Apple deleted rivals’ songs from users’ iPods, and other clickbait

308291335_a62c585c5c_m[1]Along with the upcoming appeal in the ebook price-fixing antitrust suit, Apple is currently embroiled in a decade old lawsuit about iPods and Apple’s possible misdeeds in maintaining their dominance of the music market.

I’ve only been following that story at a distance, but yesterday a story crossed my desk which deserved a comment. The WSJ is covering the trial and they ran a story with the clickbaity headline that Apple was deleting songs from users’ iPods:

Apple deleted music that some iPod owners had downloaded from competing music services from 2007 to 2009 without telling users, attorneys for consumers told jurors in a class-action antitrust suit against Apple Wednesday.

“You guys decided to give them the worst possible experience and blow up” a user’s music library, attorney Patrick Coughlin said in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif.

When a user who had downloaded music from a rival service tried to sync an iPod to the user’s iTunes library, Apple would display an error message and instruct the user to restore the factory settings, Coughlin said. When the user restored the settings, the music from rival services would disappear, he said.

While I don’t dispute the fact that files were deleted, to frame this event in terms of Apple deleting the files is simply nonsense. It’s not true in a technical sense and it is not even a vaguely accurate description of Apple’s actions.

338087600_28c77d1b0e[1]Let me give you an example to explain the context better.

When Amazon went into users’ Kindles and removed a copy of 1984, that was an act which was best described as deleting a file.  Apple, on the other hand, merely forced users to perform a factory reset (and it’s not clear how much pressure was applied).

Were files deleted in the factory reset? Yes, but that is exactly what is supposed to happen when you reset a device to factory settings.

I’ve been providing tech support on this blog for I don’t know how many years, and I’ve owned gadgets for even longer. And every time I’ve performed a factory reset I have lost files when the internal storage was erased. That is SOP, folks, and to imply otherwise is simply nonsense.

Don’t get me wrong; I think Apple was being shitty when they forced the reset; it was a clearly user-hostile move and I am happy to see Apple slapped around for it. But I also would not characterize that event as “Apple deleted songs from a user’s iPod”.

That is hyperbole, and anyone who covers tech should have a good enough grasp of the technical details that they should see through the lawyer’s rhetoric.

images by @cdharrisontonystl

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. fjtorres4 December, 2014

    That is generally true.
    But not always.
    Some devices with partitioned storage don’t delete data from the data partition.
    I’ve seen this with some android devices.
    Don’t know if it’s true of iOS, though. Or what the context or documentation might be in this case. (Was the restore really necessary? Did Apple force it to delete the files?)

    Not that I care all that much whether Apple wins or loses, since I doubt it’ll result in an abolition of walled gardens.

  2. Lori G4 December, 2014

    If I remember correctly, it does warn you that if you perform a factory reset that you will lose everything on that device. That is why you have a back up of a back up of a back up. On my old iPod, I do a factory reset every so often. It’s easier than picking through 700 songs. On my newish iPad, I have done it once because of user error. If that is all you have to complain about with iTunes, you are lucky.

  3. AltheGreatandPowerful4 December, 2014

    So it was designed to MAKE THE USER delete other services music, or it wouldn’t work at all, “Apple, on the other hand, merely forced users to perform a factory reset…”
    How is that not built in evil?

    1. Nate Hoffelder4 December, 2014

      It’s evil, yes, but it is also more technically accurate.

      1. Chris Meadows4 December, 2014

        This may be quibbling over semantics.

        If the user were to perform a factory reset and try to resync the exact same songs he had on before, he wouldn’t be able to put the competing ones on. This has the net effect, then, of removing songs that were formerly available on the iPod from availability on said iPod. Which has the identical effect to deleting them.

        But that doesn’t boil down to a pithy single-sentence explanation as easily. and you’ve got to have those in journalism because sometimes people don’t read beyond the first sentence of an article. So they oversimplify. In this particular case, I don’t think that’s all that big a deal.

        1. Nate Hoffelder4 December, 2014

          When it gets a short as “Apple deletes music from user’s iPod”. you’ve gone to far. It is no longer accurate; instead it is clickbait.

    1. Nate Hoffelder4 December, 2014

      I reserve the term clickbait for titles that either don’t match up with the article or offer a twisted interpretation. This article qualifies.

  4. Anne4 December, 2014

    Did Apple warn users that they would lose everything? Did Apple suggest they backup before resetting? Certainly that’s not required but I would hope they did so. If they did, then I think you have a case for clickbait.*

    This is the quote from all the articles that has me wondering just what Apple did tell their customers before resetting-

    Apple contends the moves were legitimate security measures. Apple security director Augustin Farrugia testified that Apple did not offer a more detailed explanation because, “We don’t need to give users too much information,” and “We don’t want to confuse users.”

    *I suspect you could substitute most any other manufacturer for Apple in this discussion except for the testimony of Farrugia.

    1. fjtorres4 December, 2014

      Give the users enough information, and they just might buy somebody else’s product. 🙂

    2. Nate Hoffelder4 December, 2014

      I don’t know how much warning Apple gave, but I do know that Daring Fireball linked to the WSJ article and included background details which change the tenor of the deletion.

      DF says that the only files deleted were ones wrapped in the hacked Fairplay DRM from Real Networks. If that is correct then Apple’s response to finding the hacked DRM is mostly justified. Since Apple hadn’t licensed the DRM to anyone, there’s no reason for Apple to expect to see it or to allow it to remain on an iPod.

      That is still a user hostile position, but it’s not nearly as bad as the clickbait title.

      1. Anne4 December, 2014

        Ok. Clickbait it is. Thank you for the additional info. I didn’t come across that info in any of the articles I read. Now I want to know what kind of warnings Real Networks gave in addition to knowing about any from Apple.

        1. Nate Hoffelder4 December, 2014

          I didn’t know it either – but I think the WSJ writer should have had those details at hand.

  5. AltheGreatandPowerful4 December, 2014

    So was the reason it was wrapped in this DRM so that it would play on the iPod? Because otherwise Apple would reject the files? Still evil on Apples part.

    1. Nate Hoffelder4 December, 2014

      Basically Real Networks created a knockoff iTunes store by reverse engineering Apple’s DRM. No Wonder Apple fought them.

  6. AltheGreatandPowerful4 December, 2014

    I ought to read the link first. Belay my previous statement…

  7. Anne5 December, 2014

    From this article it appears that Apple didn’t give warning-

    If true, most definitely a user hostile position regardless of Real Networks behavior.

    A lot of links in this article-

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