I don’t care who the focus group was, Apple isn’t going to give out personal analytics and other sensitive data to third-parties no matter the circumstances (see: ongoing frictions int the FBI and governments). Apple gives App Analytics reports to developers about the usage of their apps; the information provided is anonymised and vague. Even then, iOS users can still opt-out of supplying the information that is barely useful and no where close to personably identifiable. Its own advertising division, iAd, has been scaled back for similar reasons. Maybe Apple will start publishing data like ‘average playback position’ for episodes or total number of plays (a more accurate metric than raw download counts). I don’t think there’s any need to worry about invasion of privacy.
Business implications are different. Podcasting has remained an independent affair, surprisingly. Being realistic, Apple is now (reportedly) giving its podcast directory attention because it is being commercialised. Phenomena like the success of Serial have certainly drawn big business into the fray. This would be my best guess as to why Apple has taken an interest after years of maintaining the status quo with its podcast directory.
There’s a possibility Apple’s proactive involvement will be damaging. If I’m right about Apple’s motivation (influx of large corporations), then there’s a good chance independents will get shafted in whatever policies Apple implements. There’s also a chance that it’s a good thing. It’s not out of the question that Apple will add a storefront, so people can subscribe to shows for a monthly rate. Putting to one side the inevitable 30% cut, an easily-accessible subscription model Apple service could open up a new revenue stream for podcasts. More simply, Apple could also improve its podcast marketing and featured content efforts, potentially improving discoverability for good — but low listenership — shows.
You can complain about the App Store for an hour, but at the end of the day it was a great thing for a lot of people. It created good livings for many people (and great livings for a few) who never would have done so without its existence. There’s risks that Apple makes the podcast industry proprietary and closed but they have the same right as anyone else to do what they want. There will be winners and there will be losers.
I think its way too early to presume Apple’s involvement would be negative. Disruptive, sure, but not destructive. Again, consider the App Store. For all its flaws, you’d be hard-pressed to say it was a bad thing overall.