The Grumpy Troll

Ramblings of a grumpy troll.

Counter-incentives to buying legitimately

When I buy music online, I prefer to buy an .ogg or .mp3 from the artist's website, cut out the middle man.

Note that this is not in contrast to getting music without buying it. I do not download music for which I haven't the right to have a copy, whether by license, public domain or purchasing it. No, this is in contrast to not getting new music. I am a boring grumpy troll.

Sometimes, the music is only available from a very small number of retailers; I have a Mac, but I use an Android phone and am definitely not a fan of iTunes. I like to own the things I pay money for. Not license, at someone else's discretion, until they decide to unilaterally unsell something. Not forced to use file formats designed to interfere with how I make legitimate use of something I've paid for. Not messed around with. Not tracked, unless I explicitly choose to be tracked in exchange for something of value to me. Choice matters.

Earlier, I listened to “Florence + The Machine” on The Colbert Report. I decided to buy the album. (Oops, I just leaked multiple pieces of data about my preferences without anything in return.) The official website just pushed me to iTunes, so I used a search engine and found the album on Amazon. As MP3s!

Excellent, I purchase that. And then the fun begins. I am presented with a choice: install music to their cloud storage, or install some piece of software just to be permitted to download the files. Yet downloading files is built into every browser. I note that I can use the “Amazon MP3” app to download the music to my phone if I use the cloud option. Okay then, let's allow Amazon to continue to inflate their counts of how successful their cloud is, because of the people who “chose” to use it.

But what's this? The Android “Amazon MP3” app insists that it be updated before it can be used, and it now wants permission to read phone state & identity and, far worse, access sensitive log files. WTF? Why does a music download app need access to sensitive log files? Hell no!

So, time to download from Amazon's cloud. Wait, no .zip download? Okay, check all, download … no, doesn't work. Can't download multiple files without installing the download manager. But I've just seen what sorts of things Amazon want to do on a phone, where I get to find these things out in advance. On a desktop OS, these things aren't reported and they get to do far more. My earlier decision to avoid this software is reaffirmed.

Besides, I happened to be on my work laptop at the time and I don't install arbitrary software on that. I am a little more forgiving with my personal box, but merchants must be crazy to decide to put barriers in the way of impulse purchases by those with enough discretion to, well, have risen to the point of having disposable income.

I end up checking each file in turn, to download it as an MP3. Ah, program the human to do the grunt work for the machine, a tried and tested strategy. If this is the alternative offered, any claims for the “popularity” of other options should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

I went back to the Android to remove Amazon's app; alas, I can't, because it was pre-installed and therefore I'm not permitted to remove it from my device. Yet I can't use it without accepting an update which grants Amazon the right to snoop through sensitive logs. Note that the Amazon Appstore for Android got removed quickly from my phone when I saw that it installed apps without showing me the requested privileges. I spot a theme here.

If the Ice Cream Sandwich release doesn't get around to letting us uninstall the stupid crap which comes pre-installed, I think I'll finally get around to trying Cyanogen, so I can get control of my device. I've valued access to the Market and bought many *many* apps but I'm tired of being short of RAM because of apps I can't remove and control I'm not permitted over something I purportedly own.

Meantime, MP3s downloaded, backed up and I'm happy. This time.

The previous time, it was Hugh Laurie's new album. I tried to purchase it as an MP3 download but the website only made it available if I signed up for an account, provided a shipping address (for an electronic download!) and paid with a credit-card. I buy plenty of things with a credit-card, but I tend to not give it to arbitrary websites which randomly demand it where they don't have a proven history of managing to secure the data. Google Checkout and Paypal work for me. Preferably Checkout; sure, Google get to track my purchases, but in return they provide a useful service of keeping details secure, giving a disposable email address, dispute mechanisms and decent history available to me. Yes, Amazon have my shipping address, but they at least have a good reason to need that anyway.

I ended up not buying Hugh Laurie's album.

The next time that my choice is between iTunes and Amazon, I won't buy that album either.

Why are the businesses who shout so loudly about how legitimate they are and how illegitimate it is to avoid them so eager to act so underhandedly (relying on most people not looking at app permissions), to drive me away, when I want to pay money to the artists? If there were a free market, another provider would be blowing them out of the water.

-A Grumpy Troll Whose Wallet Is Being Kept From The Artists


Phil P
Infinite re-downloadability is an open-ended commitment. If restrictions are applied on what can be done with downloadable files, then that's a sane requirement.

But if you get to just download the MP3 and make backups for yourself, including to optical media, then it doesn't seem reasonable to also expect the seller to make an open-ended bandwidth commitment.

So, eg, a couple of years back I paid Jonathan Coulton money and downloaded his entire ouvre as a few zip files of MP3s and I get to back them up freely.
And then the retailers get all surprised when those naughty pirates deprive them of income. The pirate experience (so I've heard) is what music purchasing on-line ought to be: search one huge database for what you want rather than worrying about which label it's on and whether they've done a deal with your preferred store, choose it, wait for a bit while it downloads, and then do anything you like with it.

(It's even worse with video; even a legitimate DVD purchaser is forced to sit through advertisements and copyright warnings that are of no interest to almost anyone, while the pirate will never see them. Even more garbage gets stuffed into pay-downloaded video streams.)

If I'm buying data, I want at the very least no time-bombs in what I download and a guarantee of infinite re-downloadability. That's why I buy my gaming PDFs from e23 rather than drivethrurpg; and that's why, so far, I have bought no downloadable music at all. I have a bunch of CDs in the attic, and a bunch of FLACs on the music server...
Categories: iTunes MP3 music Android Amazon google