: Don't miss this tale of how it cleared a guy's music files

The company's stylishness sometimes gets it a free pass. But Apple Music has real problems

Published May 5, 2016 4:40PM (EDT)

  (AP/Richard Drew)
(AP/Richard Drew)

Eddie Izzard has a hilarious bit where he jokes about all the licensing forms and other things Apple makes you approve when you download a new piece of software or do almost anything on one of its computers. What, he asked, are we really signing away?

Despite this, a lot of us continue to love Apple. Eddie Izzard himself does, telling The Guardian that he is an Apple addict. “I eventually went Apple for the iPod and it escalated from there. MacBook, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch …”

Even as many people recognize that there’s something a bit dangerous about Amazon, and that Facebook is kind of creepy, Apple maintains some of its shimmer. In the same way a lot of folks knew that Steve Jobs was personally unpleasant, they still saw him as a hero for the sleek and efficient gadgets he designed or had a hand in.

Current Apple chief Tim Cook’s defiance of the federal government over hacking a killer’s iPhone has been – among other things -- very good PR.

But a new story serves as a reminder that as stylish as some of its products are, Apple is still dangerous. And Apple Music seems to have been rolled out with a lot of problems. It’s not just a matter of losing a few songs: James Pinkstone lost 122 GB of music files, called Apple’s helpdesk, and was told by an employee named Amber that this is the way the program is supposed to work. Some of what he lost were his own musical compositions. Pinkstone describes this on the blog Vellum.

What Amber explained was exactly what I’d feared: through the Apple Music subscription, which I had, Apple now deletes files from its users’ computers. When I signed up for Apple Music, iTunes evaluated my massive collection of Mp3s and WAV files, scanned Apple’s database for what it considered matches, then removed the original files from my internal hard drive. REMOVED them. Deleted. If Apple Music saw a file it didn’t recognize—which came up often, since I’m a freelance composer and have many music files that I created myself—it would then download it to Apple’s database, delete it from my hard drive, and serve it back to me when I wanted to listen, just like it would with my other music files it had deleted.

And instead of opening itself up to legal action, Apple’s Terms of Use keep is in the clear. Brilliant, eh?

He also found Apple Music switching out rare versions of songs, keeping him from listening to music his ripped from his own CDs, and making him pay them to get to his own music, since Apple took and stored it.

To be clear, none of this seems like something Apple designed intentionally, but at the very least, this enormous company which brags about its “geniuses” has created a system that allows even tech-savvy people like Pinkstone to get into trouble. Apparently he’s not the only Apple Music user to have these problems:

Amber relayed to me that she’s had to suffer through many calls from people who cancelled their Apple Music subscription after the free, three-month trial, only to discover that all of their own music files had been deleted and there was no way to get them back.

So my files were temporarily restored; but the only way to prevent this from happening over and over, according to Amber, was to cancel my subscription to Apple Music (which she herself doesn’t use due to the above-listed reasons) and to make sure my iCloud settings did not include storing any music backups.

Much of the debate over new platforms for music has oriented around artists rights, focusing on the low rates musicians get from streaming, for instance. But Pinkstone’s story is valuable in pointing out that not only are musicians often screwed over, consumers sometimes are as well. Apple Music may sort this mess out. But until then, let’s all go back to buying vinyl.



By Scott Timberg

Scott Timberg is a former staff writer for Salon, focusing on culture. A longtime arts reporter in Los Angeles who has contributed to the New York Times, he runs the blog Culture Crash. He's the author of the book, "Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class."

MORE FROM Scott Timberg

Related Topics ------------------------------------------