By: Spacelab Research Staff Apple launched their DRM-free tracks last week on iTunes, but by the end of the week there was a pretty big tidal wave in response to the revelation that the DRM-free music contained personal information about who had bought the music, such as email address and account name.
Called watermarking, the technique isn't new. EMusic uses it, and it's been used for years by photographers and artists as they put visual art online. It allows information to be stored inside a file to determine who owned the original.
The information is most likely to prevent people from making their bought tracks available on the Internet, either by posting them for download on a web site or through file-sharing. Your music will leave a trail behind it as it gets passed around the Web.
What made people the most angry was that they weren't aware when they bought the music that this would happen. Another factor here is that a lot of people weren't aware that it was happening all along with iTunes.
So why all the hysteria this time? We'd have to consider the gotcha journalism of today's blogosphere: one part CNN-style baiting headlines and one part overzealous blogger. Lots of people want to post an angry tirade while posing as a concerned citizen.
The DRM-free music is the first attempt by Apple to give iTunes customers more opportunities to move their music around to different devices, like MP3 players other than an iPod or different computers. It's not really clear at this point if the information can be removed from the music by converting it to MP3 or any other formats, a convention often used to work around Apple's previous Fairplay / DRM restrictions.
Apple has not made any sort of formal response to the recent round of freakouts about the personal data.