Will Apple Rat On You To The RIAA?

May 31st, 2007 | By | Category: Digital Music, iPods & Portable Media Players, Strange

Buzz about Apple’s introduction of iTunes Plus, which offers DRM-free music tracks for $1.29 each, has turned into concern for some. Posts at Ars Technica and TUAW have revealed that Apple is embedding personal information, such as your name and email address, in¬†music files (including the DRM-free ones) purchased at iTunes.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit that fights for digital rights, is looking into¬†whether Apple’s music downloads are being used to help track what you do with your music purchases:

We’ve found that there isn’t a watermark in the compressed audio signal itself, but there are surprisingly huge differences in the encoded files. Much bigger differences than just different tags, or even different signed/encrypted tags.

We compared two DRM-free copies of the track Daftendirekt by Daft Punk. When decoded to PCM/WAV data, both copies produced an identical audio signal (the MD5sum is e40b006497f9b417760ca5015c3fa937). So there is no audio watermark. But one of the .m4a files is almost 360K larger than the other!

We haven’t finished examining these differences yet, and we don’t have in-house expertise on MPEG codecs, but some of them have an intriguing amount of structure. There’s a region (see around offset 0x11470 in the Daft Punk track for example) where the files contain what look like tables with sequential indices but different data in the table.

We’ll post again if we learn more about what’s going on here. In the mean time, some pure speculation: it may be that large amounts of iTunes library data are present in each file. It’s also possible that Apple has found a way to watermark the AAC encoding itself, such that users would need to either crack the watermark or transcode the audio signal in order to produce a file that does not identify them as the source.

It’s not clear yet how much information Apple is embedding in its “DRM-free” tracks or what it does with this information. It is clear, though, that there is information¬†in Apple’s¬†music downloads¬†that could be used by the RIAA or others to track what you do with your music.

No Responses to “Will Apple Rat On You To The RIAA?”

  1. Horace Manure says:

    Anything to tear down Apple to Microsoft’s level of tasteless money grubbing and neo-facist high-stepping.

    Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with putting a thumbprint on one’s music – as proof of ownership.

    Save up your bandwidth for the day that Apple rolls over like a programmer on his first night in county jail (Bill Gates) and turns your personal info over to the NSA.

  2. stace says:

    interesting… although there is a big difference in where the personal data lives. If Apple puts my name on something that I have possesion of, no problem (and that’s what this sounds like. Not much different than putting my initials on my iPod). The only reason to be alarmist is if they’re holding the personally identifiable info… tracking and then sharing, etc. Doesn’t sound like that’s where this is going.

    Anyway, by the time they’d figure out what to do with the data, RIAA might realize that this is all GOOD for the industry.

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