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Apple admits it deleted non-iTunes music off iPods for two years

At one point, Apple was the all-deleting “i”. From 2007 to 2009, Apple deleted music from users’ iPods that was not downloaded from iTunes, according to court testimony obtained by The Washington Post

Apple is currently facing a $350 million antitrust lawsuit filed in 2005 that alleges Apple attempted to monopolize the digital download market by restricting iPods from playing songs downloaded from third party music services. Patrick Coughlin, Attorney for the Plaintiff, proclaimed during the trial that Apple gave users “the worst possible experience” by secretly deleting songs from users iPods which were downloaded from rival music services.

Coughlin explained the procedure as to which Apple employed to remove songs from users’ iPods. The vaguely duplicitous act was executed by Apple when iPod users would attempt to sync their iPod with iTunes after downloading music from rival music services. The user would be instructed by an error message instructing it to restore the iPod to its factory setting. Once the user synced their iPod with iTunes after restoring their iPod to its factory settings, the non-Apple music files music would gone.

Apple defends its action and claims it was just worried its users were at the hands of hackers. Apple’s  security director Augustin Farrugia informed the court that hackers “DVD John” and “Requiem” were potential threats to users and thus removed non-Apple music files from iPods. Farrugia reasons Apple did not inform users of the deletion because the company does not want to “confuse users” with “too much information.”

DVD John is the alias of Jon Johansen, DoubleTwist founder and infamous Norwegian hacker, who, in 2006, developed programs that allowed users to add songs purchased from iTunes onto any device and allow non-Apple music files to be played on iPods. Johansen jettisoned to hacker lore when he and two hackers developed the program “DeCSS”, which allowed DVDs to be copied in 1999. Johnansen was arrested and put on trial by Norway’s economic crime unit in 2001 for unlawfully extracting data from an electronic device at the insistence of the U.S. DVD Copy Control Association and the Norwegian Motion Picture Association. Johnsaen was acquitted of all charges in 2003. Apple never pressed charges against Johansen for his software following its release.

The two year span that marks Apple’s hidden song removal reign coincides with the start of Apple’s iTunes and the iPod’s greatest growth. Apple’s iTunes Store sold 3 billion songs in the 17 months between January 2007 and June 2008, while global iPod sales reached 50 million for the first time in 2007, later adding 3.2 million more iPods in 2008. Apple’s iTunes Store only sold 2 billion songs within its first three and half years while global iPod sales increased by 31 percent between 2006 and 2007 from 39.41 million to 51.63 million. Since 2009, global iPod sales have decreased every year while Apple’s iTunes Store continued to flourish with song downloads reaching the 10 billion mark in February 2010, 18 months after crossing the 5 billion mark.

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