The Great iTunes Caper

When iTunes lost 3,000 of my songs and wouldn't let me download the music I paid for, I was up a digital stream without a paddle.

I first knew I was in trouble when the AppleCare customer service rep told me that he was sorry that iTunes was such an "unstable" program.

Unstable? That wasn't in any of the small print agreements they were always sending me with every update. Nope. It didn't warn me that I might pay for music and never see it again thanks to their most popular program's inability to save my music.

It didn't tell me that I would have to wait 90 days to download the music that I have proof that I paid for.

I was feeling more and more like the guy in a Microsoft commercial.

Then, when he and I got put on hold together for 40 minutes waiting for a representative higher up the chain because they were backed up with 280 complaints, I knew I was really up the digital stream without a paddle.

They treated their own employees as badly as they were treating me. And, he confided, he had to get them to make an exception for music he had also lost. What's happened to my beloved Apple?

This is the company I've been an unpaid evangelist for since I bought my Apple 2C in 1983, a "portable" that hardly was. I've been with them faithfully since, scoffing at the troglodyte inelegance of Microsoft's programs and invisible service.

I still love Apple's computers and wouldn't leave, but I'm shaking my head about the future. If the maps debacle and my iTunes fiasco are an indication, this is a company that is suffering from being on top. Like Microsoft before it, Apple seems to have forgotten the people who use and pay for the products.

I've been in limbo for five days and even though I assume I'll get my music back, they will never pay me for the wasted hours finding lost songs or talking to customer service.

Here's what happened: I filled my iMac 27-inch-screen desktop with more music and photos than it could hold. In Apple terms, I had 16,000 songs which could keep me on a desert island for some 49 days without hearing the same one twice.

So, I bought a three terrabyte outboard hard drive for the music and another backup and a third for video. But after spending hours migrating the songs to the new drive, I found I only had roughly 13,000 songs.

The others just disappeared and they did it in ways that would drive me nuts. A bunch of albums such as Meet the Beatles and the Faces box set lost only the first song. Roger Waters and Radiohead lost every other song. Some albums only had one song.

"It looks like some kind of system," said my rep, who was comforting and did his job well, despite the problems. "Why would it only lose the odd numbered songs?"

Uhh, Dude. You're the genius. I'm just the guy out $3,000. Yeah, it wasn't until they were missing that I realized how much I paid for them.

Now, my former jobs were in the music industry, so I have a lot of the lost material on discs that can, with a lot of time, be replaced.

But the part that's most frustrating is that I purchased 4,125 songs in one iTunes account and 528 in another. I stupidly assumed when they started saving music in the iCloud that I could combine my accounts.

But no. Not only can't I combine them, but for some reason that neither I nor my service rep can figure, it won't let me access the larger account. It gives me a message each day telling me that I can't get to my songs for 90 days and ticks off the day each day.

During our almost two hours on the phone, he couldn't figure out why either.

So he wrote a note in my name to the person above him asking for an exception to the 90-day rule for me to be able to download my music that was lost because of your "unstable" program. I'm still waiting to hear back.

I've learned a few things in my dealings over the years with the company, some of which were the results of my human error and some not.

1. Ignore the first person who answers the phone at support and ask immediately to be transferred up to the next level. That magical term works. And if you don't get resolution fast, demand to go to the next level.

Any time you spend with the first person, unless you are really new to computing, is wasted. They know no more than the person selling you the stuff in the store. You want the genius bar, at least.

2. Backup, backup, backup. I've lost so much over the years trusting the computer that seemed so safe and elegant. Sooner or later, it will catch up to you, like standing on a golf course during a lightning storm or swimming near a whale carcass.

3. You don't have to drive to the stores in Los Gatos or Monterey. Customer service by phone is better than before. Now, instead of having to describe your problem, a remote program lets the rep into your computer and they can see what you see.

That was a big help in this case, where not only did Apple lose my songs, but it lost records of the fact that I purchased them.

In the past, and I can't blame them, if I told them that yes, I did buy the complete U2 for $100 and they had no proof, there wasn't much I could do over the phone. This time, we found an album I had purchased by looking in the Time Machine function, which replaces lost items. Yup, there it was. He could see for himself that even though the iTunes store had no record of my buying it, the songs had been purchased on my account. This has happened more than a few times, so save your receipts also.

Years ago I lost the complete U2 in an upgrade and they replaced some, but not all of it, acting like they were doing me a favor. They no longer carried it, so couldn't give it all back. Come on. They are Apple. They couldn't make me a copy?

4. Buy the AppleCare program. Think they treat you badly with it? It could be worse.

5. Other service reps have told me that iPhoto is just as unstable and doesn't really like the 10,000 pictures I have there. Be warned.

Years ago, someone at the company in a high-up office, knowing that I wrote for a daily newspaper, offered me a private line to call for problems. They also offered to lend me every new model of Apple computer when it came out for as long as I needed.

Talk about a sweetheart offer. Unfortunately, because of the ethics of the job I tore up the number and couldn't take a single laptop. I wanted to be treated like everyone else. How else could I know the problems behind the scenes, like this?

But don't think I don't long for that magical line to the CEO who would make my problems disappear in the time it takes to click a mouse. Every good reporter should have a list of great freebies they've turned down and that was on the top of mine.

Now, I just want my music back and some assurance I know they can't give, that it won't happen again.

Unstable, indeed.


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