Trust Us, We’re Microsoft
Have you read your EULAs lately?
If Auntie were a farm girl, she’d be madder than a wet hen this morning.
(Do hens really get mad when they’re wet? Why?) Happily ensconced as I
am on my little city lot, though, I suppose I’m madder than a commuter
with no parking spot. What’s got Auntie distressed this morning? Why,
the latest End User License Agreement (EULA) madness from our pals in
I like to watch the occasional movie in Windows Media Player (no, not
those movies—shame on you!) so I was a tad concerned by the release of
the MS02-032 cumulative patch for Media Player. Apparently if you don’t
install this patch, the Evil Hackers can log on to your machine, run software
of their choice and generally make your life miserable. (Fabio claims
the unpatched version also sends your home phone number to space aliens,
but I don’t think he has any actual evidence.) I prefer to decide what
code runs on my own computer, so I quick-like-a-bunny downloaded the patch
and told it to install.
And there, in black and gray, was Microsoft’s latest EULA. Here’s the,
um, interesting provision:
Digital Rights Management (Security). You agree that in order to
protect the integrity of content and software protected by digital rights
management (“Secure Content”), Microsoft may provide security-related
updates to the OS Components that will be automatically downloaded onto
your computer. These security-related updates may disable your ability
to copy and/or play Secure Content and use other software on your computer.
If we provide such a security update, we will use reasonable efforts
to post notices on a Web site explaining the update.
Um, excuse me? Pardon me for reading legalese as if it were English,
but if I click OK, I’m giving Microsoft permission to disable software
on my computer? And it’s OK as long as it decides that this is in the
name of DRM? And that Microsoft might let me know on some Web site somewhere
(perhaps in a disused basement lavatory behind a door with a sign that
says, “Beware of the leopard”) when it’s done this?
As far as I know, there’s never been a good deep-pockets, knock-down,
drag-out legal fight over whether such EULAs are binding. Just to be safe,
I clicked Cancel and uninstalled Windows Media Player. I’ve been using
software from Microsoft for decades, but there are limits to my trust.
And speaking of limits, I wonder whether there are any limits to the
extent to which Microsoft wants us to trust it? By now you’ve probably
heard of “Palladium,” Microsoft’s code name for the next-generation security
software and hardware combination that will protect your e-mail, whack
viruses for you, handle digital-rights management and put out the cat
at night. You’re forgiven if you’re vague on the details because, so far,
Microsoft has been just as vague. The first round of stories in the press
this summer were in the nature of trial balloons, deliberate leaks arranged
by Microsoft’s crack PR team (which, somehow, missed briefing Auntie directly)
to see what people think.
It’s hard to know what to think of Palladium, because details are scarce;
but, apparently, it’s all about trust. Palladium will decide which software
and content to trust, or it’ll help you decide, or it’ll lock out software
you shouldn’t run—or something. But we should all just trust Microsoft
to do it right. After all, it would never do something nefarious like,
I don’t know, disable software on your computer without telling you, would
Auntie will be keeping an eye on this Palladium thing, and she’s trying
to keep a somewhat open mind. Maybe we do need more trust in our lives.
In the meanwhile, I’m going to go watch a movie—on the VCR.
Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.