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iPod: Pirates’ Delight?

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You may not know it, but there’s a scandal brewing around the iPod.

According to a recent article at Wired News, the iPod is being used to steal software right from under the noses of computer store employees. The iPod is perfect for stealing boatloads of rich, delicious software thanks to its FireWire port, its capability to act like an external hard drive, and its eminently concealable (though highly stylish) form factor.

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Shocking, isn’t it?

Well, it might be shocking, if there were anything more than anecdotal evidence that people are actually using the iPod to steal software. The Wired article mentions a grand total of one incident carried out by a teenager at a CompUSA store in Texas. It also might be shocking if this were the first time software had been stolen off a computer. Or if the iPod were the only way to do it.

Personally, I think it would be shocking if the thieves where carrying out these acts in the nude. Or if, every time you read about one of these thefts, you were somehow hit with 10,000 volts. That would really be shocking.

But as it is, software copying via iPod is shocking only if you’re incredibly naive. It’s a universal constant that some teenagers, like the one in the Wired article, will steal things. Likewise, some adults steal things. Some hamsters even steal things. It’s just that they usually steal from other hamsters so you generally never read about it. Unless they take hostages. That doesn’t happen very often, though, because in order to make a getaway, they have to get the hostage hamsters to run in the same direction with them in that little ball, which is hard to do and…

Wait a minute, where was I?

Right, stealing. Stealing software off computer hard drives is not exactly a new phenomenon. Long before the iPod was even a Jonathan Ive concept drawing, you could copy an entire application with just one floppy disk. And I’m not talking TeachText here, I’m talking PageMaker. What’s more, it’s a little known fact that the entire operating system for the ENIAC was once stolen by writing it down on a 3" by 5" note card. True story.

Anyway, as application sizes have grown, floppies have long since fallen by the wayside as a realistic medium for stealing software. Not to mention the fact that Macs have lacked floppy drives for years. But media formats and data transfer rates have once again caught up to the size of applications, so now there are other options, ranging from digital cameras holding Compact Flash cards to CD-RW to FireWire hard drives even larger than the 5 GB or 10 GB drive in the iPod. The only difference with the iPod is that it is also an MP3 player, so thieves can more easily pretend to be grooving to Pat Boone while they’re surreptitiously snagging software.

Which brings up a point about the incident at CompUSA. Not to blame the victim here, but is it surprising this happened, given that CompUSA hides the Macs in the back of the store, sandwiched between the peripherals that time forgot? Not to mention the fact that the staff goes out of their way to avoid talking to potential customers about the Mac.

I’m surprised CompUSA doesn’t have a problem with people first stealing the iPod and then using it to steal a bunch of software. If it weren’t chained down, a thief could probably make off with the entire Mac before someone in a red shirt finally came around to ask if he wanted to look at Windows XP. And even then, a simple question about Mac OS X would probably confuse the employee long enough to make a leisurely getaway.

Maybe I’m being too hard on CompUSA.

No, I just read back through that, and it seems about right.

So does the iPod make it easier to steal software? Sure, if a potential thief doesn’t already own a digital camera or FireWire hard drive, or can’t afford a 10-pack of CD-R discs that are on sale for $6.99 at CompUSA today. My recommendation is, before you let anyone get into a lather about the iPod aiding and abetting software theft, ask them one question: "If the iPod bothers you so much, why aren’t you also concerned about the startling increase in hamster crime?" I find that usually shuts them up.

[John Moltz is the author of Crazy Apple Rumors Site and a pamphlet entitled "Hamsters: Our Furry Friends." When he’s not writing, John enjoys long division and Hashido, the Japanese art of fighting with chopsticks.]


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