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How Apple Music ‘Wiped Out’ One Man’s Entire Music Collection

Though Apple hasn’t said it explicitly in a while, its products are generally constructed and explained under the guiding principle of “It just works.” This idea is surely an important component of Apple’s success: Its gadgets require no skill or know-how, just the ability to press an “on” button.

But “it just works” can be vaguely condescending and paternalistic, at least to the extent that it implies that computers users can’t be trusted with their computers. It’s why apps can often only be installed through the App Store, and why many OS X system files in the Library folder are hidden away, unreachable except by experienced users (or those with access to Google). It’s why Apple says that just dragging a program to the trash uninstalls it (not really).

Worse, it can completely backfire, occasionally in devastating ways. The most recent case of this comes from James Pinkstone, whose use of Apple Music wiped out his entire collection (122 gigabytes).

The specific issue is that when someone signs up for Apple Music, the service automatically transfers the user’s music collection to the cloud.

Pinkstone writes:

When I signed up for Apple Music, iTunes evaluated my massive collection of Mp3s and WAV files, scanned Apple’s database for what it considered matches, then removed the original files from my internal hard drive. REMOVED them. Deleted. If Apple Music saw a file it didn’t recognize—which came up often, since I’m a freelance composer and have many music files that I created myself—it would then download it to Apple’s database, delete it from my hard drive, and serve it back to me when I wanted to listen, just like it would with my other music files it had deleted.

The cloud” is supposed to make things easier for users: It makes files accessible to you anywhere you are, and helps you keep your hard drive clean and easy. It’s also a boon for companies like Apple, who can now charge fees for cloud services. But only if it actually works.

Apple’s matching service, like most of its cloud services, doesn’t. And it’s doubly bad because iTunes Match mixes local music files with files in the cloud. I can confirm, as someone who has used iTunes Match for almost five years, that the service routinely replaces explicit versions of songs with clean ones — a bit like a storage company surreptitiously entering your locker and replacing your books with new copies where all the swears have been blacked out. Apple’s lengthy terms of service explicitly state that it’s not responsible if the service screws up, and if someone ends their subscription without redownloading the files, they’re presumably lost forever.

This can have devastating effects for people who who’ve built up large local music collections (For youngs: Years ago, you had to listen to music on the computer by downloading actual files to your hard drive. It was barbaric.) If your device doesn’t have internet access, your collection becomes inaccessible.

For composers like Pinkstone, who create their own music, it can get even worse.

As a freelance composer, I save WAV files of my own compositions rather than Mp3s. WAV files have about ten times the number of samples, so they just sound better. Since Apple Music does not support WAV files, as they stole my compositions and stored them in their servers, they also converted them to Mp3s or AACs. So not only do I need to keep paying Apple Music just to access my own files, but I have to hear an inferior version of each recording instead of the one I created.

These use cases are fairly specific, and most Apple customers aren’t composers. Still, taking that control away from the users and deciding for them is Apple’s m.o., and it can frequently yield terrible results.

Consider this: “The piano demo of ‘Sister Jack’ that I downloaded directly from Spoon’s website ten years ago? Replaced with the alternate, more common demo version of the song.” Speaking as one of the leading Spoon fans of the tristate area, I can say that this is devastating.

Apple Music Might Delete All Of Your Music