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'Very paranoid' Apple deleted rivals' music from iPods for 'security' reasons

Emails from the late Steve Jobs are included as evidence in a class-action antitrust suit against Apple. Apple admitted to being paranoid, but claims it deleted non-Apple files for security reasons.

Syncing iPod
Credit: FHKE

Apple admitted to deleting music from some iPods, music purchased from competing music markets that is, but claimed the deletion of music was a security measure. Users were not told because it might “confuse” them.

“You guys decided to give them the worst possible experience and blow up” users’ music libraries, said plaintiff attorney Patrick Coughlin during a class-action antitrust suit against Apple. He is one attorney representing an estimated eight million consumers and iPod resellers who bought the iPod classic, iPod shuffle, iPod touch or iPod nano models between September 2006 and March 2009. The $350 million in damages being sought in U.S. District Court in Oakland, California, could be tripled to over $1 billion under antitrust laws.

RealNetworks created Harmony technology in 2004 and built it into RealPlayer; it allowed music downloaded from the RealPlayer Store to play on iPods and other MP3 players. Yet Coughlin said when users with competitors’ music in iTunes tried to sync their iPods, they “would receive a nondescript error message. The vague message would advise the iPod owner to restore the device to its factory settings, deleting the music that had been downloaded from a rival service and preventing it from being played.”

Emails from the late Steve Jobs are part of the trial evidence, including a back-and-forth about an Apple statement Jobs wrote in 2004. According to Reuters, in one exchange Jobs wrote:

"How's this? We are stunned that Real is adopting the tactics and ethics of a hacker and breaking into the iPod."

"I like likening them to hackers," Apple marketing chief Philip Schiller responded.

Regarding music from rivals that went poof after users followed error instructions and factory reset their iPods, the Wall Street Journal said “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.”

Farrugia told the court that hackers with names like “DVD Jon” and “Requiem” made Apple “very paranoid” about protecting iTunes. Updates that deleted non-Apple music files were intended to protect consumers from those system break-ins. “The system was totally hacked,” he said.

Jobs wrote in another email, “Someone is breaking into our house.”

Reuters added, “Apple attorney William Isaacson said the company had every right to improve iTunes to protect iPods from security threats, as well as from the damage caused by Real Networks software."

"It posed a danger to the consumer experience and to the quality of the product," Isaacson said.

Jobs wrote in another email, “We need to make sure that when Music Match launches their download music store they cannot use iPod.”

Apple seemed to regard any music obtained by any rival as malicious content and later updated its software, or Digital Rights Management encryption, to block music from playing on iPods if it were not purchased through iTunes or burned from CDs. By Apple maintaining a closed system, it “froze out makers of rival devices, and allowed Apple to sell iPods at inflated prices,” plaintiff attorneys explained to jurors.

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