Q&A: iTunes with a mind of its own

Q My MacBook has a strange and annoying quirk. Whenever I plug in an external 3.5 mm phono lead into its Output port, as when using external speakers or a TV, iTunes fires up and automatically starts playing the first song on my last selected playlist. Even when I then quit iTunes, so long as the lead remains connected, iTunes may spontaneously start up and repeat this. Is this a known bug?

A There have long been reports of iTunes starting and playing spontaneously, but not when connecting an external audio output device.

One workaround that you may need to try for the moment, whilst you find the cause, is to create a blank playlist, and before you quit iTunes open that playlist: at least when it does start up next, iTunes will have no track to play, and your speakers should remain silent.

Suggested causes for this behaviour have included:

  • Boxee or last.fm, which should be uninstalled or updated to their current release version, if installed;
  • iTunes Helper, which may be in the Login Items folder, either in /Library or the same folder in your Home folder, should be moved to another folder, such as Documents;
  • Shockwave Flash plugin, normally kept in an Internet Plug-Ins folder, should be updated or disabled by moving it to another folder;
  • obtain another high-quality audio cable and try that instead of your current one.

If none of these solves this, straight after it occurs, open Console and browse the logs to see if there is a recent entry that may give a better clue as to what is going on. Ultimately you may need to take it to a Genius Bar or trained Apple engineer, in case there is a hardware fault in the audio port.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 27 issue 15, 2011.