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Apple Unveils New iCloud Music Service, but Privacy Issues May Lurk

June 6, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
Steve Jobs returned to the public stage Monday to announce Apple's iCloud, a new online music storage service. Ray Suarez discusses the announcement with The Washington Post's Technology Reporter Cecilia Kang.
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GWEN IFILL: Now, Apple’s Steve Jobs returns to the stage to promote a new way to store and stream music online.

Ray Suarez has our report.

RAY SUAREZ: Apple CEO Steve Jobs received a standing ovation as he took the stage at the annual Apple Developers Conference in San Francisco.

He brought news of a new long-awaited service called iCloud that will allow customers to more easily share their data, like photos, contacts, documents and music, among devices.

STEVE JOBS, Apple: We’re going to move the digital hub, the center of your digital life into the cloud.

RAY SUAREZ: ICloud users will have the ability to buy, store and stream music collections online. Consumers currently have to connect to their computers to transfer songs to their iPhones, iPads, and iPods. But iCloud would eliminate that step.

STEVE JOBS: ICloud stores your content in the cloud and wirelessly pushes it to all your devices. So, it automatically uploads it, stores it and automatically pushes it to all your other devices. But, also, it’s completely integrated with your apps. And so everything happens automatically, and there’s nothing new to learn. It just all works.  

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

STEVE JOBS: It just works.

RAY SUAREZ: Google and Amazon recently launched similar services for music.

The other news was Jobs himself, whose announcement today was a break from a medical leave that began in January. He last made a public appearance in March to announce a new iPad.

The NewsHour’s Spencer Michels was at the Apple event today and asked other attendees about their impressions.

JUSTIN BUR, Web developer: He’s got good things to say. And you can — I think, as time goes on and he gets older and more frail, that the things he actually puts his energy into talking about and promoting are things that he considers really, really important.

GARY BENNETT, Web developer: This is like the Thomas, Thomas Edison, of our day. We have all these new innovations that are coming out, from the cloud to iOS applications and developer tools that nowhere else in the industry that you have.

RAY SUAREZ: But iCloud wasn’t the only keynote announcement. Apple introduced an operating system for Mac computers called Lion, which it says will make personal computers behave more like mobile devices.

For more on Apple’s announcement, we’re joined again by The Washington Post’s technology reporter, Cecilia Kang.

And with iCloud, Apple becomes the latest entrant to this marketplace. So, if you have been ignoring it so far, what is the cloud?

CECILIA KANG, The Washington Post: Well, the cloud is a very fluffy — excuse the pun — term to describe really the Internet for devices.

And it’s this idea, this service, this idea that your information, be it your music, your videos, your calendar, whatever information that you use on your devices, your laptop, your smartphone, iPad, your personal computer, no longer resides just in those silos on those devices itself, but can be accessed through the Internet.

And that really is a pretty revolutionary step, in that it makes all of us much more mobile, and it makes access to the Internet much easier and efficient from wherever you are and from whatever device, and all in one place.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, a lot of people have digital cameras, a smartphone, a laptop. What — and they have been managing content from place to place to place. What does this make possible that wasn’t made possible pre-cloud?

CECILIA KANG: Right.

Well, pre-cloud, everything had — your personal computer really was the center of your device ecosystem, if you will. So, if you wanted to share the songs that you just downloaded off of Amazon, iTunes, what have you, from your iPod to, say, your iPhone, you had to do that through the personal computer.

This is no longer. Now the Internet is actually the central platform, or the — really the stall or the reservoir of where all your information will reside. And that means that, if you want to on your iPhone access a song that previously was really on your laptop computer at home, you can do this through accessing the Internet right on command on — at that moment and very easily, and for free. And that was sort of one of the big announcements as well too, today.

RAY SUAREZ: If I put my stored and accumulated content on the cloud, is it private?

CECILIA KANG: Well, that’s a good question.

The — the devices will be encrypted. And that’s what Apple said in passing. But there’s a lot of questions as to your privacy and the security of cloud-based applications, Internet-based services. We have seen a lot of attacks on information, hacking attacks into Sony, Nintendo, PBS. You have seen a lot of these — this — the vulnerability of information that resides on the Internet.

And when I say it resides on the Internet, I mean that it resides on servers. You don’t know where they are, but there are large data farms all over the country around the world, where bits — your bits and pieces, the bits, I should say, of the music that you have, the videos that you have, the bits, the actual digital packets, they reside in these places that you don’t really as much control of.

So, when you make this decision to switch to cloud-based applications, it’s much easier, more convenient and often much cheaper. But there often is the — there is the consideration of a tradeoff, perhaps, in that there may be less security involved. It’s much safer when you have your information on your own computer that only you can access than on the Internet.

And your privacy is also perhaps in — in question, in that more people, more companies have access to what you’re doing. And they can see what you’re doing online.

RAY SUAREZ: I know young people — and I’m not going to use any names — who have a lot stuff on their hard drives that they didn’t necessarily come to have in the most conventional ways, music, pieces of television shows, images, movies.

If you put that kind of stuff on the cloud, are there rights issues? Are there copyright issues? Are there purchase issues? Can somebody say, you know, that doesn’t really belong to you, and purge what doesn’t belong in your memory?

CECILIA KANG: It’s a great question, Ray.

The thing that concerns some people about this announcement is that Apple has decided, with iMatch, one of the services announced today, is to allow you to actually upload some of the content that you already have to match to what is available on iTunes. And that could include pirated music, pirated videos perhaps.

And there’s no way to really tell how people got it once it’s in your hands. And so there is a question as to whether this can expedite in some ways piracy, perhaps not. That’s one thing that has held up the music industry from going full force into going into the cloud, and sharing these kinds of services and sharing the revenues that come from these sort of services from iTunes and Apple and services like Amazon and Google services as well.

RAY SUAREZ: But if I’m a music company, am I better off leaving well alone, or do I have some interest in making sure pirated material isn’t in people’s memories?

CECILIA KANG: I think it’s both.

In some ways, you don’t have any choice. It’s going to be captured anyway. Your music and your videos right now are being exchanged throughout peer-to-peer file sharing anyway. There are lots of technological solutions. But, really, when it comes down to it, the amount of pirated material online is so overwhelming that, in some ways, these new, cheaper services provide at least some sort of a solution to make it a little bit harder for piraters to exchange their information, because there may be more people willing to get it the legitimate way.

So, it’s a really difficult question to stop piracy, to stop illegal trading of copyrighted material. This provides perhaps one way, so that people could see a more legitimate way to share information, to get their information across different devices that Apple and the music companies, and maybe the film companies as well down the road, will like.

RAY SUAREZ: Quickly, before we go, a lot of people were waiting to see Steve Jobs, since he’s been on sick leave. How does he look? Was it enough to reassure people that he’s still in control?

CECILIA KANG: I think the fact that he showed up and he made an announcement about this service, iCloud, that he feels pretty strongly about obviously is a sign that he at least is not getting worse.

It’s very important for Steve Jobs, as the head of his company — really, few people in corporate America personify their companies that they head like Steve Jobs does. He’s so much the figure, the iconic figure of — head of this company.

And the fact that he showed up, he didn’t look any worse. He looked like he was excited about the announcement he was going to make. That, I think, was well enough to assure people. Even though he didn’t make any commentary about his health — as you know, he’s on medical leave — the fact that he showed up and that he was — looked no worse was good news.

RAY SUAREZ: Cecilia Kang, thanks for joining us.

CECILIA KANG: Thank you.