Apple + U2: Worst. Spam. Ever.

It was bound to happen.

In a world where digital information is cheap, we bandy bits and bytes around like they’re kernels of popcorn inside a giant hot air popper. The bits and bytes, modern currency that trade for news, knowledge, and kitty pics, in and of themselves have no actual value, but how those bits and bytes are strung together determine the usefulness of their existence. They can combine to form a blog post or a nasty tweet. They can become humor or horror. They can morph into a grammatically incorrect meme or they can become music; and apparently, that’s where Apple users draw the line.

In a ‘Huh. Will you look at that?’ moment, the world seems upside down and topsy turvy after Apple, the company that can’t seem to stop making pretty stuff, announced its bendy new iPhones on September 10th. In case you’ve been living off-world, Apple CEO Tim Cook once again attempted and failed at being Steve Jobs, but no one can blame him, for Jobs was an impossible act to follow. Cook got up there and showed the world Apple’s new gear, and up to that point, everything seemed business as usual. Nothing to see here, folks.

But then there were reports of broken software, broken screens, and phones that bring a whole new meaning to butt dialing. You’d think those three things would be the real story here for Apple, a company which continues to have a tumultuous ride atop the rollercoaster of broken dreams. Security issues plague the company, with news breaking this week about a flaw in OS X that gives hackers access to more than 18,000 Macs. Tales of hacked iPhones and iPads are coming out of Hong Kong, where protesters are apparently being spied upon using their own devices. The bash bug, which affects all Unix and Linux-based systems, also puts OS X at risk because it’s based on Unix. And one cannot mention Apple and 2014 in the same breath without ‘nudegate,’ the theft of hundreds of nude celebrity photos from their iCloud accounts.

Amid all that, you’d think that nothing else was worth discussing on what is undeniably a crappy year for the big A. But something happened, and it seems to have overshadowed everything mentioned above. Apple gave everybody a free album.

Not just any old album. Mega group U2’s newest album, Songs of Innocence. And the world went crazy. In a US $100 million deal, Apple gave every iTunes user a copy of the album, and how they went about it is just about as spammy as you can get. Users went crazy. On a humorous if not distressing note, people flocked to Google to find out just who U2 is. One tweet to Tim Cook asks “my iPhone has a virus called “U2” how do I uninstall it?” Another states “Everyone’s scared of MI6 and GCHQ accessing our phones, but I’d rather that than be forcibly given a U2 album.” People went out of their way to find out how they could delete the unwanted album from their devices. Social media sentiment for both Apple and U2 plunged in the aftermath. Apple was forced to respond with a U2 album removal tool.

Wired calls the debacle ‘worse than spam.’ And it’s easy to see why, in hindsight, what seemed like a pretty good idea has turned into a punchline for the online world. It isn’t that Apple is out of touch with its users by assuming that everyone with an iPod loves U2. They are, but that’s not the point. It’s the arrogance of the big A, assuming that their brand is different than every other brand out there. That they can do things without asking where others are presumed to be subject to scrutiny. It wasn’t that Apple was wrong in assuming it could become music producer where it should have stuck to making tech devices. It was wrong, but that crime pales in comparison to the breach of trust that Apple caused when it stuck its fingers into the digital libraries of millions of users.

Wired points out that “the delivery mechanism amounts to nothing more than spam with forced downloads, and nothing less than a completely indefensible expansion by Apple beyond its operational purview.” Hopefully, Apple has learned a valuable lesson by alienating and distressing so many of its faithful followers, but we can learn something from this, too. Spam is spam, and people are very attuned to anything that slightly reeks of invasion by unwanted messages, software, and now, it seems, music. No matter who you are.

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