Musically Impaired: How Apple’s U2 Release Broke the Wall of Trust

Guest Post by: Dan Reiner, student journalist

It was a fateful day in September 2014 when media conglomerate Apple decided to break through the wall between itself and its customers. This “wall” did not exist physically, but rather it represented the boundary between Apple customers and their property, and the company and how it controls its products. So when Apple secretly dropped an unwarranted free U2 album into the iTunes libraries of 500 million users around the world, people were not happy.

Apple didn’t break any laws by forcefully handing out the album (it’s not like any non-Apple employee has ever read the Terms and Conditions from beginning-to-end), but the company did break that metaphysical wall. Many subscribers were outraged by event because it was meant as a marketing ploy. Apple paid more than $100 million to U2, and the album’s release coincided with the release of the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch. So when users opened their iTunes to find that Apple had accessed their personal library.

It was a matter of privacy more than a kind gesture by Apple. To consider the severity of Apple’s marketing miscue, it’s best to contemplate the matter from both sides of the argument. Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance is the best way to ethically consider the matter because it refrains from placing bias on either side and deals directly with the social contract. The most important question to answer in this debate is whether or not Apple was ethically flawed in breaching the public libraries of 500 million people.

From Apple’s perspective, this was meant to celebrate not only a big technology launch, but also the 10th anniversary of U2’s “Vertigo” silhouette commercial with Apple. The band’s longstanding relationship with Apple has always been well documented, so it made sense for the two worldwide powers to team up.

ABCOn the other side of the argument, the consumer opens his or her iTunes to find an unwanted album, free of charge. Apple had never pulled a stunt like this before, so it was quite unexpected to the 500 million who received it. Apple may have thought U2’s worldwide popularity would lead to more downloads of the album, but only two million people downloaded the it to their cellphones. The public overwhelmingly rejected it, and the launch was a failure.

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