WHEN U2’s latest LP landed unbidden into half a billion iTunes account on September 9, not everyone was grateful for the freebie, and Apple had to swiftly release a removal tool. We look back on the gift that turned into a gaff.

Offering albums for online listening ahead of their release date happens all the time now, but Apple’s latest stunt went way beyond a temporary Soundcloud stream: U2’s Songs Of Innocence was beamed directly into the accounts of some 500 million iTunes users in 119 countries, no download necessary.

The global “gift” was timed to coincide with CEO Tim Cook unveiling the iPhone 6 and iWatch at their annual shindig in California, at which the Irish rockers – whose music first soundtracked an iPod TV ad 10 years ago – played.

Apple, who bought the 11-song set for an estimated £62 million, claimed it was “the largest album release ever” and frontman Bono boasted it’s “the most personal album we’ve ever written”.

But the fanfare was short-lived. Almost immediately, angry expletive-laden rants and sarcastic Bono-bashing one-liners flooded Twitter as users discovered their unwanted present.

Within 48 hours, guides started appearing on tech and music sites, gleefully explaining how to hide the offending article, as it couldn’t be permanently removed from Apple’s iCloud.

Eventually, six days into the backlash bonanza, Apple were forced to set up itunes.com/soi-remove, where you’ll find a ‘remove album’ button specifically designed to silence Songs Of Innocence.

It must be an astonishingly bad record mustn’t it, to cause such an outcry?

Well, no, it’s not actually, according to reviews. While Rolling Stone’s assertion that the album is “a triumph” seems generous, most reviews shrug that it “isn’t all that bad”.

The problem here wasn’t Bono and pals’ middling music though – it was the method of delivery.

Admittedly, the fact the band has been peddling the same stadium-friendly sound for eons means dissenters already knew (or guessed) they wouldn’t like the new songs, but it was the intrusive PR-stunt-disguised-as-a-present deviousness that really caused the outrage.

And now, Bono has hinted to Time magazine that in 18 months they’ll be hooking up with Apple again to release a revolutionary new piracy-proof digital music format that’s “so irresistibly exciting” it will tempt fans into buying whole albums again.

So they won’t be giving away follow-up LP Songs Of Experience for free? Judging by this gift gaffe, that’s probably a wise move.