If you purchased digital music from any outlet that wasn’t Apple and couldn’t figure out why the files wouldn’t work on your old iPod, it’s because the tech giant purposely deleted them. This information comes to light in a long-running antitrust lawsuit against the company, with rivals and consumers arguing that Apple illegally forced users into buying music solely from iTunes.
Although it sounds like malarkey coming from conspiracy theorists, it’s really not. Apple admits that they made it so iPods wouldn’t play files bought from competitors after a 2006 upgrade, but argues that it was a measure to guard their system against hackers. What would happen is that when iPods were being synced, iTunes would display an error message that told users they had to restore their device to factory settings. When the user did so, any music purchased from anywhere that wasn’t Apple would be gone.
As The Wall Street Journal reports, Apple security director Augustin Farrugia testified that iTunes was “totally hacked,” but e-mails from the late Steve Jobs suggest that the “hackers” were actually just rival companies looking to sell songs for about half the cost of iTunes. Real Networks figured out a way to let users buy tracks for 49 cents instead of Apple’s 99, so Apple responded by making sure iPods wouldn’t play those files. In one e-mail, Jobs suggested a press release that would smear Real’s undercutting ways. “How’s this? ‘We are stunned that Real is adopting the tactics and ethics of a hacker and breaking into the iPod,’” he wrote in a message to other executives, according to Business Insider. In a 2011 deposition about the case, Jobs replied “Do they still exist?” when asked about Real Networks.
Apple’s main defense in the $350 million case is that they had no obligation to allow customers the ability to buy cheaper music elsewhere and use it on their superior device. As for the lack a notice or warning to users when it came to deleting those songs off iPods, Farrugia said that, “We don’t need to give users too much information,” and, “We don’t want to confuse users.”
The lawsuit is ongoing in an Oakland, California court and, if Apple is found to have violated antitrust laws, damages could exceed $1 billion.