In a move of almost indescribable magnanimity, U2 frontman Bono has said a string of sentences that some are construing to be an apology over his band’s latest album having been automatically downloaded to iTunes users. Attributing the move to his temperament as an artist, Bono explained in an interview that his little band was just trying to make a name for itself: “There’s a lot of noise out there. I guess we got a little noisy ourselves to get through it.”
Putting aside the question of whether anyone would have noticed the new U2 album had it not been forced upon unsuspecting music fans, the fiasco did highlight some interesting privacy issues. For many iTunes users, what was most startling about the exercise was that it was Apple, and not the users themselves, controlling the operation of the app. Outside of the usual software updates imposed on users of Apple software, this kind of thing is pretty out of the ordinary.
This controversy happens to have come about at a time when user privacy and security issues are coming under a lot of scrutiny: The increasing prominence of biometric technology is beginning to allow for seamless user authentication, and indeed Apple’s latest iPhone features a fingerprint scanner, while cheaper smartphones like Xolo’s Q2100 are starting to enter the market with similar biometric security components. As user security strengthens, large software and hardware providers like Apple might have to back away from the kinds of paternalistic activities that creep towards user privacy violations, as the U2 stunt did.
For its part, U2 seems unlikely to make such a bold and intrusive promotional move again, though wary listeners will recall that Bono has previously insisted that if you walk away, he will follow.