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Tech by VICE

Apple Music’s Excel Graveyard: Where Your Favorite Songs Go to Die

I tried accessing my favorite songs on Apple Music. A week, two Zip files, and one spreadsheet later, I found them.

by Christina Svenson
Jul 22 2019, 4:49pm

Image: Parampreet Chanana/Pixabay 

When it first launched in 2015, Apple’s music streaming service was painted by some as slow to adapt and cluttered. After all, Spotify’s streaming platform debuted seven years earlier, providing a wide-spanning, free(ish) service with social engagement features that Apple Music lacked.

Now, four years later, the dust has settled and Apple Music is no longer memed to death. In fact, according to Statista, 8 percent of all U.S. consumers say they employ the service monthly and over 60 million subscribers use the platform.

Like many of those users, when I’m particularly into a song and want to let the algorithm know that I’d like to hear more similar music, I tap the “heart” symbol from a drop-down menu. I recently realized I’ve been unconsciously collecting these “hearted” songs for years, and that it would be neat to see all my favorite songs in one place. That's how so many other apps and internet services work. You "heart" a tweet and you can go to the "Likes" tab on Twitter at any time to find it later. Similarly, “hearting” a song on Spotify siphons it into a playlist titled Favorites.

Surely it'd be just as easy with Apple Music, right? Sadly, as I found out, getting a list of your favorite songs on Apple’s streaming service is a confoundingly difficult and time consuming process.

A cursory Google search reveals that there is no piece-of-cake way to find all your “hearted” songs. Surprisingly, these “hearted” gems don’t automatically filter into a playlist, nor can they be compiled and sent to users in a quick email—in fact, they aren’t stored on the app at all. So, how can we find our favorite songs on Apple Music?

What began as a fleeting thought led me down a rabbit hole of answer forums. An initial route you might take is to create a Smart Playlist on iTunes desktop app with settings including only Loved songs. This is supposed to funnel “hearted” songs into one place. However, this doesn’t work on Apple Music mobile, and when I attempted it, only included five of my “hearted” songs.

But there's another way, and rather than imposing the DMV-like process of sourcing the answer on anyone else, I’ll share my findings:

  • First, go to https://privacy.apple.com and sign in with your Apple ID.
  • Input the two-factor authentication code that will pop up on your phone or computer (to confirm it’s you and not some random).
  • Click “Request a copy of your data” under the header “Get a copy of your data.”
  • Select the first list option called “Apple Media Services information” (AKA, everything you do on Apple Music).
  • Choose 1GB file size, which lets you download the most data, and click “Complete request”.
  • Wait a week. Go about your daily routine, “heart” some more songs, watch some Netflix originals, learn to cook a consommé.
  • Receive a confirmation email from Apple music, which will prompt you to click through to your privacy portal once again to download a .Zip file.
  • This .Zip file, called “Apple Media Services Information” will house three similarly-named folders inside it, like a Russian nesting doll. Click the one that is opaquely named “Apple_Media_Services.”
  • Now click “Apple Music Activity” - this will take you to a of .csv files, one of which is named “Apple Music Likes and Dislikes.csv.” Click that one.

Finally, the long-awaited creature emerges from its chrysalis:

Yep, that’s it—no gloss, no graphics, no sleek interface. A simple gridded spreadsheet is your prize for navigating what might feel like a poorly constructed video game mission. For further context, I reached out to Apple, but did not receive a reply. This is an obtuse process because it's not implemented in the usual, user-friendly way Apple usually implements features in its app. Apple started offering this information before the implementation of GDPR, a European law put in place last year, which, among other things, allows users to see what data companies collected on them.

Despite my initial annoyance, scrolling through the sheet transported me to simpler times. The bare-bones space acts as a refreshing reminder that big tech can’t necessarily anticipate all user needs and adjust accordingly. Some processes are still just spreadsheets clunkily hiding in a dimly-lit back room.

The “hearted” songs graveyard brings to mind the early days of iTunes, or even torrenting tools like LimeWire and Kazaa. These clunky early services forced users to stare expectantly at torrent speeds for hours, mirroring the week-long wait for Apple Music’s “hearted” songs. Only, back then, you’d find out you unintentionally downloaded an episode of a Ukranian TV show instead of the intended album.

The manual retrieval of the “hearted” spreadsheet acts as a reminder that no matter how fast big tech paddles under the surface to keep up with user needs, there are still gaps. This incompleteness provides the nostalgia-tinged comfort that not everything can be automated, wrapped neatly in a bow, shipped to an inbox in a millisecond. At least, not yet.