As one Twitter user put it recently, there is a “big difference between giving out free cheese vs. sneaking into houses to feed sleeping people Cheese Whiz intravenously.”
Twitter can occasionally come up with pearls of wisdom, leading to hope for the thesis that a building full of monkeys at typewriters might at some point produce Shakespeare.
A lot of us apparently feel as if we woke up recently with Cheese Whiz coming out of our noses.
A week or so ago I opened a credit card bill to discover three charges to iTunes, each for about $10. This was odd, since I hadn’t bought anything
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from iTunes. I’m of a generation that was raised with the idea that you store music in a cabinet at home, not in the telephone.
I looked into the charges and discovered they were for downloads originating in Russia, a place I don’t recall visiting recently. That set off alarm bells. Time to change passwords. Time to find out how to contest charges.
So a day or two later, when I noticed a new album on my phone from the rock band U2, my natural reaction was to exclaim “Aha!” This must be what the Russian thieves purchased with my money.
As my kids would gladly point out to me, A-ha is a band of its own, but soon I was referencing both groups as I went around the office comparing iPhones, saying, “Aha! I got this album, you too?”
As many of you know, my new album had nothing to do with Russian thieves. It was given freely to every iTunes subscriber.
You can find a video online of lead singer Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook acting out a pre-scripted dialog onstage at the end of Apple’s recent announcement of new products. “How do we get it to as many people as possible?” Bono playfully asks. “I do believe you have over a half a billion subscribers to iTunes, so can you get this to them?”
He suggests using some “magic Apple ‘send’ button.”
Cook then promises to do so right away, and the two of them count down from five and touch hands. “Wow, that’s instant gratification,” Bono says.
It’s also an instant awakening for all of us.
Ironically, U2’s album is called “Songs of Innocence.” And yet “innocence” is something many of us feel the album has taken away.
Critics say this is an overreaction. The U2 flap will disappear quickly from memory. But here’s the point: My fraudulent credit card charges and the U2 album are related in symbolic ways.
One Twitter user responded to the free album by saying, “I feel violated.” I respond by saying, how can we be financially responsible in a world where cash is rare, money exists as a number in cyberspace and people you don’t know can reach into your devices and fool around?
Or as another Twitter user said, “Who knows what (else) is on our devices without our knowledge?”
People rarely react this way to a gift, but in this case, the actual gift was secondary. If, back in the day, a famous rock group had mailed a record album to everyone in the world whether they wanted it or not, I doubt it would have generated such a fuss.
This is more like coming home from work to discover someone in your house playing that album, at about the same time someone in Russia is reaching into your wallet to take $30.
Non-Apple users may feel smug, thinking this reinforces their market decision. They are missing the point. Everyone is vulnerable. You can change passwords, but you can’t hide.
There are no easy solutions. There is no app for this fiscal insecurity. We can’t demand Congress pass a cyberspace bill of rights. It would be useless.
All Apple did was give away free music. If it were stealing money, it wouldn’t be in business long. It’s all the bad guys — the ones who apparently can hijack the cloud enough to steal naked photos of celebrities or buy songs on your dime without you knowing it — that make this kind Cheese Whiz so distasteful.