by andre briggs

Why Is iTunes Match Censored?

Since iTunes Match was announced June 2011 at WWDC along with iCloud I thought I could finally be free of syncing my iPhone. I skipped the beta version and waited for the proper release. At first everything seemed great. Until I notice that a few tracks on Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele were censored. Must be a few bugs I thought, Apple will work it out under the covers (or in the cloud).

As I used the service more it was apparent this was a conscious decision. Why would Apple not make this clear to users if it’s intentional? 3 reasons came to mind:

  • Record companies are forcing Apple to do this.
  • Apple/Steve Jobs wanted this.
  • The matching technology Apple uses can’t distinguish between censored and explicit.

The incentive for the record companies to enforce that matched music must be clean might be a weak way to make sure that people don’t wholly rely on the service and get rid of their physical discs. But why have a distinction for explicit music? I don’t have statistics but most of the Top 40 music is clean by design. Consequently the money making artists that have wide appeal are mostly clean.

Another theory is that Steve Jobs didn’t want dirty music in the cloud just as he didn’t want “dirty” apps in the App Store. This view may whet the appetites of Apple contrarians but the precedence of explicit iTunes music already exists. Apple would be doing themselves a disservice to not sell explicit music.

Finally the method that Apple uses to match must be somewhat similar to Shazam and other music matching services. The question is how accurate is the matching? At this point matching a song with Shazam works pretty well but is it good enough to match remixes and interpolations of a track? From my experience it’s not. With such line of thinking it could be a tall order to accurately match explicit versus clean tracks. Pile in the remixes and you could have a several legitimate permutations of a song. For Apple to “match your library in minutes” perhaps some corners had to be cut. Consider the scenario where a parent lets their child use the matching service and the clean Too Short albums they bought their child end up being dirty via the cloud. Imagine the perception of Apple then.

The software side of me wants to believe this is a technical problem. That’s why it’s so baffling that this was implemented so horribly. Hopefully in the future Apple will retroactively switch to explicit tracks, while also giving users the choice to listen to clean or dirty music from iTunes in the cloud. Until then my iPhone is still tethered to the iTunes application in one way or another.