Ask Natalie: Is Accessing Someone's Shared Music Library Creepy?

"I mean, they gave up the right to have it private, but can someone even see that I've accessed their music library?"
Publish date:
June 7, 2011

Natalie, is it wrong or creepy to listen to someone else's library when it comes up on your shared library list in iTunes? I mean, they gave up the right to have it private, but can someone even see that I've accessed their music library?

-- Samantha

First of all, no, it's not wrong or creepy to access a shared library in iTunes. Sharing is there for a reason -- go ahead and take advantage of it.

Secondly, people can only see that you've accessed their library if they attempt to quit iTunes while someone is listening. They'd see a message like this:

It's especially not creepy because the sharer can't tell who is listening to their library or what they're listening to. It's like a one-sided mirror on cop dramas, where you, the cop(s) listen to a perpetrator (sharer) without the perp knowing it.

I get that this feels icky because our music libraries feel super personal and private. When somebody rolls their eyes at my collection, I certainly feel judged, like they're looking into my digital soul, and they find my Salt N Pepa collection too extensive. But, hey, they're just files, right? And in iTunes, you can let other people access your files. No big.

Okay, actually, there is a technical way to see if other computers are connected to yours (Lifehacker recommends these command line tricks) but all you can see is their IP address, not who they actually are or what they're listening to.

Truthfully, I appreciate the anonminity. If one of my coworkers wants to plug in her headphones and sternly rock out to Creed every day, I take comfort in not knowing that. Because, whoa, having a Creed album in your library, and you're on my network?! Well, maybe you're listening from a coffee shop. Or a public park. Or a prison. See right there? Judging musical tastes. I'm judgy. It happens.

Anyway, sharing works really well with music and podcasts. But it doesn't work the same way with TV shows you've purchased through the iTunes store because of licensing issues. And you can't share other things in your iTunes library like Books or Ringtones. And there are wider music sharing networks and recommendation engines, like Ping in iTunes, and, outside of Apple, and mog and Hype Machine and many, many more.

So do it already! Yes, it's legal. (Apple is serious about forbidding people from doing illegal things within their applications. Downloadable apps that "rip"/convert files into alternative formats to get around licensing or iTunes-app restrictions are iffy). Plus, you'd only be sharing your music with other users on the network you're connected to, not the whole world, so it's great for use in an office or at a friend's house.

Anyway, get to sharin' already! Happy listening!