Apple’s New Ping Service – Not Yet Ready for Prime Time?

Security Concerns Reported On Apple’s Latest Music Software.

I have a love-hate relationship with Apple and their products. I love the iPhone. My wife has one and we use it constantly when we’re out and about as our “internet on the go” – searching for restaurants and cheap gas, checking weather and news reports and so on. But I hate the touch screen for typing. My fingers aren’t that big, but I still cannot manage to type even a few words without misspellings. (Needless to say, my personal phone is a Blackberry.)

I love my iPod. It holds tons of music, is easy to use and there are so many accessories that expand its versatility. My favorite is a wireless remote from Scosche Industries that lets me leave it in my pocket when I’m skiing, but still control everything. But why am I authorized to use only 5 computers? Between my wife, kids and me we have six machines at home (three are Macs) and I have another one at work.  And how hard would it be to program the device to let me move or delete a song from a playlist?

I love iTunes. It has a simple user interface and updating songs to my iPod is relatively easy. Shopping for music through the store is also a breeze. But I hate not being able easily to share music between devices or computers as I could if they were mp3’s or some other format. I also hate that (until recently) every time Apple upgrades their software, QuickTime resets all of my audio and video settings, requiring several minutes of tedious clicking around to get it all back to where it should be.

And that brings me to Ping, Apple’s new social networking service for music fans. According to Apple, you can follow favorite artists and friends and discover the music “they’re talking about, listening to and downloading.” So what could be wrong with that?

When I first saw the information on Ping (pushed to me through an Apple email and upgrade announcement) I was curious. But being busy, I didn’t have time to study much of what it was about or how to set it up. And at the moment, I’m glad I waited. PC World just posted two articles questioning the security of the new service on their Security and Privacy blog.

Apparently the biggest problem for Ping users is what is known as “comment spam,” where users add replies to postings. They have been flooding the boards with solicitations and scams. These may be offers for merchandise offering free or low cost electronics like iPads, surveys and the like. Many of these will contain links to products and services you don’t want or need (I’m sure you know what I’m talking about), or worse, infect your computer with viruses or spyware. The best advice as always: USE EXTREME CAUTION before clicking on any links anywhere to be certain that they are from a trusted source. According to security experts at Sophos, Apple is now manually deleting content that it deems offensive or in violation of its terms of use and suspending the users’ accounts. But given the number of iTunes accounts and the likely flood of users to the new Ping service, that might be like trying to empty a bathtub with a teaspoon . . .with the water still running.

There are two other problems that could give rise to security issues. First, using Ping may expose your email address to the world. According to PC World: “Ping lets you approve people who want to follow you, or turn off following altogether. If someone turns on follower-approval, they'll be able to see your e-mail address.” So if you’re not careful to limit who has access to you on Ping, you may be in for a nasty surprise in your inbox.

Next, according to PC World, when you sign up for Ping, you are required to provide a user name. iTunes apparently inserts the name that is on your billing records, but if you change that to some nickname, then iTunes assumes you also want to change your billing name and updates that also. It seems rather peculiar that the software would assume that the nickname you choose for their social network would be what you want to use for billing purposes.  They ought to at least ask for confirmation.

I’m not entirely sure I see the value in a social networking experience built exclusively around my musical interests. I have enough trouble already keeping up with Twitter, LinkedIn and my other social networks, so this doesn’t seem like it should be a priority. One thing is certain – at this early stage, I’ll wait a bit for them to work out the kinks.

If anyone is using Ping or has thoughts on the service, please leave comments.