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The Internet Wants to Know Where to Return Apple's Gift

With or without U2, Apple's iTunes giveaway seems misguided.

Vjeran Pavic
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Two days after one of the biggest product launches in Apple’s history, and Internet typers still have a lot to say.

Unfortunately for Apple, one strain of the conversation is not going well for the company: At least some of the 500 million people who received Apple’s “gift” of a U2 album don’t want any part of it.

As the capper to Apple’s phone-plus-watch launch Tuesday, CEO Tim Cook, along with U2 frontman Bono, announced that Apple iTunes users would be getting a copy of “Songs of Innocence,” the band’s new album. And unlike other album giveaways, this one would have a twist — instead of asking people to input a code to download the album, it would be automatically loaded into users’ iTunes accounts.

Cue record-scratch sound, and a quick consensus from Web chatterers: Free album, from a band with a longtime Apple connection, that some of us remember from the early ’80s? Fine, I guess. Adding stuff into our personal music collection without asking first? Not cool at all.

There are many overly hysteric articles about this, because Apple. And to be clear: You don’t have to keep Apple’s offering. If your iTunes account isn’t set to automatically download purchased music, it won’t show up on your machines. And if it does, you can delete it.

But it’s still a bad look for Apple. New York Times reporter Ben Sisario called it “ickiness,” and that seems most apt. Just to spell out why:

  • It’s a big world out there, and lots of people like lots of different things. Why would Apple think we would all want to hear the same stuff? “Never before have this many people owned an album — let alone on the day it was released,” Apple tells me via a promotional email in my inbox today. But that doesn’t sound like something Apple would care about — it sounds like something U2 and its music label would care about.Then again, Apple just hired the guy who used to run U2’s music label.
  • If you’re trying to convince me that the stuff I store in my cloud is safe, don’t open up my cloud without permission. It’s easy to imagine Apple’s thinking here: What’s better than a free gift? A free gift that you don’t have to go get! But a gift on my doorstep is one thing. A gift that you left in my house, after letting yourself in, is something different.

And even if Apple thought that was a good idea last month, you might imagine it would have rethought that over Labor Day weekend, when its Internet storage system seemed more like a liability than an asset. Apple has worked hard to get us to pay attention to other things since then. Weird play to remind us again now.

This article originally appeared on

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